First-person: Why am I Southern Baptist?

My name is Dan Woodcock and I pastor Cornerstone Church, Gadsden. It’s an interesting time to pastor a Southern Baptist church, with all the controversies surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention. 

The question I ask myself is, “Why am I Southern Baptist?” The only thing Southern about me is Korean! I am not an Alabama native. I grew up all over the country, mostly out West, because my dad was in the military. I was born in California. My mom is Korean and my dad is from Montana. He met my mom when he was stationed in Korea in the early 80s.

I grew up mostly in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. I know, I know. We used to look down on Southern Baptists, mainly because of how missions are handled through the Cooperative Program rather than the local church. 

So how did I get to where I am now, pastor of a Southern Baptist church? I went to a small Bible college and then served on staff at a couple of churches in the IFB world. It wasn’t until I moved to Gadsden in 2011 that I began working at my first SBC church as the student pastor. Ever since, I’ve been Southern Baptist. I’ve been approved as a North American Mission Board church planter and an Alabama Baptist church planter. 

Stronger together

One of the things that drew me to the SBC is the idea that we are stronger together – we can do more when we work together than we can on our own. I love that mindset. 

Growing up in the IFB, we would stop fellowshipping with other pastors or churches for random reasons such as when one used a projector for the hymns instead of the hymnal! 

My first experiences in the SBC were with older pastors who, though they didn’t necessarily like what the younger pastors were doing, could still appreciate them. It was like they fully understood that it takes all types of churches to reach all types of people. That’s the way I feel God has wired me. To reach those no one else is reaching, you have to do what no one else is doing. 

We have seen God do some incredible things in our church in the heart of Gadsden, and from that I am able to help fellow church planters grow their churches. Seven years into leading our church, through the ups and downs of planting, going through a pandemic and now coming out the other side, stronger and even healthier than before, I continue to leverage whatever influence I have to help other churches come back stronger as well. 

Our church is truly a picture of God’s hand at work; we have experienced His favor. I see the different cultures coming together, and I know that at each service we get closer to church as it could be.

Difficult road ahead for the SBC

But back to the initial question about why I am Southern Baptist. Honestly, I don’t know. There was a time when I felt the embrace, love and acceptance I so badly wanted when I first stepped into the SBC. But now I see the other side of it and I know I’m really a nobody. I understand who I am in Christ, but it seems that in a denomination like the SBC, it’s not who you are, it’s who you know. 

There are a lot of pastors just like me – we aren’t the big names; we aren’t the big CP givers; we aren’t the ones asked to serve on SBC committees. We’re just guys who are doing the work wherever God has called us, and we’re sitting back watching something we care about disintegrate from the inside out. 

With all the scandals surrounding the SBC, the leaders face a tough road ahead. 

Rethinking what’s possible

Here is  my opinion: As a millennial pastor, I get why millennials and Gen Zers are leaving the church in droves. I love the old adage, “What got us here won’t get us there.” I think it’s time we rethink church and how we are going to reach the next generations.

The name Southern Baptist can seem  weird to people whose church isn’t in a Southern state. Maybe it’s time we reimagine it. 

As a minority pastor in the SBC, it’s time we stop talking about equality and start living it. 

We need to do better at standing with our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we don’t agree with everything they believe. When a group is crying out for help because they are hurting, our job isn’t to tell them why what they’re thinking is wrong; our job is to love them in their time of need. Our job is to be there with them and tell them we will get through this together. 

We’ve got to stop degrading women or making them feel inferior to those who have the calling of pastor. I’m thankful that we have women in our church and on staff who lead their ministries with integrity and excellence. I want to empower them to lead as God leads them. 

It’s also time for us to stop making excuses for people in leadership who sin. True restoration cannot happen when there is no acknowledgement of wrongdoing. We’ve got to do better. 

I think the SBC would benefit by not simply inviting people in. As my friend Jerel Bland says, “We don’t just want a seat at the table. We want to help build a new table together.”

I think it’s time the SBC builds a new table together; one that looks remarkably different from when it was first built in 1845. I think if we want to see my generation and the ones to follow continue life in the SBC, it’s time to rethink.

Until then, I’ll be continuing to do what I’ve always done: keeping my head down and working, because there’s much work to do. But now I’m waiting to see how the SBC will move forward and respond to the things it’s facing. How they move forward will help me determine with what tribe my church will be associated.


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