When Experience Becomes Monumentally Unhelpful


Those of us with experience in Baptist life need to find ways to forward the efforts of people born after 1970, Crawford observes.
Usually, I pay my respect to those with experience. I value the experience of others who are skilled, accomplished, knowledgeable and who simply have done it. Yet, there are times when experience is monumentally unhelpful.

 

I have recognized this truth when a church member has offered, "But, we have never done it that way before." Or I share a conversation with a person with a significant financial investment in the status quo; they almost never embrace change.

 

Experience can hold an organization back. Experience can cripple our best hopes and dreams.

 

Recently, I was scheduled to talk with a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's Task Force appointed to study the inner workings of CBF and offer recommendations about ways to "lift" our shared life together. 

 

Instead of simply meeting for an interview and talking off the top of my head, I decided to write out my answers. I emailed answers in advance of our conversation.

 

The exercise had a surprising outcome; thus, this column. After answering the questions, I reflected on what I had written. When I looked back over the whole, I reaffirmed an old truth: Experience can be a significant handicap.

 

I took the oath and signed up with the resistance movement in 1979. I rallied the troops and fought from the trenches. I organized and traipsed off to far-flung annual conventions and raised my hand to say "no" on many occasions. 

 

In the late '80s, I helped organize new things offering a new day in Baptist life. I burned bridges gladly and struck out with others in a sisterhood/brotherhood of bold believers.

 

Now, it is 20 years later. I have a lot of experience about denominational life – and therein rests my handicap and, I think, the handicap of many born in the middle of the 20th century. 

 

I nostalgically remember what was before 1979. I remember the resistance movement; Lord help me, I can still remember dates and names of warriors ad nauseam.

 

Added to this, I am also a pre-technology person: I remember dial phones, black-and-white TVs, eight-track tapes and Vietnam. I was born as the Industrial Age began to grind to a halt and the Information Age began to emerge in all its splendor and glory. 

 

 
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Even so, my experience has poorly equipped me for these days of rapid transition.

 

Back to my epiphany. After looking over my answers to the questions posed by the task force, I decided we need to enlist "bus drivers" born after 1970 to lead our denominational future. 

 

People born after 1970 have no direct memory of the resistance movement and the battles won and lost – and that is a good thing. They have no investment in what was, but long for what can be, unencumbered by old memories.

 

Those born post-1970 know about cell phones and computers and networking and social media and a thousand other things I struggle to get my head around. Unstained by what has been, they see a bright and hopeful future.

 

My new mantra is, "Elect and appoint post-1970 people!" Those of us with experience need to find ways to forward the efforts of these good people. 

 

We need to elect them to office. We need to recommend them to churches and denominational enterprises. We need to move them more deeply into everything we do in Baptist life.

 

For many of us, experience is a handicap. It clouds our memory and shadows our hopes and dreams. Try as we might, we never truly free ourselves from the past, especially when it is painful.

 

The post-1970 crowd does not have my experience. I will gladly download it if they ask; then, they will have the information without the crippling memories.

 

It is time to move this crowd along into the heart of Baptist life. They are our daughters and sons. They will make us proud.

 

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.

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