I have always worn labels. As a kid in the 80's it was "burn out," or "metal head." As a new Christian among my nonChristian friends it was "Jesus freak" and "bible thumper." Then among other Christians the labels kept coming. Baptist. Calvinist. You get the idea. The truth is I have never minded labels as long as they are accurate and rightly understood. But that's the problem. Everyone seems to have their own idea what my labels mean--and they are often way off the mark.
For example, I am a Southern Baptist, and believe me, where I am that is a label that carries some baggage. I pastor a Southern Baptist church in a predominantly Catholic city west of Chicago. When it comes to how people in the community (religious and non-religious) perceive Southern Baptists you get a wide range of opinions, but the most common in my experience is the perception that SB churches are rigid and contrarian. Most of the men I hang out with in town are practicing or "lapsed" Catholics, and we wind up talking about a lot of things-- including religion. These men already know I pastor a church in town, but when I explain that Southern Baptist churches are actually very diverse outside of their core beliefs about God, the gospel, and the church they are surprised. When I tell them we are a Southern Baptist church they are not only surprised--they are encouraged.
In fact just a couple days ago my good friend, Pastor Q (from Pilsen Community Church in Chicago), and I stopped in for a quick cigar at a new-to-us cigar store. Within 10 minutes we were sharing the gospel with another customer, and explaining how God uses the church for good. At his request we even got into our denomination and how the Southern Baptist Convention plays a vital role in the mission God gave the church. Conversations like these do not leave me embarrassed about the denominational baggage that I have to carry. In fact I love that I have a chance to show people something better and truer than their perception.
By the grace of God our church has a growing reputation in the city that that includes the message of Jesus' and his life, death and resurrection; a strong sense of community in the church; and a quality of people who are known in the city for their character.
If you do not like the false perception of your denomination show the people in your community something better. If you are fighting against something that is corrupt in your denomination then be something better. I love the SBC for the many areas where we are strong, healthy, and growing. And I pray for the SBC where we are weak and need to change. Just like I pray for the church I serve.