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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Covenant Conversations

First, allow me to express my appreciation for the opportunity to join a community of people who are passionate about God's vision for the church.

Since this is my first post, I wanted to offer something that might create some reflection and dialogue. Immediately, I thought about an item I shared with Northwest Baptist Church two years ago as we began considering the journey of discerning God's vision for the church. This item created a great deal of conversation which helped to clarify the type of journey we were being called to embark on as a congregation. I encourage you to take time to read and reflect, and then offer your response(s). I look forward to the discussion.

Covenant of Openness to Visions
from Thomas G. Bandy, Moving Off the Map: A Field Guide to Changing the Congregation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 185.
We promise to help create a climate of openness to receive the visions God would reveal to us, from _________ to ________ (dates).
1. We declare our readiness to "Let Go." We are ready to risk our heritage, our tradition, and our survival in order to discern the new directions in which God would lead us.
2. We declare our readiness to "Let God." We are ready to be surprised or dismayed, challenged or judged, changed to new ways or confirmed in ancient ways in any way God addresses us.
3. We declare our readiness to consider all options. We are ready to consider any change or sacrifice, any opportunity or cost - even the amalgamation, relocation, or closure of our congregation, for the sake of our walk with Jesus.
4. We declare our readiness to focus on priorities. We are ready to entrust the relative trivialities of insitutional management to a gifted few and to concentrate our energies on what is truly important about our future and our faith.
5. We declare our readiness to share all ministries. We are ready to free our clergy and equip our laity to share equal responsibility for ministry so that all may have time to deepen spirituality and listen for the callings of God.
6. We declare our readiness to stretch our imaginations. We are ready to listen to crazy ideas, consider the impossible, taste the distasteful, converse with strangers, and experiment with the nontraditional so that God can help us to grow and change.
7. We declare our readiness to laugh. We are ready to tolerate odd personalities, go to extreme diplomacy, and offer the maximum generosity. We are prepared to laugh at ourselves and laugh with each other. We are eager to try, fail, learn, and try again.
{DISCLAIMER: Please do not conclude that by my posting this item that I agree with it wholeheartedly. You will discover my thoughts as we dialogue. I post it simply because it should create reflection and dialogue.}


Gene Prescott said...

Well Randy's initial Blog post has been up long enough now to garner a few notions, and hasn't. Perhaps the degree of openess being suggested stops each in their tracks at some point, and that point is a place most don't yet feel comfort stating in writing, much less on a Blog.

For instance, even as I attempt to be as open as possible, I'm not as open as statement 1 requires. That is, I am not yet willing to sacrifice the portion of our heritage and tradition that yields the notions of the "priesthood of the believer" and the "autonomy of the local church" to compromise. There is a lot I will yield, but not those two.

Regarding statement 5, I believe it is more appropriate to suggest that we, the laity and the professional clergy, share being missionaries which includes all connotations of local missions and local church work. In my perspective there are aspects of doing ministry that I don't believe I can share with equal effectiveness, much less responsibility, as most ministers. I'm willing to be a yokefellow, but in marital counseling (before and after marriage), some aspects of theology, and various aspects of personal and confidential matters, we shouldn't expect the laity to rise to the level of ministers, nor for ministers to lower to the level of most laity. I recognize that some laity are so equipped, but suggest that the vast majority are not.

Grady Nichols said...

Randy...thank you for your words, and once again welcome to TMBC!

There are definately some powerful statements included in the article. It is challenging, yet exciting to think about "letting go" of things that are normal and comfortable for me, in order to achieve a higher purpose. I have been learning this very thing in my personal life recently. When God starts to pull your heart in one direction, you quickly see that some sacrifices may have to be made. The lesson I'm learning is that this is where faith enters the equation! Do I have enough faith to give up what has been comfortable in my life, for something new and unknown? A tough lesson to tackle!

Having said that, I am particularly drawn to number 6 on this list. I truly believe that TMBC needs to be willing to "consider the impossible" and "experiment with the nontraditional" to experience true, longterm growth, both within our congregation and the larger kingdom. Of course with this, naturally number 1 cannot be removed. I, for one, love tradtion and heritage. I consider it paramount in a church's faith. I draw strength in looking at the road our church has taken over the years, and the work that has been done. I don't necessarily believe that our heritage would ever be "risked." However, I do feel that staying locked into one mindset of how things have always been done only limits us as an instrument to God's work. The very fact that tradition and heritage, within the overall church, has evolved throughout history speaks to this. There is a new generation of believers emerging and today. They happen to worship differently than the generation before them. Just as that generation worships much differently than its predecessors.

Obviously, you can see that I tend to ramble, and apologize for that! What I'm trying to say in all of this is that as we look towards our "vision" for the future, I strongly believe we need to look at who our future is. And based on that, I do believe that we need to be willing to make many changes and in some cases be willing make sacrifices, whether that be tradition, programs, etc. I feel that we, myself included, sometimes do things because they have always been done a certain way, without even stopping to ask if God is still leading us to do them that way.

I think a great example of this is college students. Many know we have had difficulty in growing the student population of our church. The issue hasn't been getting students to come, it has been retaining students. We have seen 100s walk through our doors. But, why don't they stay? If you look at various ministries on campus, such as Campus Crusade, Inner Varsity, BSU, Young Life, and countless others, you will see that they are flooded with students. You will also notice that they offer different types of worship, whether it be style, times, location, etc. I don't disagree that there are students that prefer traditional worship styles, but I do argue that the majority do not. And, I also believe that they are the future of the church. The Connect service is a start in the right direction towards targeting this type of demographic and I'm so thankful that Connect is growing, and that we are learning as we grow.

This is just and example of how we may have to be willing to (1) "Declare our readiness to 'Let Go'", and (6) "Declare our readiness to stretch our imaginations."

Whew! I am grateful for the open discussion and in no way mean for my comments to offend anyone's views. Thanks for letting me ramble!


Grady Nichols said...

I wanted to clarify that with my comments on Connect, I did not want to imply I dislike or disagree with the traditional service. I love the 11:00 worship and think having both services greatly benefits TMBC!

Jason Prescott said...

To follow Grady's ramble with my own.

As I've reflected on Grady's comments, I think the college ministry has the potential to be one the most far reaching ministries of The Memorial Baptist Church. The lives we have the opportunity to impact today, will move on to impact the lives of people all over the state, country and world. Whether they become Ministers, Missionaries, or just good christian doctors, teachers, businessmen, etc. We have the opportunity to carry the message of Christ around the world, without ever leaving Greenville NC. And while I'm not currently involved with the college ministry, I imagine that Grady's notion that the majority of them prefer a more contemporary service than our 11 o'clock service is correct. I also seem to remember from being a college student that we weren't particularly fond of anything early on a Sunday morning, so I would imagine that while our 8:30 Connect service may be more to their liking in terms style, it probably doesn't fit well into their Sunday morning schedules. I'm not sure what the proper ingredients are for reaching college students today, but it seems that if we found them, we'd have the potential to have a huge impact on the Kingdom of God.


Gene Prescott said...

Grady’s observations are thought provoking and raise a few questions (the intent of Randy’s original post).

At one point he observes, “There is a new generation of believers emerging (sic) today.” That is true, and just as his next statement implies, that has always been true, every generation experiences worship best some different than the immediate prior generation. His use of the word “emerging” is timely. Though his primary context was to imply “current younger adults” the terms emerging and emergent now describe a movement with some traction. It seems to be characterized by mostly small group meetings, mostly in homes, built mostly on strong, personal, relationships. The structure of the meetings and the connotation given worship vary from our primary model. There is some similarity to our Sunday School in result but the situs of the meetings and focus of shared experience differ. Perhaps the style of our Chinese friends is more similar except for site. However, emerging can also mean what it has traditionally meant, which is primarily evolving.

At another point, Grady states, “….we need to look at who our future is.” Certainly that should always include the evolving, next generation, even as our changing demographics suggest our existing adults will live significantly longer than their predecessors. Based on our existing experience, not many of our college students who are not children of members, will evolve to be long-term participants of TMBC. But that is not the point regarding college students. As Jason notes, the point of college student ministry is their impact on the Kingdom more so than TMBC (other than the time they are here.) Our demographics do get more directly at the “who.” As Pitt County continues to change, demographically, perhaps at an accelerating rate, our growth opportunity has to embrace folks experientially and culturally different than life-time Eastern North Carolina Christians.

Regarding how we can best connect with today’s college students, it may be useful to discover and observe any existing churches with effective college ministries. That tends to change over time, and also tends to gravitate toward those churches that students with leadership characteristics affiliate. How to connect with students changes over time. There was an era when Mrs. J. B. Spillman would have 200 students in her SS class. But that era was when the mostly female student body was “required” to attend church somewhere and our downtown facility was in walking distance of the mostly pedestrian student body. A subsequent era evolved based on mailing a weekly student newsletter to 300 or more students in conjunction with pairing students with members from which some lasting relationships evolved. That era subsided when “getting the names and addresses” of incoming “Baptist” freshmen became problematic because of institutional privacy concerns. So as Jason stated, I don’t know what is required to reach today’s college student, but I do know it is one of our most worthwhile impact opportunities. I also know that without “C” Moore and Grady Nichols we would be making very little impact at all.

I am convinced that meaningful, personal, relationships are at the core of all of the ways church can evolve. Relationships with students, some of which exhibited leadership, once worked even when our worship style was not their primary preference. Relationships are currently under girding the Connect, Traditional, Chinese, and Hispanic ways of “doing worship.” Who our future is depends on relationships.

Randy McKinney said...

Gene, Grady, & Jason: I appreciate your willingness to reflect on the post and enter into the dialogue. I apologize for the delay in my response. I continue to find myself with a foot in two worlds. However, August 18 will bring one to a close as we move to our new house.

Gene: I agree with your observations regarding statement five. While each Christian shares equal responsibility in the fulfillment of the "Great Commandment" and the "Great Commission," each Christian accomplishes the task in different ways based on gifts, talents, experiences, passions, callings, circumstances, etc. The same is true for the church. While each church's mission is the "Great Commandment" and "Great Commission," each church is equipped in unique ways to fulfill it.

In regards to statement one, you and I are of like mind. The vision should not "trump" our core values which include our Baptist heritage. Instead, our core values, identity, tradition, etc. should inform the vision.

Grady: Your words express the reality of living with a foot in two worlds. It is a difficult place to be, but it is where the Christian church finds itself. In other words, there is a proper balance between statement one (tradition) and statement six (creativity). When a balance exists, vision can emerge. However, there is a problem when one mutes the other. I think this is Jesus' point in Luke 5:36-39.

Grady & Jason: Your passion for the college ministry is evident. They are the future, but they are probably not the future of this church. As was pointed out, most will leave the area after four years. Do not take this to mean that we should not invest ourselves into their lives. They are the future of the church universal. I applaud Jason for expressing a true kingdom vision regarding this ministry.

I appreciate Gene's words regarding spending some time talking with some churches who have successful ministries to college students. Likewise, the parachurch organziations Grady mentioned could provide some insight. Perhaps we need to spend some time with some of these outside organizations not only to learn from them but also to build some relationships with college students in order to discover how TMBC might be able to better meet their needs.

Gene: The need to build relationships continues to bubble to the surface. Do you think God is trying to tell us something?