Sunday, November 30, 2008

Practical Ecclesiology 5 - Accountability

Now let me speak for bit in defense of those who would call our little church “at risk.” 

First, I am entirely glad that our church is part of a denomination. Certainly there are dangers inherent in any sort of church polity or structure, and denominational structures are not immune from to those dangers. Nevertheless, I believe that the dangers of denominationalism are ultimately less worrisome than the dangers of a church going solo. “Independent” churches are sailing in dangerous waters – accountable to no one, disconnected both from the history of the Holy Spirit working through the ages and from the larger movement of the Spirit around the world at this point in time. If we are indeed the Body of Christ, then we had best be listening to some other parts of that body. If you saw a disattached hand that trying to crawl around on it's own, you would think that not just odd, but very very wrong. The church that tries to do the same with no attachment to the Church at all times in all places is just as perverse.

Second, I am glad that our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, cares enough to watch for the condition of the churches that fall under the care and shepherding of the denomination. It is good that churches that are struggling in any number of ways should be identified and should be offered help. The Spirit works in ways that are both miraculous and ordinary. We may learn to forgive one another, or to humble ourselves in service to those who are ugly and hurting and wretched, or it may be in helping us to use our money and resources more wisely. Either way can be the examples of the God's Spirit in our midst. We should not spurn the help that God is sending us just because it doesn't look like the help we want.

We are not the only church that is in this group or process of evaluation. From what I understand, there are some other that are indeed literally on the verge of collapse, legally and/or financially. I believe it is good that someone is attempting to work with these churches to create a good outcome. More on that in a bit.

Third, the process of reflection, of looking at who we are, what we want, and where we want to go is always valuable. Let’s be clear about what gifts God has granted us. Then let us be clear about how we plan to use those gifts, as meager or as extravagant as they may be. And then let us be about the work given to us without apology that we are not doing some other work, but with joy that we are doing OUR work because we are confident that it is HIS work for us. 

Some of this process may involve recognizing our weaknesses, confronting brutal and harsh truths about gifts we have completely missed or misunderstood. This too is good. But let’s make sure again that these are indeed our gifts, our particular calling, according to the Word and the Spirit’s leading in our midst. Accountability should not mean that we are obligated to be in submission to studies, surveys, and theories that are founded on scientific method more than upon Biblical wisdom. 

Fourth, I am confident that the motives of our denominational shepherds and staff are good and upright. I believe that they seek to serve the Lord faithfully, and to assist us in our calling. Therefore any discussions like the one I am carrying on here should assume the highest and best motives. I do not see here any attempt to force us either in or out or up or down. I see no ulterior motives involving power grabs, theft of money or property, or 

As I understand it, the purpose behind the At Risk identification process is really about helping churches that are close to death to plan their demise in such a way as to allow the principle of resurrection to rule their thinking and actions going forward. In other words, the ECC seeks to encourage those churches to recognize their position, and act in such a way that when the end comes, any assets remaining after the dissolution can be used to fund church planting projects. In this way, the death of a church will mean the birth of several other churches. This is both biblical and poetic. 

It is biblical because it seems to be a principle built into the fabric of the universe that everything requires death and resurrection. The seed dies to sprout into the plant. The plant dies to create soil to nourish the seed. The star dies to create the planets. And of course the GodMan dies to raise us all in Himself. There is a beauty and symmetry to it that we all recognize for it is a picture of the home we all long for.

I think this is ultimately a wise approach. I hope those who need it take advantage of it. I don’t think that’s us. I just happen to believe that we have more in common Peter than we have with Lazarus.

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