KOH2RVA: Day 286

hands-sandOn Tuesday night of last week some of the key leaders of Richmond’s First Baptist Church sat down with some of the key leaders of First African Baptist Church “just to talk.” One of the things we talked about was the fact that our two congregations used to worship together until we went our separate ways in 1841. We’ve worshiped together a few times since then and our preachers have swapped pulpits from time to time, but for the most part we have carried out our separate missions separately.

So on Tuesday night we began by talking about mission of the Church: What is it here for? What it is supposed to do? The more we talked the more we seemed to agree on the Church’s essential missions and purpose. And then Dr. Rodney Waller, pastor of First African, said, “When it comes to the church’s mission I’ve got to go back to the book,” and he asked us to look at this passage from the second chapter of Acts:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).

We had been talking about the way the American church seems to be fighting for its very survival these days, doing everything it can to attract and retain members. Rodney pointed out that in the early church it was The Lord who “added to their number” as the church was faithful in doing all those other things: devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bead and the prayers. He wondered if The Lord wouldn’t add to our numbers if we would simply be faithful about doing the same.

And then he said: “What if our two churches could show Richmond what true reconciliation looks like?”

And that’s when I got goosebumps.

I don’t know what “true reconciliation” would look like, not yet, but it was exciting to talk about it and after an hour of conversation we agreed to get together for another meeting to talk some more. Before we parted ways Rodney said, “I believe The Lord was in this meeting tonight; I felt the Holy Spirit.”

I felt it too, Rodney.

I don’t think it was ever the Lord’s intention for our two congregations to go their separate ways. And I doubt that he cares much for all these denominational divisions in the world. As I tell people sometimes, “Jesus only has one church.”

These days, more than ever, it may be important to remember that.

KOH2RVA: Day 141

bus-off-cliff-259x300I’m back from Arizona, and a meeting with pastors of other large churches who were interested in this whole “bringing heaven to earth” thing. I got a chance to explain what we were up to in Richmond, and I saw some of them taking notes. But they did want to know a couple of things in particular:

1. Have you seen an increase in attendance?
2. Have you seen an increase in giving?

Because this is how we’ve learned to measure success.

Pastors of large churches are considered successful because their churches are large, and if they want to stay successful they have to think about how to keep them that way. I don’t blame them for asking if our year-long, every-member mission trip has stimulated growth and giving.

But the answer is no.

In the 141 days that we’ve been working to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, I’ve actually noticed a significant drop in attendance. And at the end of last year we were nearly $200,000 behind in our giving. If our KOH2RVA mission bus keeps heading in that direction someone may start screaming, “Abort! Abort! We’re headed over a cliff!”

But we’re only 141 days into this mission.  Anything could happen.  We could begin to see a huge surge in attendance and giving.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we do.  But just in case we don’t I’ve been searching the instruction manual for that place where Jesus says success is measured by how many people come to church on Sunday morning and how much money they give.

I can’t find it anywhere.

I’ll keep looking, but so far I’m finding things like loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength; things like loving our neighbors as ourselves; things like caring for “the least of these”—Jesus’ brothers and sisters. That’s how success is measured in the Kingdom, and it shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told us a long time ago that in God’s Kingdom the yardstick is turned upside-down—the last are first and the least are great.

As that Kingdom comes closer and closer to Richmond, Virginia, we may have to start measuring success in a whole new way.

KOH2RVA: Day 132

baseballThere’s snow on the ground in Richmond this morning. Not much, but enough to slow things down a little, and that’s hardly ever a bad thing.

It’s given me some time to think, and I’ve been thinking about some of the comments my friend (and First Baptist member) Eddie Stratton made on my blog yesterday. Eddie was talking about how the church in America today needs leadership—lots of it—and wondering how we’re going to get it if people aren’t called to lead. He was talking about the altar calls he used to hear as a boy, when pastors would sometimes ask if anyone was feeling called to the ministry, or to the mission field, or to some other version of “full-time Christian service.”

You don’t hear that much anymore.

But sometimes a pastor will do this: sometimes he will ask the entire church to join him on a year-long, every-member mission trip as if he assumed that every Christian is called to ministry, and that the best way to fulfill God’s mission in this world is not to have a few “professionals” doing ministry for us, but to have all of us doing ministry together.

Listen to what David Lose says:

We need to question the entire model of ministry where the pastor performs the faith each Sunday to the delight of an adoring and inspired audience. Rather, pastors need “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 3:12-13).

Lose is a preaching professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he was talking about baseball, where the sport has come to depend on a few star players to get people to come to the stadiums or tune in on television, rather than depending on the kind of solid, reliable players who can get on base and help the team win games. He said it’s been like that for too long in the church, and we need to change the model in order to “win some games.”

I agree.

We can no longer expect people to come to church just because we have good preaching or good music. And we can no longer afford to let people who have given their lives to Christ sit on the pew and watch the “professionals” perform. If God’s mission is going to succeed it’s going to take all of us, working together, both inside and outside the church, and not only on Sunday morning.

Listen up, followers of Jesus: you have already been called into the ministry. I know there’s some snow on the ground this morning, and that might slow you down, but you can’t let it stop you. It’s time to roll up your sleeves, get to work, and remember:

This is not a spectator sport.

When the Church Itself Needs Saving

My Facebook friends Don Flowers and Erin Spengemen directed me to this Michelle Boorstein article from last Saturday’s Washington Post, which is well worth reading in its entirety.  It paints a vivid picture of how the church in America is struggling, and the radical measures some consultants are prescribing to save it.  One asks, “Are you willing to unscrew the pews?”

—————————————————–

St. Augustine’s was facing a death sentence.

The little Episcopal church on the Southwest Washington waterfront had seen the signs. Since its founders proudly founded St. Augustine’s as a racially integrated church in 1961, membership had wilted from 180 to 28. Key members passed away or moved. Paint peeled off the ceiling. Mold grew in the basement. The church couldn’t pay its bills.

“It was literally dying,” the Rev. Martha Clark said of her parish’s state in 2007, when the regional bishop gave St. Augustine’s three years to become self-sustaining or be shut down.

That’s where Bob Gallagher came in. A former Episcopal priest, the gentle 60-year-old is a professional church-savior, a consultant who travels the country trying to resuscitate houses of worship that are losing people and passion.  With large swaths of organized religion in decline across the nation, Gallagher’s dance card is full.

His initial meetings at St. Augustine’s were emotional. He confronted people who had been focused on paying the mortgage with more wrenching questions: Do you really have a reason to be in this neighborhood, or could you move somewhere cheaper? What does it mean to be an Episcopalian? Could you merge with a church from another denomination? Do you agree on worship styles? Who are you?

“I remember being in tears,” said Virginia Mathis, 64, a St. Augustine regular for 30 years. “He’s pushy in a gentle way.”

Wrestling with dramatic changes in how Americans practice their faith, many clergy members are willing to wait months to get guidance from Gallagher or someone like him. These consultants have become a small industry, roaming the country to challenge the definition of “church.”

When they work with congregations, they put everything on the table—including whether the pastor and the church building are even necessary. Perhaps worshippers could meet in a movie theater instead. Or consider sharing a pastor with some other church. Or ditch their Sunday morning services for a time more people would find convenient.

Consultants routinely press their clients to stop being so fixated on their real estate, routines and rules. They argue that there are plenty of people who don’t have any interest in sitting in pews and listening to sermons. The challenge is to come up with a way to engage them.

“The role of the church and the clergy is dying, but I think it needs to,” says Tom Brackett, another minister-consultant who works on church development for the Episcopal Church. “The church doesn’t have a mission. We are part of God’s mission.”

__________________________________
Read the rest of the article by clicking HERE