The pastor at Mount Pleasant resigned nearly four years ago, saying that he felt that God was telling him that his ministry there was over. Everyone was in shock. He had served the church for 34 years as a bi-vocational pastor. The congregation was at peace. We asked, “What is God up to?”
Two answers have come. Within six months, a church a few miles away had a need for a loving pastor. After years of verbal abuse by its former preacher, the congregation had split. Bro. Hershel is just what the surviving congregation needed. He is bringing healing there.
Meanwhile, Mount Pleasant concluded that it was time for them to seek a pastor who could devote “full-time” to growing their church. With the conversion of the Federal Highway, which runs through the church field, to a four-lane, divided highway, they believed the community would attract new residents.
In less than two years worship attendance at Mount Pleasant doubled from 75 to 150. In the past two years more than 50 persons have been baptized by the church. The church began to work on an addition to their facilities.
Wisely, the new pastor, Bro. Glen, called a “town meeting” for the church. He announced that it was driven by three considerations: (1) to listen to the people and their ideas about how best to utilize their new space, (2) given the probability that some church in that growing community will likely be reaching 300 persons or more five years from now, did Mt. Pleasant want to be that church; (3) to hear any concerns that the membership might have.
A good crowd, nearly 50 adults and 25 children, attended the town meeting. Like most rural Baptist meetings it began with a carry-in supper featuring chickens that some of the men had barbequed.
The associational missionary served as the moderator for the town meeting. He led the adults through a consideration of four crucial questions for any church:
(1) What is God’s general will for every church? Some of the responses included references to what is called the Great Commandments and the Great Commission. Others took note of the qualities of purity, unity, mutual submission and spiritual warfare, drawing particularly on the book of Ephesians. And still others identified the basic functions of churches including worship, evangelism, ministry, discipleship, fellowship, prayer and mission support.
(2) What is God doing in your community? The responses centered on new housing starts, additions to the local school facilities, the highway improvements, and the platting of some subdivisions. The consensus seemed to be that God was providing them with an opportunity to reach out and grow.
(3) What has God been doing in your church? The significant growth numbers cited earlier were given a “face” as several persons testified about the impact of the church upon their lives. This seemed to be very affirming to the long-time members and to the pastor.
(4) What is God’s specific will for your church? To process this question the moderator divided the participants into small groups by asking each of the seven deacons to lead a group that would discuss one of the seven functions of a church which had been identified earlier in the meeting. For example, Deacon Rickie invited those who wanted to develop ideas about how the church might expand its evangelism efforts to go with him to a classroom. There they would discuss that subject for 20 minutes.
Surprisingly, the 50 participants divided themselves up well, with three to 11 persons in each discussion group. Reporters were drafted for each group.
For the final event of the evening, the groups came back to the fellowship hall and each reported the ideas that had surfaced in their discussions. These were written down and handed to the pastor, who will work with the church council and deacons for follow-up and planning.
In a time when many pastors are claiming that they have a special contact with God, that the pastor is the vision-caster and that the church members must meekly and uncritically follow the leadership of the pastor, it was refreshing to participate in a process where the church body was seeking collectively and cooperatively to know the will of God for its future.
I pray that God will bless this effort. It seems to be the historic Baptist way.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.