Monday, January 22, 2007

Healthy Motivation

For over a year, I have been working with a group of folks to put down roots for a new church start in a rapidly growing part of our city. Starting new churches is not a task for the weak! It is very much like a roller-coaster ride.

As we met yesterday in a community gathering (about 20 folks), we shared prayer requests, gave thanks for what has already happened, and prayed about our future direction. One of our group made a very significant comment, "It's hard to start a new church when people are not already upset or angry about something!" I have heard the same sentiment expressed in different ways, but it does prompt some thinking about the philosophy we have adopted in starting this new church.

First, we are not looking for those angry about their present church situation. Folks like that usually just bring their anger with them. On the other hand, if a person is presently part of a fellowship but has a vision for outreach that is not being fulfilled in their present setting, we welcome them to join in this task. Like the baby bird moving out of the nest, leaving home is healthy when you are ready.

Second, we have not attempted to beat the drum about this being a CBF-related church. Churches are, first of all, local expressions of the grace of God. They are blessed by God and accountable to God for their service and ministry. They join with other groups in order to further that ministry. Now, we believe that CBF and TCBF are good partners for ministry, but I don't think that is a primary selling point for this new church start.

Third, we really are looking for people who are not presently part of a Christian fellowship. If you think there aren't folks like that in our community, take a second look. They come in various categories. Some are simply unaffiliated Christians who are new to the community and still seeking a place to belong. Some have been badly burned by previous church relationships and need some healing before they will jump in again. Some are non-believers (or, as one friend likes to call them, "pre-Christians") who really have no clear understanding of the gospel.

Can you start a new church with people who are not angry? I pray that we can. We continue to seek ways to harness the more productive passions of care and compassion to motivate this work.

Any insights that might help us?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Take a look at what we do!

Last week I received a call from a reporter with a middle Tennessee newspaper asking for comment on President Carter's convening of a group to call for a meeting of progressive Baptists in 2008. Of course, she said almost immediately, "I have not been writing religious news very long. Can you explain to me what's happened to Southern Baptists and how your group differs from them?" This led to questions about inerrancy and the "official position" of Fellowship Baptists on women in ministry.

Those of you who have found yourself in this position know how frustrating this can be. How can you explain 400 years of Baptist history in general and 25 years of Baptist history in the South specifically in a 5 minute discussion?

Although I did spend some time explaining my personal understanding of the role of women in church leadership and some examples of Fellowship missions, I tried to make several points.

First, if you want to know how Fellowship Baptists differ from Southern Baptists, you will have to make the comparison. I can tell you want we are doing, but I don't pay a lot of attention to the SBC anymore.

Second, Fellowship Baptists are not a monolithic group, but neither are Southern Baptists. I pointed out that pastor Rick Warren, who identifies himself as a Southern Baptist, seems to find himself on a different track from his brethern, especially when it comes to things like the BWA, ministry with HIV/AIDS victims, and working with both Republicans and Democrats.

Third, Fellowship Baptists are Bible people. We have a high regard for scripture, so much so that we support over a dozen theological institutions to prepare women and men for the ministry of the Word.

Fourth, if you want to know what we believe about women in ministry, look at what we do. All the statements and good intentions in the world are no good if you are not committed to diversity in leadership and openness in service. Is our record perfect? No, it is not, but we are trying.

In short, we've got our plates full trying to be the people of God on mission. Take a look at what we are doing and make your own evaluation.

By the way, I did tell her that I thought President Carter is on the right track. Baptists need to find new ways to work together in the 21st century. "The old has passed away; new things have come."