Tallahassee pastor tolerant when it comes to alcohol
Aug 2, 2014
By NICOLE KALIL
Florida Baptist Witness

TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—There is one issue on which City Church Pastor Dean Inserra stands apart—at least in public.
 
Unlike most Southern Baptist pastors, Inserra has decided not to make moderate consumption of alcohol a big deal.
 
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT Members of City Church in Tallahassee participate in a fundraiser at 5th Avenue Tap Room in Tallahassee. A portion of the profits from the event was donated to Communities in Schools of Leon County. City Church photo
It has not always put him in a comfortable position within his own denomination, given that Southern Baptist leaders historically have taken a staunch stance against the use of alcohol. In 2006, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution underlining its position against alcohol and requiring total abstinence from those serving in leadership roles.
 
Jeffrey B. Riley, associate professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, agrees with the Convention’s posture on the issue of alcohol consumption. 
 
Riley believes that Southern Baptists need to speak out against the use of alcohol not just for own sake, but for the sake of others. “The alcohol industry calls us to a way that is contrary to the Christian way of life.”
 
While Inserra agrees that the alcohol industry “preys on people,” he finds the Convention’s position unnecessary.
 
Dean Inserra
“We lose credibility when we force culture issues as absolutes,” Inserra said.
 
Since the use of alcohol is not forbidden in the Bible, City Church does not forbid its use by its leaders and members.
 
Started in 2007, City Church began with 22 people. Today, it regularly runs 2,000 each week. Its Easter worship service, held in the Leon County Civic Center this year, welcomed 5,200 people. City Church also baptizes more than 100 annually.
 
Inserra said City Church is out to reach the city of Tallahassee with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a key part of its strategy is to engage the culture.
  
“We’re not trying to be cool or edgy,” he said. “This is a gray area of Scripture that City Church has decided to make a nonissue.”
 
Inserra credits part of the reason for City Church’s growth to its involvement in the issues that are important to Tallahassee, such as participating and even hosting charity functions and fundraisers for city organizations.
 
The other part is its willingness to interact with lost people in the city by meeting them where they are—even if it takes members to a nightclub. He wants to engage with his community on the cultural issues of the day, leading the conversation about who God is and why He matters.
 
“No one is more in your face with the Gospel on a weekly basis than Dean,” says Sean McMahon, executive director of the Florida Baptist Association and a member of City Church. “There are many high-quality churches in this association, but God definitely has His hand on City Church,” as evidenced by the fact that City Church leads the association in baptisms.
 
It hasn’t been an easy road for Inserra. He thinks his views on alcohol have caused him to lose opportunities in Southern Baptist life. A
Florida Baptist college, upon hearing his views, un-invited him from speaking at its chapel services, something he had previously done. He realizes that it would be easier to take a stand against alcohol, but his lost friends mean more to him than “career advancement.”
 
Inserra says, in his experience, the only people who think drinking is an issue are some Southern Baptist leaders.
 
However, Riley points out that those who believe the consumption of alcohol is imprudent and should not be condoned, known as abstentionists, choose to make a “social statement because of the devastating consequences of alcohol” and choose to “reject the No. 1 abused drug in America.” 
 
Inserra thinks it is frustrating that there is so much fear on this issue and wonders why it’s so threatening to have a conversation about alcohol. 
 
He says he has the support of other Southern Baptist preachers who believe his stance is the correct one, but fear of being marginalized keeps them from standing with him. 
 
Riley affirms that there is a temptation to “over emotionalize” the complexities of the issue, and agrees we should “work out faithfully a Christian ethic.”
 
“I just want Southern Baptists to take a breath and not make alcohol an issue,” Inserra said. “They are making a lesser-tiered issue a first-tier issue and it’s bordering on legalism.”
 
Inserra and his wife are not big drinkers.
 
Inserra preaches firmly and clearly against drunkenness and under-age drinking. Church leaders are allowed to drink, but when out in public, in an effort to be sensitive to appearances, they should not order more than one drink.
 
He also affirms every argument that can be made about why you shouldn’t drink alcohol. The issue for him comes down to the fact that drinking alcohol is not contrary to what the Bible teaches.
 
Inserra asserts that making alcohol abstinence a criteria for serving in leadership in the Convention is unacceptable. He believes you can have strong convictions about alcohol, but “we should not break fellowship over it or use it as a litmus test for inclusion.”
 
Riley, in his paper “Choosing Abstinence: Reflections on the Moral Status of Beverage Alcohol,” argues for “viewing the consumption of alcohol as a qualified third-order issue,” understanding that Christians may disagree and “yet remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.”
 
So why does Inserra identify with Southern Baptists? “Because I love the Cooperative Program. I believe it is the best way to do missions.” He also firmly believes in the Baptist Faith & Message and is a huge North American Mission Board supporter. He is proud to be mentored by some NAMB leaders who, he acknowledges, probably disagree with him on this issue.
 

However, Inserra believes evangelicals all over the world would side with him. “We are not the fringe.”

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