Shifts Toward a Hopeful Future
by Larry Hovis, CBFNC Executive Coordinator
Most of us in North Carolina realize that a significant shift has been taking place in recent years, a shift in the relationship between the church and the culture.
Earlier in my life and ministry, the church sat at the center of the culture. A majority of people went to church, or at least understood the nature and purpose of the church. The culture supported rather than competed with the church. The church enjoyed a privileged place in most of our communities.
That is no longer the case. The place of the church has shifted from the center of the culture to the margins of the culture. Not only do most persons not attend church, they don’t even feel guilty about it. Some have no direct knowledge of the beliefs and practices of the church and don’t see how it is relevant for their lives.
This is a relatively new phenomenon for most of our churches in North Carolina, but it has been going on in Canada for a long time. On a trip to Canada during last summer’s sabbatical, I met with Baptists who share our core beliefs and practices and learned how they have been dealing with shift for several decades. As I visited with Marc and Kim Wyatt (CBF Global Missions field personnel from NC), congregational leaders, regional denominational leaders, a seminary professor and the leaders of Canadian Baptist Ministries (a global missions agency), I learned of shifts they are making that are enabling Canadian Baptists to deal faithfully and effectively with the larger cultural shifts that have now reached the Tarheel State.
From Church-As-Community Institution to Church-As-Mission Outpost
In our heyday, churches were viewed as significant community institutions. People understood what churches offered and came to churches to receive religious goods and services. Church leaders worked to provide the best programs and ministries possible in order to attract people to the church, people who for the most part understood what the church was trying to do.
Churches in Canada no longer pretend that the culture “gets” the church. Instead of thinking like marketers or managers or even chaplains, they are learning to think like missionaries. When missionaries move to a new place of service, they don’t assume that those they are trying to reach understand what they are doing. They don’t begin by creating programs to attract persons to the church. They first learn the language and customs of the community. They build relationships with people to discern their felt and real needs. Then they begin to translate the Gospel of Jesus Christ into tangible need-meeting ministries that connect with people where they live and where they hurt. Bible studies and worship services grow organically out of tangible expressions of the Kingdom of God, not vice-versa.
From Fearing to Welcoming the Stranger
Because of an open-door immigration policy, Canada has become a haven for people all around the world who have immigrated there to flee persecution or to seek a better way of life. The city of Toronto is the most multi-cultural city in the world, and much of the rest of Canada has become very culturally diverse.
I imagine it was difficult in the early days of a high level of immigration for traditional Canadian Baptist churches to embrace the newcomers. The changes in their communities caused most of them to decline significantly in terms of traditional measurements (attendance and money). In time, some of them began to discover ways to welcome the newcomers to their communities. These congregations that learned to make this shift are growing again.
From Mission Trips to Global Discipleship
How can we make these two shifts? Canadian Baptists have developed a powerful tool to equip Christians and churches to move in this direction. Like us, the Canadians have been sending church members on mission trips for three decades. But they discovered, as many of us know intuitively, that these trips often have as great an impact on those making the trips as on those we are seeking to serve. So, they have developed very intentional processes to utilize short-term mission experiences as vehicles for missional formation and discipleship development.
Churches lead mission trip participants through a pre-trip preparation phase that lasts several months, guiding them in focused reflection during the trip, and helping them apply what God taught them on the trip after they return home. The church members who take mission trips not only grow more deeply in their faith, but they are better equipped to serve as missionaries in their communities when they return home.
In the coming years and months, CBFNC will be working to develop processes that will help congregations who participate in our mission efforts to make this shift. Not only will it enable us to be better stewards of the significant resources we pour into mission trips, but it may be a vital avenue of spiritual renewal for our churches and Kingdom-transformation for our state.
The church in North Carolina, like the church throughout North America, is undergoing drastic shifts. We may not like it, but we can’t stop it. Thankfully, like-minded and like-hearted Baptists in Canada have more experience in dealing with these shifts than we do. By learning from them and following their lead, we can make our own shifts that will enable us to be faithful to God’s mission in our time and place.
Whose Mission is it Anyway?
by Larry Hovis, CBFNC Executive Coordinator
In recent years, there has been much discussion of a change in language – from “the mission of the church,” to “the missional church.” This language shift, which is certainly much bigger than the Fellowship Movement, has nonetheless been dominant in our tribe. However, even though we’ve changed our language, we haven’t really changed our thinking. For many in CBF (and in other Christian bodies who are having this same conversation), when we hear the term, “missional church,” we tend to think of a church that is really, really strong in missions, that not only gives a lot of money to missions, but whose people engage in a high level of mission action, both locally and globally. For most of us, “missional” is a synonym for “missions,” or at least is a way of describing traditional missions “on steroids.”
In CBF of North Carolina, I’m afraid we’ve reinforced this way of thinking. In our organizational structure, we’ve assigned the responsibility for “missional church” and “missional ministries” to our Missions Council and our Missions Coordinator. Other ministry areas (Faith Development, Leadership Development, Fellowship Development or Building Community) have pretty much been left out of the missional conversation. I now realize that was a huge mistake. We’ve said that “missional” involves more than “missions.” However, we’ve acted as if they are the same. Our language and our action have failed to match up.
This was brought home to me in the clearest way yet in a statement made by a Church of England leader (quoted in The Missional Church and Denominations, edited by Craig Van Gelder):
It is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission that has a church
in the world. . . . God is on the move and the church is always catching up with him. We join his mission.
Our traditional way of thinking puts us human beings (individuals and churches) at the center. Yes, we’re serving God, we believe, but we use ourselves as the starting point. Therefore we can relegate “missions” (which focuses on others) to a corner of our lives, and the rest of the time feel perfectly justified in seeing the church as existing to meet our needs.
True missional theology turns that thought process upside down. We begin not with ourselves, but with God. We don’t have a mission – God has a mission! God’s mission is to reconcile the world to himself through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). God has a church for his mission, not vice-versa. The church exists to serve, to be an expression, of God’s mission. Our purpose is not to see some part of what we do, but who we are, our essence, as an expression of God’s mission in the world. When we fail to participate in God’s mission in the world (and where we live is part of the world), to be agents of God’s effort of reconciliation, we fail to be the church.
from the March/April 2010 issue of "The Gathering"