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.

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