Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What's Your Momentum?

I likely should call some of these "Coffee Diaries" as I jot down thoughts based on recent conversations in a rather unedited, stream of consciousness style. Perhaps some of this will flow, and not have too many grammar or spelling problems, and might be useful in your personal and corporate church ministry.

I'm now involved with many churches in a variety of locations. Rural and urban, small membership and large, in the United States and around the world, and all the "in between" descriptors are now my world. In my own home annual conference we have 912 congregations spread across North Georgia. In many respects learning about, and growing in relationship and partnership with so many congregations, is similar to getting to know thousands of people. There are many similarities, yet each church with it's own context, history, and personality.

What is your approach when you are getting to know a congregation in a visit? For me it is always interesting to learn who they are, what they do as a church, and how they present themselves and that vibe that they give off. Some congregations present as young and sassy (sometimes full of themselves!), and others seem old and frail. Most are somewhere between birth and death, but where?

Have you ever walked into a congregation and thought, "This seems like a dynamic place full of the Holy Spirit!" Or perhaps you've been to a church and sense gloom and doom and wondered, "YIKES, what is going on here?" But, more often than not, most congregations seem to be in their particular "groove," doing what they do, with a certain routine and normalcy that they expect and perhaps even demand. As a visitor or outsider it's sometimes a challenge to really experience and know the congregation and have a "clear read" on who the church is and who they are becoming.

No matter the "age or stage" of a congregation, I'm often curious what the momentum of the church is. Is the congregation stable, declining, or advancing? How long have they been in this movement, or lack of it, and how does this match with what God and the people expect? If a church has been in decline 10-20 years, and the "youngster" in the church is 75, and all the members live outside the immediate neighborhood of the church, how are they feeling and what are they expecting as a congregation?

Here's another image that might work for you as you think about your congregation. In some ways this is somewhat similar to boarding a ship and expecting a great journey, an adventure, and that everyone must be together, work together. Along the way you'll have opportunity to add others to the crew. It's a working crew experience! To "arrive" you'll need everyone to give their all, and to add new crew along the way. With such a visual where's your ship? Are you in the harbor ready to set out again? Do you have enough hands on deck to move the ship and get up some speed? Perhaps your church is more like a ship adrift, or maybe in even worse shape stuck on a reef or with a hole in the hull! In this we also recognize there can be negative momentum or positive momentum. Once the speed picks up, in either direction, the movement itself can take on a life of it's own which might not be easily controlled.

When I think about church momentum I'm reminded of the type advance, movement, growth, engagement, and Body of Christ found in the Acts of the Apostles. This is a living proclamation in word and deed. The church is in desperate need of experiencing this as more than an old story, but reclaiming again the experience and current redemptive story of God as our way of being. If you want to track some of this skim through the book again and consider what this might look like if alive in your church and community. For me, I'm always drawn to Acts 2:42-47, Acts 5:12-16, Acts 6:1-7, Acts 8:7-8 (healing and "much joy in that city"), Acts 9:31,  Acts 10 (proclamation and response from variety ethnic groups- an ongoing theme in Acts), Acts 12:12, Acts 13:48-52 (possibility AND challenge!), Acts 16:5, and you will find other passages that reinforce this idea and form a great study for a church. Note there can be/will be opposition and persecution in such a movement (& not just silly culture skirmishes but the real thing which our international Christian brothers and sisters know too much about! Read Acts 7-8, Acts 12, and other passages again if you doubt or minimize this reality).

As you continue to read in Acts realize that Paul and company were active, unafraid of tension, and in fact saw the value of a call to response, repentance, and following in this Way of Christ. Find MANY clues about momentum in church and community in the Acts of the Apostles that could well be lived out again today.


2 comments:

Sam I Am said...

Thanks, Scott. I enjoy your coffee diaries - especially as I enjoy my morning cup of coffee. Reading this encourages me to work to plan moire time wroth you whenever our paths may cross again (which doesn't happen as often as one would think).

Scott Parrish said...

Hey Sam. Thanks. Not sure how I managed to garble your comment when I posted it. Except it's late & I'm not drinking coffee! Yes, we'll catch up sometime soon. Bet most folk have no idea about this style circuit riding. I know I didn't!