The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board has been forced to layoff a large amount of employees. The Florida Baptist Convention has downsized by nearly half. In an article for The Baptist Standard, Bill Wilson (Center for Healthy Churches) reported that most state conventions have reduced staff by 33 percent to 50 percent since the year 2000 and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has received $12.4 million last year compared to $16.9 Million in 2000. For the CBF that is a decrease, according to Wilson, of almost half when inflation is considered. Wilson claims these are all signs of the beginning of the end of Baptist denominational entities as we know them.
So why is this happening? Part of it could be a lack of trust among churches towards their denominational bodies. That seems plausible. Of course the rise of non-denominationalism is probably a key factor. The fact that this generation doesn’t give like generations past is certainly part of it. I’m not sure of the reason. But what is happening concerns me. I’m not necessarily concerned about the end of denominational life (though Baptist denominational bodies are funding my education and I am grateful). But I am disturbed by what the end of denominational entities might point to. And that is a lack of togetherness among churches.
There is a rising trend among local churches to do everything in house. By that I mean that churches have decided to fund their own missionaries, run their own programs, and write their own catechesis and curriculum out of this desire to have their own identity.
I’m not against churches being innovative or trying new things. Nor am I against churches finding their niche in their local community. However churches should strive to work together over becoming isolated in any way. Churches that work with other churches are healthier and local communities are better served by a team of churches over churches that compete. Here are six reasons why this is true and important.
1. Unity has always been an essential mark of the universal church.
Paul called for the church in the first century to treasure and work towards its own unity (Ephesians 4:3-6). Today, pastors talk about their churches as a part of the universal church. They rightly say that the gospel we share is what unites us. But this is often the end of the unity. Few pastors actually work toward togetherness with other churches in their communities.
2. Working together protects us from pride and competition.
In every field of American life we are taught to be the best. I must admit that I want to be the best at whatever I am doing, even pastoring. But I think we should remind ourselves that the best in their field are often the ones that make those around them better. Churches need not strive to pull out to the front of the pack, but rather they should be pushing each other forward so everyone has a good race.
3. Working together strengthens each individual congregation.
If the churches I attended growing up did anything right (and they did a lot right) it was that they worked with other churches in the community. I was blessed (even spoiled) with the constant opportunity to learn from multiple pastors. I feel like I have six or seven shepherds all leading me in the same direction. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t have the same opportunity because their churches are jealous for their time and their pastors are jealous for their attention. I’m not endorsing church hopping. But congregations would benefit greatly by being exposed to the different strengths of several of the churches and pastors around their communities.
4. Our communities need a clear message.
If one of our goals is to provide the communities around us with an accurate picture of Christ, than churches working together is essential. A community filled with dozens of churches can still have a blurry picture of Jesus. This is likely if churches don’t work together. When churches isolate themselves from other churches they become a product, the community’s believers become consumers, and the nonbelievers become a competitive market. This makes it about which pastor is best or which church’s programs suit the consumer’s preferences, not about Jesus.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for difference. There are certain nonessentials that churches will disagree on and that is ok. But if those differences get in the way of proclaiming a clear, unifying gospel, then we’ve lost our mission. If we are to be the body of Christ that our communities can see clearly, churches must work together.
5. Our communities need a strong supporter.
Throughout its history, the church has been a safe haven for the poor and the marginalized. When the world chews people up and spits them out, we have always been there to support them. But resources are not unlimited. One church can only do so much (many churches don’t do enough, but that’s a different post for another time). Churches must learn to pool resources so that they can be more effective at helping their community. The sad fact is that most churches spend almost all of their money in house. They may have programs that benefit the community, but they don’t make the dent they could if they worked together.
6. Our communities need a leader they can follow.
As I mentioned before, I was blessed to grow up with several pastors all leading me in the same direction. Our local communities are desperate for that. We are called, as leaders, to cut straight paths for people to follow. That means coming together under one goal. If different churches are walking in different directions, then we will lose our communities on the way. Pastors must make an effort to meet with other pastors in the community to discuss the needs in their community and the direction God is calling them to lead their community in.