Churches Partnering To Transform Lives and Communities
By Tony Pappas First in an ongoing series
Allow me to focus your attention and, by God's grace, trigger a dialogue, on a very important question: What will tomorrow's congregation look like? What shape will the Body of Christ take in the days and decades ahead? What functions will the faithful fulfill? (Okay, so I'm Trinitarian—that is one question in three forms!)
But what will it look like? Well, I am "no prophet nor a son of a prophet," but some facets are starting to come into focus:
1. The form of the church in any time period is a matter of function not faithfulness. Catacombs? Cathedrals? Cottage meetings? Each responded to the needs of its day, but none are eternal.
2. We have developed a very expensive form of congregational life. Consider one example that recently crossed my desk: this church has multiple subsidies in the form of rentals, endowments and gifts, yet in order to keep their building up and maintain even a part-time pastor, they are projecting a $50,000 deficit in 2012. And that church is in good shape fiscally relative to numerous others! Three aspects of these costs can be identified.
3. Maintaining a church building. Utility costs, maintenance, insurance, municipal codes...need I say more?
4. Maintaining a full-time pastor. Although considered highly desirable by both church members and clergy, it is increasingly beyond the reach of most churches.
5. Educational indebtedness. College and seminary loans do facilitate matriculation and graduation, but in light of #4, how will they be paid off? 6. Scale.We live in the worst of both worlds: TABCOM churches (with a couple of exceptions) don't do mega, neither do they feel good about their smallness.
7. Effect on persons. Are peoples lives being transformed into the image of Christ?
8. Effect on the world. Are we making a difference outside of our doors?
In upcoming editions of TABCOM Notes, let us consider each of these factors. We can consider them less as problems to lament or strive to overcome, and more as challenges toward discerning how God is reshaping us.
Tony Pappas is the executive minister of The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org