Monday, August 21, 2006

Discovering needs through a new church start

Trinity Baptist Church (a new church start in western Murfreesboro)held its first major community outreach event yesterday. Sponsored by First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, and the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the event--called the Family and Neighbors Festival--offered activities for children, bar-b-q, fellowship, and door prizes. In addition to about 35 people from the launch team (and their children), there were about 40 guests who dropped by. We considered the event a success.

Not only was it successful in numbers, but the event helped us to discover some needs in the area. In addition to married couples and their children, there were several single parents there. Many are searching for a caring and supportive community for themselves and their children.

This was a positive step in identifying with the community and discovering new ways to work in that community.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Learning from the megachurch

Last week, I joined a group of friends to attend a telecast of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in our area. I won't take the time here to justify this choice(although I will say that the Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois, has a better record of affirming women in ministry and reaching out to ethnic people than many of our progressive Baptist churches)but it was a great learning experience. Participating in this meeting also reminded me of the shifting patterns in cooperation among churches today. These new relationships cross denominational, regional, and ethnic lines.

Even the huge churches that measure weekend attenders in the thousands seek ways to partner with other churches for the sake of the kingdom of God. They realize that kingdom work is not a "lone ranger" task and that no church can do all that God has called believers to do.

These churches and many smaller congregations may not carry the Baptist name, but their theology is often very close to ours. For one reason or another, some have chosen to leave the Baptist name aside to further their ministry (and we could chase that rabbit for awhile, too).

I wonder if there are possibilities for CBF to partner with some of these folks? Many times these churches are looking for mission opportunities and we certainly can offer many possibilties for such involvement. Does this compromise our identity? What do you think?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dually Aligned?

Someone recently asked , "Is your church dually aligned?" My immediate thought (left unsaid) was, "Or course not. We are aligned with Christ." OK. I know what he meant: "Is your church affiliated with both the CBF and the SBC?" Not an usual questions but certainly an irrelevant one.

The question is based on a modern paradigm that saw the local church (even if we called it "an autonomous Southern Baptist church") as a local franchise of the national body. Thirty years ago you could walk into any Anglo Baptist church in the south and find people using the same hymnal, using the same literature, supporting the same missions program, and using the same terminology about the faith. Certainly there were variations in worship. We Baptists have always covered the spectrum when it comes to worship, but most of us were using some edition of the Baptist Hymnal. One value of this approach was that you always felt "at home" in church, whether you were in Texas or Alabama.

This "McDonald's" approach is largely irrelevant today. I would like to think this has happened because we cleaned up our theology, but we know that is not true. The changes in denominationalism have brought us the opportunity to embrace a more biblically based theology of the church. This is the idea that the church is the Missio Deo, the mission of God in the world. This approach calls upon each local expression of the Body of Christ to be culturally relevant, ministering to the needs of those in their community and linking with other expressions of the Body to work for the Kingdom of God.

This means that the local church is not only autonomous; it is also responsible. The church must make its own decisions about worship, spiritual formation, leadership, missions, and ministry. The church must discover resources and partners to help it carry out its God-given mission, a mission unique to it. The answers don't come prepackaged from Nashville, Atlanta, Dallas, or Grand Rapids! At the same time, resources may be found in all of these places and many others.

This new paradigm means that the church is at the center of a web. There are no longer just one or two strands linking the church to ministry partners; there are dozens! We also find churches linking with one another in unique and creative ways in their Kingdom work (often with Christians whose theology may be a bit diffent).

So, is your church dually aligned? I hope not.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Why do we care about the Emergent conversation?

Several years ago, I was teaching a SS class and led the class in a discussion of Brian McLaren's book, THE CHURCH ON THE OTHER SIDE. It was not an easy study, and I realized why it was so hard when we came to the last session and someone observed, "Well, all this is important only if you really want to reach postmodern people."

Suddenly I realized that the speaker and I were on two completely different paths! Yes, I really care about reaching postmodern people. I care about reaching anyone who is not part of the Kingdom. This is not trumphalism but compassion. I believe that a person who is a Christ-follower has a better opportunity to have a fulfilled life and to bless others than one who is not a Christ-follower. I believe one is better off knowing God!

Mike Young and I talked today about the importance of being involved in the emergent conversation. Why? Because we think it is important to reach postmodern people and we will only do so through relevant dialogue, authentic concern, and genuine compassion for them as people. CBF talks about ministry with the marginalized of society. Who is more marginalzed than one who is alienated or disinterested in a relationship with the Creator? Many of the folks who find a home in emergent gatherings are sincerely seeking a deeper spirituality. They may not perceive this as a relationship with God, but perhaps we can introduce them to God through a loving, intelligent conversation.

We care about the emergent conversation because we see it as a way to open the doors of the Kingdom to those who are outside. I think that's what Jesus was trying to do as well.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Emergent Conversation

My colleague Mike Young hosted an "emergent conversation" in Chattanooga last week. I was not able to attend, but I understand that it went well with about 20 people present. It was intergenerational and ecumenical (for want of a better word). As with most "emergent" gatherings, the gathering just "mushroomed" overnight, the fellowship was good, and the meeting concluded with no specific goals for the future. That's fine. One thing with which this movement struggles is how far can it go and how effective can it be without becoming organized or institutionalized.

A couple of people have asked me recently, "What is the unifying force behind the emergent movement?" (Another question asked was "What is the emergent movement?" but I will address that at another time.) A common thread for those involved in the movement seems to be a bad personal experience with fundamentalist (or propositional) religion. Many of the leading voices in the movement have come out of evangelical churches (some Bible churches) where their search for faith was criticized, ridiculed, or ignored. These were thinking people who had concerns about the ways in which faith was being articulated. When they tried to address this, they were spurned. For many, this created a lot of personal pain and anger; thus, the concern with institutionalism of any type.

This may be the common ground for any dialogue between those who embrace the emergent movement and those who are part of the CBF movement. We have both been hurt in some way by religious institutions. The greatest fear that I have is that CBF is moving so quickly to become an institution that the alienated and angry may see us as part of the problem rather than part of the answer. Even so, I think this is fertile ground for progressive Baptists, especially those interested in reaching and encouraging a young generation of seeking Christians.