Saturday, May 31, 2008

Finding a Denominational Home

I originally wrote this article for the May issues of the BGCM e-newletter called the e-message. Contact Brian Kaylor at bkaylor@baptistgcm.org if you would like to receive the e-message.

What does it mean to be a part of a state convention or denominational organization? Why would a church choose to affiliate with or support the ministry of a state convention? Denominational life is not as simple as it once was. Maybe it was never really that simple. When I was growing up most local congregations did whatever the denomination promoted. We established programs, structured ministries, attended training conferences, and sent our mission gifts just as prescribed by the denomination.

Some say we are living in a post-denominational era. Others say that denominational organizations that survive into the future will be radically different than they once were. In Baptist life we have experienced tremendous changes in the last thirty years. For some of us the changes seemed to destroy some of what was best about Baptist denominational life. The results have been conflict and division. For some denomination life has become about control and power. In a sense this process has made our transition to the new denominational paradigm even more traumatic.

But that brings us back to my question. Why would a church choose to affiliate with or support the ministry of a state convention? Churches come together to form associations, unions, and conventions for a variety of reasons. First, because we recognize that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We share a common mission. We serve a common Lord. We need and benefit from our relationships with each other. Each congregation has the opportunity to help a sister congregation become more effective.

Secondly, we acknowledge that we are able to accomplish more for the Kingdom by collaborating and working together. I remember learning as a boy that we could send and support more missionaries by working together. We come together for training and ministry partnerships. There are many reasons for churches to come together, but they do not include, because the denomination leaders say they should.

Churches should explore what congregations and denominational organizations are compatible with their beliefs, values and goals. Congregations should build relationships, networks and partnerships that enhance their ability to effectively serve Christ. Some church leaders have shared with me that they have maintained old relationships because they are afraid being ostracized if they make a change. Others indicate it is the easiest thing to do. Some fear conflict if they surface denominational issues.

The Mission of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri is to serve churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We have made a commitment to serve any congregation that desires our help whether they are supporting our ministries or not. It is certainly not our place to tell a church how to implement their ministry or with whom they should affiliate. That is only a decision for the congregation. Leaders from some denominational organizations want to bring pressure to bear upon congregations, but that is not our purpose or desire.

The truth is each congregation and its leaders must seek God’s will regarding how they build effective relationships for ministry and how they channel mission and ministry contributions. While it might have been easier when everyone just did what the denomination said, it was probably not really healthy. Learning about and working through the issues helps a congregation mature and enables the people to understand and “own” their decisions and relationships.

Almost every month I talk with church leaders who are struggling with denominational relationship questions. I am always happy to share about our ministry and values. I believe in our convention—the relationships we have, the networks we have established, the mission partnerships we have built, and the ministries we provide as we serve churches. We are completing our fiscal year next month. It will be our best year to date. I have never served with a better board of directors or staff team. Some are comfortable being a part of a denominational organization committed to litigation and power politics. Some of us are not. What kind of relationships does your church need? How do you want to use your energy and ministry resources? In this new Baptist world, each congregation must decide. I hope you have the courage to help your church family through the process.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

From Followers to Leaders

One of the resources we provide for local congregations is Natural Church Development surveys and coaching services. Robert E. Logan is the executive director of CoachNet, Inc. and the lead trainer for NCD coaches. Bob has been a church planter, pastor, church consultant and seminary professor over the course of his ministry. He serves as the Director of Research and Development at Church Smart Resources. He graduated from U.C.L.A. with a B.S. in chemistry, an M.Div. from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon (pastoral studies), and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary (church growth). Bob and his wife live in Los Angeles, CA.
He has recently released new book entitled From Followers to Leaders. I have not read it yet, but I recently read the exerpt below provided by Church Smart Resources. I connected with his thoughts, and I believe they are in line with my series of articles on leadership. I plan to get a copy of his book, but I wanted to share his ideas.

Debunking the Myths of Leadership Development:
  • Myth: Developing leaders is about having the right program to run people through.

  • Reality: Developing leaders is primarily a relational process, centered on the individual, not the system. The most effective starting point is the person, not the program.

  • Myth: Developing leaders is a synonym for training.

  • Reality: Training constitutes one small piece of leadership development, and it doesn't always look like classroom training.

  • Myth: Developing leaders correctly means treating them all exactly the same and expecting that they will all turn out exactly the same.

  • Reality: Everyone has different God-given gifts, capacities, and callings. Developing a quiet intercessor will look very different than developing an entrepreneurial church planter. And it should. Leaders do not all look the same.

  • Myth: Leadership development begins with mature Christians.

  • Reality: Because we are holistic beings, developing leaders is a holistic process. Evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development are all part of one whole...they're all integrated. Leadership development actually begins with pre-Christians.

  • Myth: Leadership development focuses on skills.

  • Reality: Skills are one piece of the whole pie. Effective development takes ito account the individual as a personal, social, emotional, spiritual being. Any compartmentalization of these areas of our lives is artificial.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leadership (part 3)

This is the third in my series of articles on leadership. A leader helps people move from where they are to where they want or need to be. In my last article I emphasized the fact that the Christian life is all about change. Everyday and in everyway God is in the business of shaping our lives. Most of us do not like change, even when we are involved in the decisions about the change. Change is difficult. That is one of the reasons personal growth is difficult. It requires change. Remember Barker’s definition of a leader—A leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. We don’t go by ourselves, because the journey is uncomfortable. It requires change.

Barker said, More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be. Leaders need to understand the nature of change and how it impacts those they lead. If you are going to help those you lead move into the future God has planned for them, you will need to help them cope with the changes coming their way.

Much of the time church leaders are playing “catch-up.” It seems the world is moving much too fast. Sometimes we find it difficult to minister to our church members, let alone those in the community who are outside of the church. Just about the time we feel like we have a handle on our ministries, the world around us shifts and the rules all change.

Churches seem particularly vulnerable to this leadership “time lag” because we are so easily tied to our traditions and the “way we have always done it.” Barker said, The future always shows up before you need it! Most pastors could say “Amen” to that statement. If we are going to be successful leaders we must be open to the future and to those who bring it. I have worked with and observed hundreds of churches through the years. Many of them are locked in their past. I shared with one group of leaders, If the 1950s come back, we are ready for them! The problem is they are not coming back. While our message and mission remain the same, our context and methodologies change.

Who are the people most prepared to help your church get in touch with the world where you minister? Usually, it is your newest converts and newest members. They may not only have a fresh and vibrant relationship with Christ, but they also come with a unique perspective of the community where you serve. Early in his ministry Rick Warren said, We need to learn to think like a lost person. The problem is the longer we are a Christian and active member of a local church, the less we think like those we want to reach. Many times we have fewer non-Christian friends and contacts. Most congregations allow their newest members only limited input or leadership in the life of the church. We wait until they are “mature” Christians (which means, we wait until they think and act like the rest of the members). Barker said that when profound changes take place, the rules for the new paradigm almost always come from “outsiders.”

I am not suggesting that every new believer should be given a key leadership role in their new church family. However, I am suggesting that leaders have the courage to look outside their “comfort zones” and remain open to new ideas and opportunities. They need to see the world with fresh eyes. Some of you have seen Barker’s paradigm videos. They described the impact of major paradigm shifts on industries and our world. (If you have not seen them, we have a copy available for loan.) Many times the businesses were blind to the changes taking place around them. They continued to function as though the changes were not taking place, and it cost them their future. Church leaders need to understand the nature of change. Otherwise, we may miss our opportunity to lead God’s people into the future he has planned.

Friday, May 9, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

I wrote the following article for our Message page in the upcoming Word&Way issue. If you are not a subscriber to Word&Way you can find subscription information at here.

Our Communications Specialist, Brian Kaylor, called my attention to the release of An Evangelical Manifesto in a recent post to his blog (For God's Sake Shut Up). It was released on May 7, 2008, by a broad group of evangelical leaders. I appreciated Brian’s insights, and his article caused me to download and read the entire Manifesto which was subtitled A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. I have always considered myself a conservative, evangelical Christian, but I must confess that in recent years some of the things that have been said and done by those who call themselves “evangelical Christians” have made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I was not sure I wanted to be grouped with some self-professed “evangelicals.”

I found this recent statement refreshing and revealing. As a Baptist I am sure I would have written parts of it differently. Surprise, surprise, there are opinionated Baptists. But, I am grateful for those who committed the time to write a statement that provides a positive statement regarding evangelical Christianity. The first portion of the manifesto addresses the need and context for the statement. It speaks to the evangelical identity and the defining features of evangelical life. I found their statements both helpful and positive.

I was particularly interested in how they contrasted evangelicals from what they call liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. Some today have attempted to merge the evangelical and fundamentalist movements in our society. The manifesto draws a needed contrast with the modern fundamentalist movement. Baptists have certainly seen the negative impact of the fundamentalist movement in our church life.

The heart of the manifesto is a call to reform our own behavior as a witness to the Christian faith. When self-professed “evangelicals” fail to live out their faith in their daily lives and relationships we discredit our witness and diminish our impact in the world.

I also appreciated the manifesto’s call for religious liberty for all people. The writers call for a commitment to a civil public square—a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. I am not convinced this recent manifesto is the last word on evangelical Christianity, but I believe it offers some healthy insights and corrections that have distorted our heritage in recent years. I encourage you to explore the full statement for yourself. Let’s reclaim our evangelical voice.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Responding to Those in Need

Later this month I will be representing the Baptist General Convention of Missouri at a disaster relief network meeting in North Carolina. The North American Baptist Fellowship (a regional fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance) is in the process of building a NABF Disaster Relief Network. The planning committee leading the process has scheduled a Disaster Relief Network Development and Training Session for May 21-22, 2008 in Cary, NC. Representatives from Baptist bodies from across North America will be present to explore how we can work together to respond to all types of disasters.

The session will cover topics such as:
1) Overview of NABF Disaster Relief Network
2) Timeline of a Disaster
3) Disaster Relief Coordinators Role (organization and volunteer management)
4) Models of Disaster Relief (things that you can do to minister after a disaster)

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri has been developing a Disaster Relief Ministry over the past few years. We have a brand new Chain Saw Unit equipped with state of the art saws, safety equipment, and other tools for relief ministry. Gary Hurst, a member of First Baptist Church in Savannah, is serving as our Coordinator for the Chain Saw Ministry. Several have participated in one of our regional training events for volunteers. Our next training event is scheduled for June 14th at University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield. You can contact Gary for more information at gd_hurst@yahoo.com or (816) 324-3761.

When disaster comes it is always important to know you are not alone. The NABF Disaster Relief Network will allow our convention to partner with Baptists across North America and around the world to respond to disasters. We anticipate expanding our ministry into a variety of response teams during the coming years. Let us know if you would like to volunteer by calling (888) 420-2426 and talking with Veronica at extension 703.