What do we think about church? Why do we exist as congregations? What are our long term plans? Do you remember Fleetwood Mac’s song “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”? I remember as a 22 year old hearing that song when it was the theme of President Bill Clinton’s inaugural ball in January of 1993. I didn’t vote for him in November of 1992 (I voted for GHWB 2X and truly loved him). I did vote for Clinton in 96 because he sold me on his vision. Of course this isn’t a post about politics but rather it is about vision and how it affects our churches and the ministries in which we engage.
Are churches thinking about tomorrow, I mean really long term type tomorrows? Where do we want to be in twenty years? If your response is “raptured” then this probably isn’t the right conversation for you and you’d be disappointed in my vision.
I am drawn to the command of Jesus to go and make disciples, baptize them, teach, and trust that his presence is always with you. I am also smitten with a longing for the reality of the “Kingdom of God” that is “within you” (Jesus said that to his disciples, and I think that we are to pray for the realization of that kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”.
I am not particularly sure why God chose to create the “church”. It is imperfect, it is filled with more division than we can shake 20 sticks at, and it gets it wrong quite a bit of the time (history, history, history). But the church is something special to God. It is composed of people; it is filled with the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the mean, the nice, the decent, the rotten, the conservatives, the liberals, the moderates, the rich, the poor, the black, the brown, the white, the yellow (is that politically incorrect?), the red (that probably is too), the intelligent, the dull, and host of competing agendas and secondary theologies that are always competing with one another.
The hopefulness of post VC2 ecumenism, as well as the “justice oriented message” that guided mainline Protestantism’s once the dominant church in society, has not been realized. Perhaps the growth of non-denominational churches may tell us one important thing that can help us to do ministry, no matter where we find ourselves.
These growing churches do ministry at the local level. They are immersed in the life of their communities. They are seeing results and hopefully realizing something akin to a living vision of the “Kingdom of God” among them.
My D.S. in the Northwest District of the North AL. United Methodist Church has shared five foundational principles that are often realized in these churches and he is encouraging our churches to follow these principles in our local ministry settings. They are biblical, historical, and practical. They work in non-denominational churches, denominational churches, and they work no matter the type of church governance you practice.
His friend and mentor Paul Borden (Baptist) offers this model.
- Congregations must first understand that their primary reason for existence is not to serve themselves.
- Folks cannot perceive themselves as a body that is friendly, but rather church is a place where people can make friends. (Remember, generally, people become Jesus’ disciples through relationships with people who are already disciples of Jesus.)
- The Church Boards must give up control of leading, and in turn, give that responsibility to the pastor and the pastor’s staff. The pastor and staff must give up the control of the ministry and give that responsibility to the active congregation.
- The value of family cannot overtake the value of mission.
- Create a new structure that is aligned with the new outward focused mission and value.
These five guiding principles are sound, rooted in reality, focused on growth and spiritual maturity, and must replace the obsolete models that render us far more funerals than baptisms.
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, but do the things that will get us there.
think about it.