Saturday, November 17, 2012

Serving Churches in the New Religious Environment


The decline in traditional denominations continues.  This is not limited to mainline Protestants.  Catholics, Jews, and some conservative or evangelical groups are experiencing declines in membership and attendance as well.  In many cases, this decline started decades ago, but various groups are only now admitting the impact on their ministries and programs.  Endowments and financial reserves have helped to maintain the status quo, but these are not as robust as they once were and may even be depleted.

We might identify any number of factors behind this decline—demographic (including ethnic shifts and birthrates), social, economic, and theological—but that is not the point of this blog.  I will leave that assessment to others.

As denominations have declined, the structures they developed and supported have declined as well These bureaucracies (and I do not use that word in a pejorative way) once provided many services to local congregations—the coordination of mission and ministries nationally and internationally, Christian education resources and training, the education of clergy, and consulting services to assist churches, clergy and laity.  Most of these structures were at their greatest strength in the sixties.  Today, news releases about staff cuts, restructuring, and “new ways to serve churches” are seen quite regularly, especially around the time new budgets are being developed. 

While denominational bureaucracies decline, many local congregations—some that identify with a denomination and some that do not—are seeking to be healthy, growing expressions of the Body of Christ.  A big difference is that they no longer look to a denominational judicatory to provide the assistance that they seek.  These congregations might be called missional since they understand that the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God comes when a group of believers discover and fulfill the unique mission that God has given to them.

To find help to pursue this mission, these churches seek out support in many different places.  These include independent publishers, free-standing social ministry and mission organizations, colleges and theological institutions, and consulting and training firms.

I am pleased to be connected with four organizations that provide this kind of support to churches. 

One is Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, led by Dr. Molly Marshall.  Central  is providing new ways to serve churches and their leaders through a Doctor of Ministry program with a cross-cultural emphasis, an alternative Master of Divinity called create that seeks to develop entrepreneurial leaders, the Foundations ministry certificate, the Korean Contextual Theological Education program, the Transformed by the Spirit Leadership Center, and other programs.  These initiatives recognize the many changes that have happened in congregations in recent years and attempts to respond to them.  I have the opportunity teach for Central from time to time and provide some consulting services.

Another is Pinnacle Leadership Associates, led by Rev. Mark Tidsworth.  Pinnacle associates are an ecumenical group of trained ministers who provide coaching, consulting and training to churches, judicatories, and not-for-profit organizations.  This includes clergy coaching, staff development, visioning consultations, personal and professional development, and conflict mediation among others.  In many ways, Pinnacle provides services that churches once received from denominational entities but which are no longer available or appropriate.  I serve as Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle and do clergy coaching and training.

The other two are ethicsdaily.com and Associated BaptistPress. Ethicsdaily.com provides both resources and information for clergy and congregations so that they can respond effectively to today’s challenges.  They are kind enough to pick up some of my blogs and allow me to share my opinions with a larger audience.  Associated Baptist Press is a news and information service that understands how to communicate in the 21st century.  I am an occasional blogger for their web site.

Another unique thing about organizations like Central Seminary, Pinnacle Associates, ethicsdaily.com, and ABP is that they are not dependent on denominational resources.  Although they may receive gifts from denominations or partner with them on special projects, they have also developed other funding streams including private contributions.  I am pleased to be a small contributor to three of these groups.

 I could identify a number of other 21st century organizations that are providing unique services to churches—Global Women, Baptist Women in Ministry, Wycliffe Bible Translators—but I think I have made my point.  Whatever your need or that of your church, there are partners ready to come alongside and help you fulfill your mission.


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