Saturday, August 16, 2008

Understanding the Times

(Today, I met with the Coordinating Council of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for the last time. In this post, I want to share the challenges I presented to that group.)

In I Chronicles 12: 32, we read about the people of Issachar who “understood the times” and “what Israel should do” (NASB). I don’t claim to have such a gift, but let me share several challenges that we should understand and leave it up to you to determine what we should do.

1. Pastoral change. In the next year, three of our top ten giving churches will undergo pastoral change—one is seeking a pastor, one pastor will take early retirement in December, and the other has announced that he will retire next year. Of course, there may be others!

Although we believe in congregational polity, the pastor is a person of great influence in the Baptist church. I make it a practice to work with pastors and avoid “end runs” around pastors. Where the church is already supportive, pastoral change in the wrong direction may hurt us financially and strategically. The question is not only “Is the pastor supportive of the CBF movement?” but “Is the pastor a person of cooperative spirit?”

2. Local congregational stress. I rarely go through a week without talking to a pastor, church staff member, or lay person who is dealing with conflict in the church. Some of it is understandable and some makes no sense at all! It may be frustration over lack of growth, generational, or interpersonal.

Basically, this is a challenging time to lead or belong to a church, especially a well-established, traditional church.

3. Decline in giving to us by local churches. Why is this happening?--A decline in church health in terms of commitment, stewardship, etc.; sometimes due to the church moving in new directions and stretching their resources; the economy; and cashflow problems.

We experience the “downhill effect” of this. The model we follow makes us very dependent on healthy, functioning, cooperative churches. What does that say about the focus of our ministries?

4. New approaches to ministry. I have talked with at least a half-dozen people in the past year who have started their own ministries. Some of these replace services formerly provided by a denomination. Others are launching out in new directions with new paradigms. These parachurch structures may provide the framework for a new denominationalism.

5. An aging constituency. The “founders” are moving off the scene. We can no longer depend on the leaders who got us started. We can no longer depend on the financial support of those who learned stewardship and learned it well. In fact, individual giving to TCBF dropped from 17% to 14% of budget gifts this past year. How can we say "thank you” to those who have giving in their DNA while nurturing a younger generation of supports?

You don’t fight trends. You discern them, try to understand them, and learn to live with them. This is the dawning of a new reality.

(Next: Resources for facing a new reality.)

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