George Bullard, President, The Columbia Partnership, 332 Valley Springs Road, Columbia, SC 29223-6934, Voice: 803.622.0923, E-mail: GBullard@TheColumbiaPartnership.org, TCP Web Site: www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, Blog: www.BullardJournal.org
August: 4-29--Numerous conversations with Mennonite Brethren leaders about the future of their denominational movement. 20--Conversation with Ohio congregation on living into their Future Story of Ministry. 25--Visit to East Texas Baptist University. 26-27--North American Baptist Fellowship Disaster Response Network gathering in Louisiana.
PRAY for the year of preparation for TheCollaborative.info, the fundraising for this effort, and the research and development actions of George Bullard. Pray for the various lunch dialogues being held in various locations.
PRAY for Shelby, NC, First Baptist Church as they craft their future story of ministry. May significant new vitality and vibrancy result from their efforts. They incremental decline has happen over many years, and they must take prophetic action to move forward.
PRAY for the new vision of The Columbia Partnership that seek to empower the transformation of 2100 congregations per year by the end of 2017. Pray that we may be able to connect with an increasing number of congregations who desire to reach their full Kingdom potential.
PRAY for the work of the Baptist World Alliance led by Neville Callam, and its North American Baptist Fellowship that I lead, as we anticipate 2014 as a year that will significantly move forward our work among Baptists worldwide. Pray specifically for our NABF's 50th anniversary as celebrate the future of Baptist missional collaboration from the base of North America. The theme is FutureBaptists: A Collaborative Missional Movement.
Since they only plan to wade into the shallow end of the pool, or a few feet into the river, lake or ocean, the typical congregational participant only needs to remove their shoes and socks. And we are not talking about feet washing here.
They have no plans to change into a swimsuit and get fully immersed in water, to swim in the deep end above their heads, or to allow the currents or the ocean’s undertow to challenge them. And we are not talking about baptism here.
Shallow congregations, like people who only wade into shallow water, only plan to lead people connected with them into a Christian lifestyle that gives them just enough Jesus to get their feet wet. That is not enough to call for a full commitment to a Christ-like lifestyle, and an ever deeper journey into a Christian community characterized by significant discipleship and mutual accountability.
A previous post spoke to the shallow and private nature of many Christians–That’s Between Me and God [And God Ain’t Talkin’]. That post suggested congregations often lack a commitment to open sharing, personal accountability, and meaningful community. Such a posture leads to an overall shallow congregation.
Recently I spent a couple of days with Samuel Tolbert, the pastor/teacher of Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, LA. [See the church at www.gsmmbc.net.] I have known Sam for a half-dozen years or so, but this was the first time I had an opportunity to be with him in his place of ministry.
I did not notice until after our visit that on the back side of his calling card is the following: “Mission Statement: Greater St. Mary will bring people to Jesus and Membership in His family, develop them to Christ-like Maturity, and equip them for their Ministry in the church and life Mission in the world, in order to Magnify God’s name.”
I did not need to read that statement to know that Sam is living out the mission and vision God has for his congregation. It is obvious in everything he says and all the actions he takes. He is the embodiment of that mission statement. It is obvious he has a clear vision from God about the life and ministry of his congregation not only in its community context, but throughout the world.
Back in the 1970s a lot of congregational prognosticators warned that the Church, in general, was in the process of losing a whole demographic generation known as Baby Boomers. Existing congregations, new congregations, and denominational approaches to ministry were losing the ability to appeal to this numerically largest generation ever born in North America. Generally the birth years of this generation were 1946 through 1964.
As this generation approached their 20s during the 1960s they became a generation known for their rock music, pursuit of mind altering drugs, guilt free sexual love, and demand for peace. While not nearly all—or even a majority—of this generation connected with all these issues, the segment of the Baby Boomers who did was loud. They rejected institutions and authority and saw the Church, in general, and congregations, specifically, fitting into their perception of irrelevant.
I was part of this generation, but missed out on most of the experiences. The only parts that infected me was a pro-peace bias, a belief popularized by Jacques Ellul that institutions do violence to individuals, and some learnings from Saul Alinsky about community organizing that have helped me work with congregations to organize them as social systems.
When natural or other types of disasters strike, disaster response organizations quickly send the first wave of relief workers to the disaster zone. They carry with them enough supplies to last from a few hours to a few days depending on the situation.
In a short time their response could end if behind them essential supply lines are not set up. These supply lines include—among other things—new rounds of workers staged to arrive every few days, food and water for those impacted by the disaster and those working in the disaster zone, specialized equipment and material, expertise in how to appropriately use these resources, security for the disaster workers, and financial backing for the disaster response.
These supply lines should not include truckloads of used clothing and other commodities people believe ought to be needed in the disaster zone, but are not. Yet these come anyway. Supply lines should also not include disaster tourists unless they are vetted, trained, and come ready to work.
Wise disaster response organizations prepare before a disaster to handle all of these situations so that supply lines with appropriate travel lanes are set up literally overnight. They either have the capacity to do this directly, or they have collaboration partnerships set up that populate their supply lines.
What’s going on when you ask a Christian about a specific practice of discipleship in their life and they say, “That is between me and God”? Perhaps nothing unusual. Or, perhaps a whole bunch of evasive things. What do you think?
Legitimately some people are very private about their practice of Christian discipleship, they are shy about sharing, genuinely humble about boasting, or truly believe it is inappropriate pride to talk about their practices. These people do hold an annual gathering in the telephone booth at the corner of West 47th and K Street in some major city in North America, but I cannot remember which one.
I suspect the vast majority of people who will not share about their practice of Christian discipleship are hiding the fact that their answer will not be an acceptable one, and they do not want to lie. They would rather hide behind God than lie.
A dramatic story—perhaps an urban legend—about John Wimber, one of the founders of the Vineyard Movement, relates to something that happened following his conversion to Christianity around 1963. It is said that he began attending a church nearby. After several weeks he confronted an usher following a worship service and asked, “When do we do the stuff?”
“The stuff? What do you mean the stuff?” inquired the usher. Agitated John replied, “The stuff Jesus did. Heal the sick, Restore sight to the blind. Raise the dead. Feed thousands.”
“Oh,” said the usher, “we don’t do that stuff. We believe in it, but we don’t do it anymore.” Grabbing the usher by the lapels of his coat Wimber said angrily, “You don’t understand. I gave up sex and drugs for this. I’m going to do the stuff?”
A couple of days after the announcement that the deal to sell the property and buildings of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary had been completed, I was in San Francisco. Sunday afternoon I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, California for one more look at the campus before it is no longer there.
It was not the buildings I wanted to see. They are not that outstanding. I wanted to remember the experiences and the people I encountered in that place beginning more than 30 years ago. I wanted to think about the various presidents, faculty members, and students I have known who walked the halls and pathways.
Plus, as anyone who has ever been there knows, I wanted to get one more look from that vantage point of the majestic city of San Francisco. The view truly is to die for—or some other overstatement. It was a good view of the city that day. It was a little hazy, but we can assume this was of combination of clouds, fog, and marijuana smoke. It all depends on the time of day, weather conditions, and local celebrations.
The view is not as uncluttered as it once was. But that was before the seminary sold the hillside around it several decades ago for what I recall was $10 million. Now there are multi-million dollar residences there that block part of the view.
In the midst of a region of the world where the impact of a churched culture is fading, many congregations in North America are stuck in an overly churched culture perspective. As a result these congregations become insulated, isolated, and inoculated from people who are preChristians, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched.
These congregations did not mean for this to happen. It was not intentional. It just crept up on them over a number of years—even decades.
[See other posts/articles on the Overly Churched Culture by Clicking HERE.]
Congregations where 30 percent or more of the active membership is at least 60 years old, and they have been professing Christians for at least 40 years, and they have been connected with this congregation for at least 20 years, are myopic regarding the spiritual needs of non-churched culture persons. When 50 percent or more of the active membership is 60-40-20 people, they are not only myopic, but now blind to the spiritual needs of non-churched culture persons.
For overly churched culture congregations to connect with non-churched culture people, they need an understanding of these people. This post attempts to define the categories of preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched. I do so knowing there is no consensus that these are even the right terms, words are important, perspectives are diverse, and on any given day anyone else could define these with different words from another perspective.
As a reader, you first thought might be, “Oh, I know those categories of people. You do not have to tell me!” Maybe you do. But the people of overly churched culture congregations evidently do not because they have a really tough time defining those people; much less connecting with them.