The following conversation could have taken place between any Baptist pastors, staff ministers, or laypersons anywhere in North America any time in the past 50 years. It could have taken place this week in the Midlands of South Carolina.
A pastor, a church staff person, and a layperson met at a coffee shop, ordered their favorite caffeinated drink, and on this gorgeous day decided to sit outside and enjoy the breeze flowing gently through the trees.
Greg, the pastor, is new to the church having arrived just three months ago. The worship leader, Carlton, has led worship for seven years since the congregation made the transition from traditional to contemporary worship. Stephanie is the chairperson of the Finance Committee, and has attended the congregation all her life.
The reason for gathering was to talk about the missions section of their church budget for the coming year. Questions have arisen as to the value of contributing financially to the three dimensions of their denomination—international, regional, and local. In days of limited funds for the church budget, pressure has arisen to cut contributions to the denomination. This is not a new agenda. It has come up before, and cuts to denominations already have been made.
“The church I just came from,” said Greg, “stopped giving any money to the denomination because we could better spend our missions money ourselves.”
“Ouch,” Stephanie said, “that’s just too painful to think about.”
“Well,” replied Greg, “what we did was see missions trips as part of our disciplemaking process. We invested our missions money in scholarships for people to make international missions trips.”
Surprised, Stephanie said, “And your church gave nothing to our regular denominational missions funds?”
“Not exactly nothing. We did have a global missions offering promoted one month each year where people could contribute to a list of missions organizations. Some were within our denomination, and some not. But, correct, we had nothing in our budget for the denomination.”
Greg turns to Carlton who had been quiet to this point and said, “Carlton, I asked you to come because I wanted Stephanie to hear your perspective.”
Carlton began, “My perspective is primarily about our local association. I’m part of an innovative congregation network of mostly pastors, worship leaders, and discipleship staff persons. Our association sponsors this. It’s an important learning community for me where I pick up ideas that help our worship experiences.”
“Yes, but, does a learning community like that cost anything, and does it need our money to operate?” Greg wondered out loud.
“I think I can answer that question,” said Stephanie with a smile. “I just received a copy of the associational budget proposal for next year and saw a line item for this learning community. The supporting statement says they invest in meals, resource persons and materials, and sponsor an annual gathering for pastors, staff, and lay leaders from all our congregations who identify themselves as innovative.”
“And, I like it very much!” exclaimed Carlton. “As a network no one is trying to tell us how we ought to minister more effectively, but we get enough smart people in the room at our gatherings and we figure out new ways to innovate that none of us would have come up with on our own.”
“I get that,” responded Greg, “but, Carlton, is that enough to justify the money we send the association each year?”
“It’s of value to me, but maybe not to others.”
Stephanie spoke up again as she was ready with an answer for Greg. “I admit I’m not totally sure either. But, another thing I received from our association talks about seven strategies they’re considering for the next five to seven years that may have merit. They’ve not provided much information about them yet. They say more is coming. I’d suggest we seek more details about their plans.”
“What are those seven strategies?” asked Greg. “If they’re doing something we want to support and that would enhance the missional engagement of our congregation, I’d be open to more dialogue.”
Stephanie replied. “The first thing the information says is they want us to think about being churches-in-association in a primary spiritual and family relationship with one another. This is instead of seeing the churches on one hand, and the association on the other hand.”
“I think I get it,” said Greg. “Tell me more, Stephanie.”
“I left some the material at home, but here are the titles of the seven strategies.”
- Empowering Congregations
- Multiplying Congregations
- Transforming Congregations
- Developing Leadership
- Impacting Communities
- Collegiate Ministries
- Missional Partnerships
“Those are pretty generic titles,” said Greg with only mild interest. “Can you remember any more about what they mean?”
Stephanie replied, “Because I left the other pages at home, I’d hesitate to try to remember. Can I bring them to you Sunday, and then we can talk?”
“Sure,” said Greg. “I guess the one positive thing I’d say is that it’s good to see there’s a plan for the use of our funds, and not just a desire for us to give money blindly. That is a start. I am interested in talking again. This may be a different association than the one I came from.”
They agreed to meet again in about ten days, and left the coffee shop thinking about the best way to support their association, and their motivation for doing so.
Note: Over the next seven weeks one of the seven proposed strategies will be the subject of these articles.