Editor’s note: In the January/February 2014 issue of the Baptist Bulletin, John Greening laid out his 20/20 vision for the future of the GARBC. That vision involves four vital components: communication, network, assistance, and structure. This month’s editorial relates to the plan’s assistance component.
By John Greening
Benjamin Franklin once penned, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” This oft-quoted maxim has come to my mind many times during my years in the pastorate and as national representative. Following a similar literary pattern, I have framed my own maxim: “There are two inevitabilities in church ministry—cycles and uncertainty.”
I might wish that periods of apparent blessing and expansion in church ministry would continue indefinitely, but they don’t. Ministry has its share of ups and downs. Lest this sound too much like a “Chicken Little” lament, let me say that the opposite is true: ministry has its share of downs and ups!
I might assume that given enough study and experience, nothing could happen in ministry that would leave me uncertain about a course of action to pursue. Not so. While I have a substantial portfolio of “been there done that” to draw on, I am forced by the complexity of life to seek answers for uncertainties on a regular basis.
These two inevitabilities—cycles and uncertainty—provide reason in part for a fellowship of churches. I need the help of trusted advisors who share a common approach to the Word of God and church life. I must acknowledge humbly that others might know something that I do not, and then reach out to request assistance from them. While not every solution or answer can be found in networking, many can. Our Regular Baptist fellowship is first on my “call list.”
Within our network, remarkable brain trusts with Biblical acumen and ministry experience are available. Through the fellowship, I am in touch with ministry veterans who are willing and able to listen to my inquiries and respond with insightful assistance.
Think about the inevitable cycles and uncertainties of church ministry. Do any of the following sound familiar?
• Attendance issues
• Facility challenges
• Financial crunches
• Conflict matters
• Leadership structures
• Pastoral transitions
• Educational strategies
• Church-planting opportunities
• Church dissolutions
• Theological assessments
• Government regulations
The current buzzword for the process of providing assistance in dealing with the inevitable cycles and uncertainties of church ministry is “consultation.” The dictionary defines “consultation” as “a meeting in which someone (such as a doctor or lawyer) talks to a person about a problem, question, etc.”
Often I think of Timothy’s need for consultation as he drew from Paul’s experience. When serving in the church at Ephesus, Timothy found himself overwhelmed with the inevitabilities of ministry cycles and uncertainties. Who better to turn to than his knowledgeable friend and personal mentor, the apostle Paul?
Out of his wisdom and experience, Paul wrote to Timothy a remarkable letter of advice in response to the ups, downs, and dilemmas in the Ephesian church. Paul helped Timothy know how to approach situations that the young man had not faced previously. Paul’s first letter to Timothy provided consulting responses that included approaches, answers, and solutions ready for Timothy’s implementation.
In following this same spirit of coaching, we attempt to foster a culture of consulting within our Regular Baptist fellowship. We help each other by providing insights, recommendations, processes, and strategies. The birth of our Regular Baptist Web Community grew out of this desire to create an open culture of assistance. Excellent learning opportunities are available online to enhance ministry skills in areas such as evangelism, assimilation, preaching, financial management, doctrinal statement revision, church planting, and strategic planning.
Within the last year our team has interacted with churches that have seen decline and are weighing the decision to close. We have helped with revitalization, seeing new life breathed into a church. In other instances, we have guided churches through the complicated process of dissolution. While the process of closing a church is a painful one for the church family, new possibilities can emerge. With the assistance of skilled help, the death of one ministry can yield the new life of multiple church plants.
We also help churches with tax exemption, intervention on behalf of military personnel, and immigration and residency dilemmas. We track down legal perspectives. We respond to theological questions. We interact with churches and pastors moving through periods of leadership transition.
In what cycle do you find yourself or your church? What questions about church ministry do you have that keep you scratching your head? Don’t torture yourself by thinking you are alone. Please contact us. We will do our best to help or we will point you toward others who can assist. That is what fellowship is all about.
Paul talked about the positive outcome of interfacing the cycles of ministry with the presence of friends. In his chapter on giving, Paul shared an applicable principle of coming to the aid of another: “That now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack” (2 Cor. 8:14).
Together we can help each other through the cycles and uncertainties of church ministry. It’s what we do.
John Greening is national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.