Posted on : Monday December 6, 2010

By David Lee, BCM/D Executive Director

David Lee

A quandary is a situation in which one has to choose between two or more equally hard, and sometimes, even unsatisfactory choices.

Miriam-Webster includes with its definition related words like “catch-22, double bind, deadlock, impasse, quagmire, stalemate, standoff, knot, problem, bind, difficulty, fix, hole, jam, pickle, pinch, plight, predicament, spot.” I guess you choose your synonym based on how big the quandary is! Where I grew up, people would not have used the word quandary. They would simply get to the point and say that you were “between a rock and hard place.”

Like in a spelling bee a contemporary applicable sentence may read: “Our nation is in a quandary over how to reduce the deficit without raising taxes or touching social security and Medicare.” That IS a quandary, and politicians do agree on one thing—neither of the choices is satisfactory to all.

Scholars speculate that the earliest known use of the word quandary was back in 1579 when William Shakespeare was a teenager. I don’t know when you date the Exodus. It is obvious that Moses did not have that word at his disposal; but it does seem to me that the word quandary would have been a good word for Moses to have used as a subtitle for the Exodus story he wrote.

Example 1:
Through an amazing demonstration of the power of God versus the Pharaoh, the children of Israel are set free from decades of slavery. They exit the city and head for the Promised Land. But then the quandary . . . They look behind them and see the dust of the approaching Egyptian chariots moving quickly under Pharaoh’s orders to make them slaves again. In front of them they see nothing but the Red Sea–no boats, no bridges, no ferries, no cruise ships, just water! Now that is a quandary, “a situation in which one has to choose between two or more equally hard and sometimes even unsatisfactory choices.” (Or so it seemed at the time!)

Example 2:
The people complain to Moses. They are hungry. Amazingly, their memories of the days in slavery shift back to the “good-ole-days visions of meat-and plenty-to-eat” Apparently they had forgotten the pain and humiliation of slavery. Moses appeals to God. God sends them food—wafer-like stuff that starts falling from the sky. “Manna (What is it?)” they say. Along with the manna come the instructions. “Gather only what you need for the day and trust God to show up the next day with more. On the day before the Sabbath gather two portions. You need to rest, not work, on the Sabbath.” (Now that’s a novel idea for Baptists—actually resting on a Sabbath!) But here’s the quandary. What if God doesn’t show up tomorrow? What if you wake up and there is no manna? Should I trust Moses or should I get a little extra just in case? After all I do have mouths to feed including my own.

Example 3:
God leads you on roundabout journey to the land he has promised to give you. Along the way he has taught you many important lessons. You get to the last stop on the road right before the land becomes yours. You are impressed that Moses sends out spies to check it out first. Now that is good strategy. The twelve return. Ten report that the land is just the way God said it would be, “a land flowing with milk and honey, and everything you need.” But then they start telling you about BIG, heavily-fortified cities, and BIG men who are so BIG that you feel like a grasshopper next to them. They say the job is too BIG and the best course of action is not to go there. Two, on the other hand, agree the land is what God said it would be, but disagree strongly with the assertion that the people do not have what they need to claim God’s promise. They suggest that the best course of action is to go in immediately, claim the land, and trust God to show up. You respect both groups—the ten and the two. You’ve witnessed God do some pretty miraculous things. You’ve seen him show up. But what if you get over there and the BIG guys win? A decision has to be made. How are you going to vote? Therein lies the quandary.

A quandary is a situation in which one has to choose between two or more equally hard and sometimes even unsatisfactory choices.

For more than a decade we have been driven by the call of God to accomplish this mission. “The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware exists to intentionally assist in the starting and strengthening of congregations so that together we can accomplish the Great Commission as outlined for us in Acts 1:8 and Matthew 28:19-20.”

We have relied on the model of the Apostle Paul as foundational to the implementation of a five-core strategy.

• Like Paul we seek to multiply the Gospel witness through Church Multiplication, helping congregations start new congregations throughout this multi-state region.

• Like Paul we help existing congregations grow toward health and achieve greater outreach and impact. For example, your BCM/D staff is touching in some way more than 80 percent of the churches connected with us each year. That is still true even this year when we are operating with less staff than we have employed in past years. (You ask how that is possible. It is a direct result of your current staff picking up the slack and working harder and smarter. These men and women who serve Maryland/Delaware Baptists are gifted, hard-working disciples of Jesus Christ. They are indeed “worthy of their hire.” and serve “worthy of their calling.”)

• Like Paul, we provide training, coaching, mentoring, and support for leaders, especially those who serve in ministerial roles with our churches. We work hard to help take care of our ministers, their spouses, and their families.

• Like Paul did with First Century believers, we seek to mobilize Maryland/Delaware Baptists to become involved in Acts 1:8 missions starting at home. Simultaneously, we synergize our resources to impact this region. And it is important to note that we have not avoided the tough spots. We also join hands and hearts to expand our reach throughout North America, even to the uttermost parts of the earth.

• Like Paul, we seek to develop and mobilize resources that can assist our churches to accomplish the mission God has given to each local body of believers. Without retreat we have championed the well-tested Cooperative Program as our lifeline. Through the Cooperative Program the small membership church, the middle-sized congregation, and the large church can pool resources, accomplish our mission here, and partner with Southern Baptists around the world to provide an infrastructure and missionary force that enable us to take seriously the implementation of the Great Commission. Our system of cooperative giving has been declared the envy of other denominations and para-church groups since its inception in 1925. Through Cooperative Program giving and partnership we can still do so much more together than we could ever accomplish individually.

Our focus is penetrating the pockets of lostness in Maryland/Delaware. Our largest lost people group is the poor, hurting, and abused. That group has our priority attention. We have also sought to take steps with God’s help to tackle a companion issue–racism. Racism not only creates barriers to our loving one another as Jesus commanded us, it also hinders and sometimes blocks us from sharing the Gospel to all people.

It has been another excellent year of ministry and kingdom impact. Despite the economic downturn, our church planting numbers may exceed the near record numbers of last year. BCM/D churches have seen expanded witness and ministry. This is especially true with our language churches where we have seen growth and even the opening of the Gospel in the languages of new people groups. We are touching the lives of more and more college and university students and saw a record number of connections and life changes through our resort ministry with international students in Ocean City.

Yet, despite our progress, we find ourselves in a quandary. Actually, we face multiple quandaries. Remember, a quandary is a situation in which one has to choose between two or more equally hard and sometimes “unsatisfactory” choices.

Let me begin the conversation here. Different people think differently about different things today. We are caught in the crossfire and at times in the collateral damage of these present cultural, generational, and denominational debates.

For example, some younger folks think that older folks don’t know how to do ministry effectively anymore. I feel a little guilty here as if some of this may be payback for how I felt about older folks back in the sixties and seventies when I was a young guy starting out in ministry. I have often said that I knew more as a young 23-year-old pastor than I do now. Back then, I had all the answers. All you had to do was ask me! But, thank God we young guys did not always win the day, and praise God for some “older guys” who were not frightened or intimidated by us, but instead took us under wing, combined our energy and courage with their wisdom and experience, and helped us achieve our ministry dreams without causing some of the damage we could have done.

Some national convention leaders think that they know how to better reach our area than those of us who live here. They deem our methods are out-dated and ineffective. Some have even publicly stated that we don’t need state conventions and associations any more. To them both of these entities have outlived their usefulness in kingdom work. “Take out the middle man,” they say, “and we can be more productive and resourceful!” Others are adamant in their belief that we actually need state conventions and associations more today than ever before. They fear we are quickly losing the heart of what it means to be Southern Baptist. In their thinking, by shutting down these entities, Southern Baptists would lose some of their primary champions who consistently fly the flag of Southern Baptist mission work.

Some Baptists think that we ought to move dollars away from infrastructure and send more to the international field. No one is against international missions (at least they shouldn’t be). The world desperately needs the Gospel. And our missionaries are more than worthy of our support. Others are open to engaging the discussion with a view to balance, but raise a call for caution so that we don’t overlook the role that infrastructure plays in providing voice and vehicles and resourcing to get the Gospel from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts. Bottom line—some see infrastructure as bureaucracy and waste. Others see it as necessary to get the job done.

Even others, who agree that more needs to be done internationally and that we need to improve our systems, say this, “We know the world is waiting, but they are also watching how we achieve this!” In other words, how we do what we do can sometimes outweigh what we do. Or to remind us of the teachings of Jesus—we can do the right thing for the wrong reasons and be guilty of sinning.

Add to those concerns the fact that some large membership churches think they can do Great Commission better than smaller membership churches. “Big is always better,” they suggest. Some smaller congregations fear and even resist larger congregations. I heard one BCM/D’er say, “They are like Walmart. They get big by putting Mom and Pop operations out of business!”

It frustrates some of us that Baptists still prefer to congregate in the suburbs and have not yet found the keys to reaching the inner cities where there is so much hurt, need, and lostness. Rural folks, on the other hand, feel left out of the discussion because the conversation and resources seem to be shifting to the cities away from the heartland.

Oh, there is more. Mirroring national, cultural, and generational trends, some Baptists prefer to “hands-on choose” what ministries they support. Other Baptists still contend that Cooperative giving has proven itself a better resourcing strategy than a Great Commission giving strategy of selectivity. Those with concern see that wave as a giant step back to a time in our history when the societal “designated giving” limited what we did together as Southern Baptists. “It was in response to the problems of that era that the Cooperative Program was birthed,” they say. Another group shouts out, “But why can’t we do both? Why does one have to exclude the other?”

I have also encountered some Post-moderns along the way who want to deconstruct all denominational infrastructures, i.e. take apart the institutions and entities and put them back together as something new and different. Others fear such an approach will simply “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Ah, I’m not finished yet! We are seeing our churches and denominational systems more and more reflect what is happening in the political world around us. There is a general spirit of dissatisfaction and blame. The status quo has become uncomfortable and unacceptable. And as one news commentator recently suggested, “Americans want change, and we want it right now!” But here is reality. We want change until it starts hurting us or costing us. There is an inherent anger that results which often puts the bulls- eye on their leaders. Have you been watching lately to see if there is a small red dot on your chest? It is a scary time to be a politician and a denominational leader!

The plot thickens. In a year that we have seen some of our state convention’s most impacting ministry, we stand to potentially lose significant funding from our long-time partner, the North American Mission Board. NAMB has been a good partner with the BCM/D. That needs to be stated boldly. Without them we would not be where we are today. And we have been a good partner with them. My prayer is that our partnership will continue to survive and thrive. I don’t know what will happen. That is part of our present quandary. Obviously, it will be different as we move forward. The truth is—some things need to change. We all know that. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. That is more than insanity! Ironically, the decision about the partnership appears to fall in the decision-making lap of one individual—the new president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). (We desperately need to pray for Dr. Kevin Ezell. The choices and challenges that lie in front of him are Goliath.)

I will say this. Regardless of the decision made by NAMB regarding our cooperative agreement, the primary responsibility for reaching Maryland/Delaware with the Gospel does not rest with the North American Mission Board. The accountability for reaching Maryland/Delaware with the Gospel rests with those of us who live, work, and worship here. It is our responsibility. If NAMB dollars for staff and ministry resourcing go away, we must still find a way to cooperatively impact this most strategic region for Jesus Christ.

The economy is forcing all of us to make choices—hard choices. My opinion is that we would have eventually made our way to the present quandary. We were already headed toward this debate. The timetable has only accelerated and intensified due to the economic recession. The diversity of ideas and opinions that now exist in SBC culture also add to the challenges of choosing the best path of stewardship.

Put all of this together and you see that we as Maryland/Delaware Baptists face a quandary—hard choices where even the alternatives at times seem unsatisfactory. And the greatest aspect of the quandary is the concern as to whether or not those of us who get to make choices and lead change will choose the direction that best fits what God is telling us to do and where he is telling us to go. I pray that none of us will seek to move forward based on a selfish motive or driven by personal kingdom or institutional building. Just as in the Exodus, we desperately need the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. If we don’t allow God to lead us, we will end up somewhere along the way building a golden calf!

Believe me, I feel the tension. I feel the pain. The choices are hard. In the light of our quandary, let me make some observations and present a challenge.

• God is bigger than the boogie man. (You have to love Veggie Tales!) Pharaoh was big, really big. To those who lived during the days of slavery in Egypt, he was bigger than life. But he was not bigger than God. The Red Sea seemed insurmountable, “uncrossable.” But the Red Sea was not bigger than God. This economy is tough. The money challenges we face as churches and as a convention are big. At times they seem insurmountable, especially to us who are called to make decisions. But God is bigger than the economy.

Navigating SBC life can be challenging. But God is bigger than the SBC or the BCM/D or the associations or even your church. In fact, you fill in the blank. God is bigger than all we know and face.

I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure how much of what we are facing is from God and how much of it is from the devil. Whatever is of God, I want to join up! Count me in! I’m there! Where humans are involved, you can be assured that Satan and selfishness are somewhere in the mix. The devil’s goal is to divide us and thereby make us weak. He wants to neutralize our message and our influence. But at every step of this process I, and you, need to remember that God is bigger than the boogie man!

• God is going to take care of his faithful children. You can take that to the bank! I can assure you that he will do it in a way that teaches us, just like he taught Israel with the manna, to trust him daily. God can part a sea if he needs to, but most often he will provide the daily manna, just in time. We don’t need to panic. And it is way too early to throw in the towel! It is time instead to check our “obedience quotient” and reassess our motives. It may very well be time to dream bold new dreams, for every time the clock chimes we move one step closer to the return of our Lord. Maranatha. “Come, Lord Jesus.” (I am certainly okay with that solution to our quandary. How about you?)

• You and I will be called upon to make choices and changes as we go. From Genesis to Revelation, it is all about God revealing himself to us and allowing us to make choices. With choices come consequences. Some of those consequences can be disastrous. Good choices at the right time can lead us into the path of realizing God‘s promises. I will tell you. It seems to me that all of the easy choices have already been made. We are left with the quandary. The choices we face now are the harder ones. We need to be wise. We need to seek the heart and the hand of God and not be so prone to embrace what is expedient just because it is expedient. Change is never easy, but if God calls for the changes, we can be assured that it is best for his kingdom and ultimately best for us.

Here is my challenge to MD/DE Baptists as we approach 2011.

• We are going to have to make these hard choices and face the tough changes in our churches and “as churches working together.” If we don’t make choices, then choices will be made for us. Failure to choose is in itself making a choice. If we don’t choose to change, change will be imposed upon us. We may not like having to change, but I assure us that we will not like the changes that our world will force on us.

With some of these choices, we will have to hurry. There will not be much time. With others we may have some time to pray and think. One thing is definite; we do not have the luxury of staying where we are. We have to move. We are being evicted from the present. It is foolish of us to think otherwise. Change is coming. It is coming fast. State Convention leaders are already in conversation about the best way to process what we know and try to find out what we don’t know. We are developing a plan to seek God’s face, to pray together, to listen to the hearts of MD/DE Baptists, and hopefully out of that process arrive at a direction. Ultimately, you, the messengers, will decide if and where we go together.

• As we journey forward to a decision and a plan, I plead with us to do it in unity. God’s people (I am included.) have a track record of being complainers. As a rule, we are like the children of Israel. We don’t always handle quandaries well. Some of us forget the lessons of our past. When we do, we are destined to repeat it. We may even glamorize the past and cling to unrealistic memories. At times we get caught up in our moment. We are not always happy with manna. We are prone to divide and take sides, even though we know that Satan wins if he can divide us.

I have read the 175-year history of Maryland/Delaware Baptists. Too often the history records more debates and struggles and battles than victories. Some would argue that good things have come out of the battles. True. But battles always have their casualties. If you don’t believe that, ask those who have been to war.

In one sense, you and I get to write the next chapter in the history of this convention. Would to God that it would be a chapter about the coming together of Maryland and Delaware Baptists as we together in unity seek the face of God and make the hard quandary decisions with a spirit of love and Christlikeness! And I pray the Christlikeness will exist with such intensity that it will cause the world to take notice. It is unrealistic to seek full agreement. That will not happen among Baptists. The truth is full agreement is not required for unity. But if we lose our unity, we lose the game.

• I remind all of us. There are serious consequences to the choices and the changes that we make. This is not a political exercise. This should not be a matter of one party trying to one-up another party. This is not an intellectual or an institutional debate with a trophy going to the winner. It is more than just a decision as to how we give and spend God’s money. It is even more than whether or not the Southern Baptist Convention, or the State Convention, or the local association survives. At the end of the day, souls of men and women, boys and girls are at stake. I believe you will agree with me. The journey forward will require our best praying and our best thinking.

I was asked, “Do you think BCM/D is at a crossroads?” I’m not sure I would choose that metaphor.

Instead, I view us making our way through difficult terrain, some parts of the faith journey with breath-taking vistas, other parts negotiating dangerous curves, often having to make calls without the ability to see what is around the next curve or the next corner.

I do not do this often, but I felt the need to read the sermon to my wife. After listening to what I said, she made one of those profound statements out of the heart of who she is in Christ. She said, “David, you know God has a solution for all quandaries don’t you?” God’s word reminds us that “with man this may seem impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

If we stay connected to the Holy Spirit, get it right, and stay the course, we will arrive at a pinnacle from which (unlike ever before) we can see the power of God at work through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. To him and him alone be the glory forever and forever. Amen? Amen!