(June 26, 2017)
Okay. So I got back from Louisville and pretty much crashed yesterday as I sought to just let my mind unpack itself. Do you ever do that? I liken it to focusing on the work of dicing the veggies for a stir fry while the oil heats in the wok and the ginger root flavors the oil. My focus is one place but I know that the work is happening on its own nearby even when I’m not focused on it. That’s what I was doing yesterday … focusing on mundane things like laundry and cleaning and letting the decks be cleared in my mind so that when I awoke today, I could at least see where the forest begins and which trees are about to bear fruit.
As I see things in our denomination right now, I think of our 10,000 congregations in 3 buckets.
There are what I refer to as the tall-steeple churches — those with money and means, those with endowments who are in no real danger of having to close because of financial demands, but who struggle sometimes with mission and ministry. It’s like all of us in our later years when we’re comfortable — we’ve worked hard to have what we do and we have certain ways that we’ve learned to do things because they work for us, but we may have lost some of the excitement and energy that we had when we were just starting out and everything was fresh and new. That’s Basket #1.
Basket #2 I think of as those churches who may have a few financial resources (though probably not too many) but who are discerning that they have energy and excitement for ministry and so they move forward — with or without their building — and they are seriously looking for some coaching help … someone(s) to walk alongside them and be guides to spot the mileposts and help avoid some pitfalls. (I think South is in this category — both from where we started and where we find ourselves now, i.e. committed to helping others)
And Basket #3 are those who probably need to move beyond the kind of ministry they’re doing now and maybe look at closing or reconstituting themselves. They can benefit from expertise with “ending well,” i.e. embracing their legacy, making a plan for joining with others, but recognizing that they are not able to continue as they have up to this point.
I have to say that it’s a different headset to be thinking about 10,000 congregations instead of just our one “wee kirk” with 16 ministries.
Oh, but I had another revelation as I was “chopping the veggies” and that that for people who have a hard time understanding the Acts of Faith Model of Ministry, it’s rather like a franchise. South Church is the brand; each of the AoF’s is a franchise that holds much in common with the brand (values, history, etc.) but which also tailors itself to the needs of its own community.
For instance, a McDonald’s in Moscow will be different from a McDonald’s in Louisville and different still, from one in Tokyo or Seattle. Yet each will have a ring of familiarity and a common root system. Likewise, our Acts of Faith all grow from the same values and historical priorities of South Church, yet each is tailor-made to the community it serves; the population in Charlotte studying the Bible is different from that at the Meadows though both are studying the Bible … the Mount Hope World Singers and Sing for Joy! both gather to make music, but it is for a different audience and in different circumstances.
I don’t quite know why the church, as a whole, isn’t able to understand this yet … we seem to be too locked into what we were. The term “sacred cow” comes to mind.” But only the Hindu religion should have sacred cows, don’t you think? Ours is a faith based on resurrection, new hopes, new possibilities, and redefinition. Jesus redefined how we relate to God and each other … the church redefined who was included as well as what power, reconciliation and forgiveness looked like, and each of us should be constantly redefining what it means to be a follower, an ambassador, an apprentice of the great Redefiner!
Somehow, intuitively, I know that the 3 Buckets, the Franchise experience and the art and practice of Redefining everything are all coming together in my life and in the life of the church right now. And with God’s help … with the Holy Spirit tying it all together … I’m kind of excited to see where it’s all leading.
Don’t give up.
Hang on for dear life because that’s exactly what we are being led into == DEAR LIFE!