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Archive for the ‘governance’ Category

I’ve been  doing some research on congregational amalgamations. One thing is very apparent: amalgamations have a greater chance of being ‘successful’ if they are driven by a conviction that the participating congregations are able to serve God’s mission better together than separately.

What is also apparent is that most congregations enter into the conversation about amalgamation when they are desperate: the leadership of the congregation are tired of working very hard to keep things going; the building is in need of major repairs; the finances are unable to sustain the ongoing costs.

Often, then, people enter into the conversation hoping that an amalgamation will solve those problems. Past experience indicates that that will probably not be the case. If nothing is done to address the dynamics that caused the decline and the crises in the first place, within a few short years, the new congregation will be facing the same problems again.

Addressing those dynamics is hard work. Once a congregation enters into the process of amalgamating with another congregation, its people can be easily distracted from that hard work by the technical details of making an amalgamation happen. However, figuring out why God has called them to be the church in a particular place and time is critical to their becoming a flourishing congregation. That work needs to be done before, during and after the amalgamation process.

In the recent past, many congregations tried to do that work by developing mission or vision statements and by listing their values. I am not convinced that that has been helpful or fruitful. Many congregational mission statements are merely generic descriptions of what the people think a church should be. They are seldom very compelling. They are usually focused primarily on the church rather than on the mission.

So, what does a congregation do in order to get a clear sense of what God is calling them to be and to do in their particular place and time? I suspect that the answer to that question lies in story-telling. The Church is a story-formed community. The Bible doesn’t list a set of values. It tells stories about the Triune God and about the people who have lived in response to and in obedience to that God.

What would it look like to reclaim that way of being the Church? People would need to know the Story well. It would need to dwell deeply in their hearts and their lives. The sad thing is that so many Christians have given up on our Story. They are not convinced that the stories in the Bible have much to say to the way they live their lives. It is a great challenge for their leaders to wrestle with the scriptures so deeply that the Story catches fire in their own lives. Then they will have something to offer their people.

The people will need to know the Story well enough that they are able to work with it creatively. Then, there will need to be a culture in the congregation that nurtures in them that creativity and celebrates it.

I am wondering if a way to start would be to give story-telling a more prominent place in the life of the community of faith. Have people tell the stories of what God is doing in their lives. Discover what biblical stories are living at the heart of the community. Learn those stories. Wrestle with them. Tell them to each other. Let those stories shape the decisions that are made. Let them be the lens through which the congregation sees what God is calling them to be and to do.

Does anyone know a congregation where that is happening? I would love to hear about it.

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This is part of a series of posts on the ways in which the structures of the church can inhibit all the people of a community of faith from fully expressing their ministry. Although congregations that are anxious about their future often try putting in place a new structure, thinking that that will solve their problems, it is important to note that changing the structures alone will not solve a church’s problems. Structures that no longer function well are often a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed. As Christendom fades, the structures that fit Christendom stop serving the mission of the church. It is helpful to understand the underlying assumptions and dynamics that structures serve.

Most Christendom congregations are structured around maintaining the organization rather than towards mission. As they face threats to their own survival, the tendency is to turn inwards even more. They become pre-occupied with church-focused questions: How can we balance the budget? What can we do to attract more people to our worship services and programmes? Weary, over-worked leaders ask, “How can we get more people to serve on our committees?” The pre-occupation of those committees is largely on keeping the organization functioning.

Sadly, in the many congregations who are in survival mode, the major expenditure of energy is now given not to programming or outreach projects but to fundraisers. At one point, fundraisers were often a method of supporting outreach projects. More and more frequently, however, those fundraisers are used to support the operating budgets of congregations.

This is a drastically reduced expression of what the church is meant to be. University Hill United Church in Vancouver, British Columbia describes the mission of the church with five Greek words: diakonia (serving Jesus), koinonia (Christian community), liturgia (worshipping God), didache  (training in the Way of Christ) and kerygma (proclaiming the Good News). In the book of Acts, these five characteristics are distinguishing marks of the Christian community as a whole.

Churches tend to be better at training people for the church in its “gathered” (ekklesia) phase: koinonia (Christian community), liturgy  (worship), and didache  (training in the Way of Christ) than in its “sent” (diaspora) phase: diakonia (serving Jesus) and in kerygma (proclaiming the Good News). The fullness of the church requires not only “come and join us” structures but also structures that send people out into the world — “go” structures.

As congregations make their way into the new future that is emerging, structures need to be developed that nurture the gifts and calling that the Holy Spirit has given to the people. Those Spirit-given gifts and callings will mostly be a matter of the baptized living their faith in the world (in work, play, home, neighbourhoods in which they live) rather than a matter of engaging in religious activities in the church (teaching Sunday School, leading a study group, conducting a financial campaign). The realities that Christian disciples face in their everyday lives can be very different from their experiences inside the church. They need skills and capacities for navigating complex and challenging ethical dilemmas.

More than that, they need to nurture the capacity to discern the signs of God’s inbreaking reign in the everyday. This means being deeply grounded in the scriptures so that they develop a robust theological imagination for the Spirit’s presence and movement. It means cultivating a posture of wonder among all of God’s people for God’s presence and works within and around us, especially in the lives of one’s neighbours. It means cultivating language that feels authentic for witnessing to God’s presence and for articulating why they act the way they act

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