"The people of Christ are beginning to awaken to the abuses in the modern church. Whereas I thought it important in years past to challenge the legalism prevalent in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have become utterly convinced that the major problem in modern Christendom is authoritarianism, not legalism."
One of the great joys we have experienced here at TWW is the wonderful friendship we have established with Wade Burleson and his wife Rachelle. Last December Dee and I traveled to Oklahoma and visited with the Burlesons for an entire weekend. Words cannot adequately express how grateful we are for them and their wonderful Christ-centered church.
We're not sure how long Wade has been reading our posts here at TWW, but I remember when Dee and I first discovered Wade's blog. It was in the fall of 2008, and we were becoming extremely concerned about trends we were noticing in conservative circles of Christendom. Those topics have been thoroughly discussed here at TWW since the blog's inception in March 2009 — Neo-Calvinism, the Eternal Subordination of the Son (Jesus Christ) to the Father, complementarianism (which we call the gender gospel), etc. Our categories section reveals our hot button issues.
I remember sending Dee an e-mail in late 2008 with a link to one of Wade's posts and stating: "I don't know anything about Wade Burleson, but I really like what he writes!" We read Wade's blog religiously because he gave us hope. Last month I took the time to go back through Wade's posts during that time and read the comments I left there. I had never commented on a blog before, but I felt compelled to participate in the discussion taking place. It should come as no surprise that Wade Burleson was the inspiration for The Wartburg Watch, although he had no idea of his tremendous impact on us until very recently.
We are extremely honored that Wade has graciously consented to our request to feature his sermons here at TWW for our readers' spiritual nourishment. We have been highly impressed by his authenticity, and we are thrilled to share his messages with you on a weekly basis.
Who is Wade Burleson?
Perhaps a good place to begin in answering that question is the bio from his website, which states:
"Since 1992 Wade has been Senior Pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma. He has previously served as the Senior Pastor of the Sheridan Road Baptist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1987-1992) and the First Baptist Church of Holdenville, Oklahoma (1985-1987). Wade has served two terms as President of the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention (2004) and he currently serves on several non-profit community foundations and boards in the state of Oklahoma.
Wade has been awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award by the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. He has also been honored by the United States Department of Justice in 1996 for his work with victim’s families at ground zero of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. He received the Distinguished Silver Star from the Tulsa Police Department during for his work investigating crimes that involved the occult in the late 1980's.
Wade is the author of several books and articles published in professional periodicals. Wade enjoys playing golf and traveling, but his greatest love is history. He is a member of the Surratt Society, a collection of authors, historians, and researchers who are experts in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln."
Missing from his bio is Wade's brief stint as a trustee on the Southern Baptist Convention's International Missions Board — and understandably so. It was a grim chapter in Wade's life, but it alerted him to serious problems within the SBC. Here is an excerpt from a Christianity Today article, published February 1, 2008, that summarizes what occurred:
"After a long battle over his blog, Wade Burleson resigned from the International Mission Board (IMB), the overseas mission wing of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The trustees had censured the Oklahoma pastor from involvement in four meetings, beginning this week in Gainesville, Florida.
Burleson has clashed with trustees since joining the board in mid-2005 because he has reported on board business on his blog. The Georgia Baptist Convention passed an anti-blogging resolution in November. Many trustees were angered by Burleson's harsh criticism of policies passed in 2005 that forbid missionary candidates from speaking in tongues and require them to be baptized in an SBC church. Burleson and IMB trustee chairman John Floyd spoke with Christianity Today about his resignation."
It was approximately seven months later that Wade Burleson first came onto our radar screen. Clearly, he is a man of conviction, and we greatly respect his honesty and transparency. If the SBC had listened to godly men like Wade, perhaps the denomination wouldn't be in such a downward spiral. Wade documented his experiences in his startling book Hardball Religion.
I could share so much more about Wade Burleson, but Dee and I believe one of the best ways to demonstrate his character is to highlight a post he wrote several years ago entitled: Lessons in Dealing with a Disgruntled Member
Dee used an excerpt from Wade's post to spotlight the kind of pastor who truly cares for God's flock. She wrote:
"I am taking a chance that Wade will not mind me reprinting part of his post here. You can read the full post at the link previously provided. Once again, this post caused me to tear up in thanks that such a pastor is out there ministering, not merely preaching (which he also does extremely well)."
What follows is the excerpt from Wade's personal testimony as pastor at Emmanuel that Dee included in her blog post:
“Secret Meetings and Secret Complaints
There was man at Emmanuel who was not happy with the hiring of a particular staff member. He felt that the staff member displayed personal qualities unbecoming of a pastor (i.e. "impatience," "sarcasm," etc . . .), and the disgruntled member and his wife began to meet with three or four other families to "pray" for this staff member and our church. During the meetings which were held at the home of the dissatisfied member, other issues began to be discussed, issues involving me personally. The leader of the group felt that the hiring of this staff member reflected poorly on my pastoral leadership. Others began to question my salary and ask if the Senior Pastor was making too much money. A couple of the church members had heard that I was a member of the local Country Club and wondered if the church gave me that benefit, etc . . . They decided that they would meet on a regular basis, invite others to join them, and pray for our church.
Eventually someone told me about the meetings. Immediately, there was a mental decision that I had to make. Were these disgruntled members who were questioning my decisions, salary and benefits, and other matters as important to the Lord's kingdom as those church members who express appreciation for my pastoral leadership? I gave an immediate "yes" to that question in my mind.
As a result, I had to ask myself a second question: How can I affirm the people who were secretly meeting and how can I encourage them spiritually, while at the same time not reacting defensively to either their attitude or their questions? The person who had told me about the meetings had been invited himself to attend, and he knew that the group was going to ask others to come and be a part the following Friday. There was obviously an intentional effort to make the dissident group larger. Yet, I had to settle in my mind and heart that my goal could never be to prevent, control or dominate these people in any form or fashion. Jesus came to set people free, and that means disgruntled church members should be free to dissent and disagree with their pastor – and tell others of it! And, I should be free to accept it as from the Lord. It's a little like King David when Shemei was cursing him and Abishai, David's servant said, "Shall I go cut that dead dog's head off?" King David said, "Let him alone. God has bidden him to speak." As pastor, I see every event, even the difficult ones, as God refining my character.
Compassion, not Confrontation
I decided the best way to approach the disgruntled member was to personally contact him and let him know that I knew of the meetings, and that I affirmed all the members' rights to participate. Further, I determined that I would volunteer to meet with them, if they desired, to try to answer all questions they felt important. I also wanted to express my appreciation for their prayers for our church.
And that is what I did. Nobody else was involved. Just me. I expressed to the disgruntled member all of the above and told him I would be more than happy to attend the next meeting and answer any and all questions if he would like, believing that it is always best to communicate directly when there are differences or disagreements.
The disgruntled church member was a little taken aback. Later he told me that he was most surprised at my affirmation that he and the group had every right to meet. He also was taken aback at my expressions of love for him, especially knowing that I knew he was attempting to lead a growing group of dissidents to question my leadership. He would later tell me that this knowledge did not diminish the love and grace I displayed for him personally, and that this was what most impressed him.
Transparency, not Terseness
During our conversation I sought to answer any and all questions he had. We talked about the hiring of the staff member and I explained the process under which he was hired and assured him that any concerns he might have about a pastor at Emmanuel not relating with church members in a gracious manner was an important concern. I shared with him how that particular issue had already been addressed with the staff member in question and how it would continue to be addressed if needed. We then discussed my salary. Our church places all salaries into one lump sum when the budget is presented, and Emmanuel's Finance Committee had made this a practice long before I came as pastor. My preference would be that all salaries be broken out individually within the annual budget, but I have been overruled by the Finance Committee members. However, it is church policy, and a wise one at that, that ANY member who desires to know the salaries of staff members, including the pastor, only has to ask. He demurred and said he really didn't wish to know, but I told him my salary and benefits anyway, believing it was an important question for him to have answered and he was just too embarrassed to ask me.
Then we talked about my membership at the Country Club. I told him that the church does pay the $300 monthly dues, but I pay all my expenses, including meals and guest fees. I also explained that I knew in Enid that some might view my membership at the Country Club as exclusive, but we had a very particular reason for the membership – the people there need Christ as much as the poor. I related how I had been able to build multiple relationships through meeting peolpe at Oakwood Country Club, and had been asked by many non-churched Enidites to perform funerals for family members, had been able to lead several to faith in Christ, and through my contacts, many Christian family members had become members of Emmanuel. I also told him I loved the golf course (a Perry Maxwell course, no less!).
He laughed a little with me and we discussed a few more issues, and I spent about an hour talking with him about any and all his concerns. I ended the conversation in this manner:
"I may have not been able to answer your questions completely, and even if I have, you still may not agree with my decision making. Please know that your disagreement with the pastor of Emmanuel is not only all right, it is healthy. The main thing you should know is that you have every right to question me, and even if you think I make too much money, shouldn't be a member of the Country Club, or shouldn't have led the Personnel Committee to hire a particular staff member, our disagreement will never be, in any form or fashion, an impediment to me loving you and being a pastor to you. Feel free to relay what we have discussed to those you are meeting with, and know that you have my complete support in continuing to meet. You can invite anyone and everyone you desire to join you, and if you have more questions, I will be happy to come meet with you. If, after evaluation, you feel you can't worship with us because of a disagreement, please know that you have our blessing and full support to join another sister church and we will recommend you with Christian love and grace. Bottom line, I'm never above questioning, nor are you are ever beyond my desire to see our mutual walk with Christ strengthened."
The man teared up a bit. Thanked me for visiting with him, and we parted.
When Leadership Cares About People
Two weeks later, in church, he stopped me. He thanked me for taking the time to contact him, expressing his sorrow he had not contacted me before he had talked with others. He thanked me for answering his questions and addressing his concerns and said that after listening to me preach for 15 years he should have known that I would have responded with grace and transparency to any questions he had. He then expressed his love for me and mentioned how much he respected me. He said the group was no longer meeting, and all of them voiced at their last meeting that they wanted their families to be a part of a church where leaders affirmed them, even when they disagreed.
To this day, this man and the three or four families that met with him those few times remain faithful members of Emmanuel.”
Pastors like Wade Burleson are rare, and we are so honored to be featuring his messages at our EChurch@Wartburg beginning this weekend. We conclude with a shout out to all of you from Wade. We pray he will touch you wherever you are in your walk with Christ.
"My name is Wade Burleson. Rachelle, my wife of thirty years, and I are friends of Dee and Wanda (aka Deb) at The Wartburg Watch. We are participating in the formation of EChurch@Wartburg because we have a heart for people who love Christ but have been hurt by the church. Before you decide whether to watch my weekly messages, it is only fair that I tell you a few things about myself.
First, each week you will be joining the fourth Sunday morning worship service of the church I serve in Enid, Oklahoma. I realize that the visual of me wearing a suit and standing on a platform may trigger some bad memories. If I could, I'd be casual and relaxed sitting across a coffee table from you and we'd simply talk about Jesus, life, and the Scriptures. Try to ignore the venue. If it helps, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of tea and relax as you listen. I will personally welcome you and all the EChurch viewers at the beginning of this video because you are important to us. Our church believes that people who have been burned by organized religion and have either opted out of going to church or are in transition are as important to Christ as faithful, dedicated members of any organized church. We would like to play just a small role in your healing process as you reorient to what is really important in your walk of faith.
Second, I am not a professional entertainer. I won't use props or gimmicks to get you to like either the message or myself. May we find our source of life in Jesus Christ. I will go verse by verse through the Scriptures and talk of Him. Feel free to disagree with me! Yell and scream at what I'm saying if you feel like it! I am nobody's spiritual authority, nor do I have some special insight into spiritual things. I am just an ordinary Jesus-lover who believes the Truth will set you free. If you make it through the 30 minute message and come away knowing a little more about Christ and find Him a tad more satisfying, then I will have succeeded.
Third, we at EChurch@Wartburg are NOT trying to control you, fix you, change you, or get something from you. We just want you to know that somebody really does care for you. We are like you — we love Christ and His Word, but we believe the church and organized religion have a tendency to screw things up! If at some point you can enter into personal relationships with people in your area who share a love for Christ, we want to encourage you to develop those relationships! Until then, we welcome you to EChurch@Wartburg for some spiritual refreshment and encouragement."
Lydia's Corner: Isaiah 60:1-62:5 Philippians 1:27-2:18 Psalm 72:1-20 Proverbs 24:11-12