January 2015

Pastor’s Perspective – January 2015

 

Churches are dying all around us.  Thom Rainer, a Church consultant and author of the book “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” believes that as many as 100,000 Churches will close their doors in the next decade.  Many of these congregations have long and proud histories of ministry that mattered.  They once served the local community, made a difference in their city, and worshipped with hundreds of people in their services.  Now, however, the future looks bleak.  Many Churches are showing symptoms of failure, losing people due to conflict, confused about our purpose and longing for the good old days.

As the Church declines the congregation dutifully seeks a solution to the problem.  Pastors and lay leadership study the latest books on Church growth in order to restore the congregation to the place of spiritual and numerical growth.  We visit successful Churches and seek to glean some of what makes them popular and attempt to introduce these ideas back to our Church family.   These ideas impose more change on the congregation and the leadership as we launch new programs in order to duplicate the success of healthy congregations.  

The new programs infuse the Church with a shot of new energy and life.  They bring new people and families convincing the Church that all is well.  It is here that the problems actually get more difficult.  The new program, staff and people all come from a different perspective and bring new ideas regarding what the Church should be.  This creates the next conflict over identity and culture, often centered in Church debates over the worship music and children’s/youth ministry.  Churches that are struggling to survive and grow often find that their attendance numbers rise and fall with great regularity.  A congregation and Pastor can spend months bringing in new people only to lose a family due to internal conflict or exposure to a long-term family dispute within the congregation.

These conflicts that kill momentum can suck the life out of the local Church and speed our decline.

This is why it is imperative that the Church is clear about the responsibilities of membership and participation in the life of the Church.  Whether you are a lifelong member of the Church or a babe in Christ, it is my belief that we all have something to learn about the difficulties, dangers, and responsibilities of being a member of a local Church.  This is even more important when the Church is seeking to change and grow after a long period of decline.  The sad truth is that the reason we are in decline is that we are not who we would like to be as a Church.  The answer does not lie exclusively in new programs or services.  Though these can help us to grow they don’t help us to be better Christians, better disciples, better leaders, better servants, or better people.

The problem that many Church consultants are seeing is that all too frequently we are the reason that our church is declining.

For that reason I would like us to devote ourselves to a short six week cross-platform congregational study of a short but powerful book by Thom S. Rainer entitled, “I Am A Church Member.”

In the book, Thom shares six core principles of Church membership.  These are presented not just as information that needs to be shared, but as pledges that each member of the Church needs to commit to.

Now I know what many of you are thinking.  It is human nature so just admit it.  You are thinking of “someone” who needs this.  Someone other than you.  Maybe someone that has hurt your feelings or you have had conflict with.  Someone who is new or old.  Someone ELSE.

Let me make this as plain as I can.  This is for you and it is for me.  There is no one in the Church who cannot learn from the lessons that are in this book.  Even if you know the material it is imperative that you join with us in affirming the six pledges in the book.  Even if you understand the concepts it is important that you search yourself and commit yourself once again to the fragile and very human people of God known as First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo.

Studying this book as we explore the contents in worship, in Sunday School, at our Bible Study, at Biggby’s, in small groups, or with your family can be a turning point for you and the Church.  In order for us to lovingly reach out to the world around us we must, as our first order of business, explore our own hearts to make sure that the love of God is resident in our lives.  This is the point of the pledges, to make it personal, to make it our responsibility to do the work of God in Jesus Christ.

These pledges are personal, even as they are corporate.  We cannot make them for someone else, nor can we force them onto each other.  They are in many ways your own personal decision, but they also are very much a corporate and public pledge to God and each other.  For instance only I can pledge to be a “source of unity in my Church.”  I cannot, however, do it alone.  The pledge of unity is valuable only when we affirm it together.  This is the nature of the Church.  We are both individually connected to God and linked together as the body of Christ.  To separate the one from the other would be as difficult as separating the Trinity into three different parts.

As we travel together through the six short chapters we will discover that there is much that we can do to strengthen our Church.  There is much that we must personally do in order to create a sense of harmony, growth and love in the Church.  It is my prayer that you will join me in this brief but important study of God’s word for the sake of the gospel and our beloved Church.

There are indeed many Churches that you can choose to attend.  Many of them are staffed with more people and perhaps more talented pastors and teachers.  They may have a bigger choir or a better looking preacher, but they are still made up of human beings with problems, dysfunctions and sins to deal with.  Sometimes the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, but conflict in the church is eerily similar in churches large and small.  This book will help us to begin to take responsibility for our role in the Church; in its conflicts and its future.  It is my intention to help each of you to become a better, more loving, more forgiving, and more responsible member of First Baptist Church.  Please accept my personal invitation to join us for this life-changing series of lessons.

The series will begin on Sunday, February 1, in both Sunday School and worship.  We have books available for your use.  Please pick one up at the Church or contact the Church office so we can put one in your hands.  Pray for your Church so that God might find in us partners, citizens, and friends for the sake of gospel work of Jesus Christ.

Sincerely yours,
Daniel Bellavia