Recently I experienced the church being the church. Let me tell you about it. This blog may be long enough that we will post it in several parts over several days. Hopefully some of you will read it all the way through.
Many of you are aware that our district has embarked on a ‘District Transformation Project’—an experiment designed to transform churches from illness to health. In March, Dr. Paul Borden joined us for a consultation/intervention at our Ridge Road Wesleyan Church in Queensbury, NY. Dr. Mark Gorveatte and Dr. Dan Berry were also a part of the consultation team.
At the conclusion of the interviews and focus groups, a report was written and presented in the Sunday morning service. The following is what was shared with the leaders and congregation. I have made a few comments to help the article flow. My remarks are italicized.
Ridge Road Wesleyan Church
Consultation Report - Dr. Paul Borden
March 11 – 13, 2011
1. Pastor and Spouse: Dean and Rosalie Brown are the best strengths of this congregation. Everyone with whom we spoke valued them and their ministry to the congregation highly. Many complimented Dean’s preaching and his overall approach to leading the congregation. People appreciated Rosalie’s commitment to children and women and in providing care and direction for the congregation with her husband. They have earned the respect and trust of many in the congregation. Their track record in leading congregations is evident in their calling to this church.
2. Dedicated Leaders: There is a core of leaders dedicated to serving with the pastor in leading the congregation. These people understand mission and have a heart to see the congregation become effective in reaching many in the community with the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. They realize that this congregation has a stewardship before God to serve the community by bringing to it the “Good News” and by ministering the love of Jesus to those in need.
3. Desire for Evangelism: We consistently heard from the pastor and his spouse, key leaders and others in the congregation the desire to see more people become new disciples of Jesus Christ through the life of the congregation. There are a number of people in the congregation (though not all) who realize that God did not create the Church for Christians but rather to mobilize Christians to serve their community by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
4. Facilities: The current facilities provide the congregation an excellent resource in which to conduct its mission. As with most facilities improvements could be made, however, that which has been done including the recent painting of the worship center create the potential to conduct excellent ministry endeavors in serving the community in which the congregation exists.
5. Location and Accessibility: Though not on a main thoroughfare the facilities are located on a busy road that is used by both commuters and those seeking access to other highways. This location and the access that goes with it is a resource enabling the congregation to conduct fruitful and effective ministry.
Next, the team listed the concern(s) that had surfaced during the weekend of interviews and focus groups. In this case, there was only one overriding concern (according to Dr. Borden this has occurred only a few times in over 500 consultations).
Spiritual Disobedience: This congregation has one major concern that over shadows all other concerns and, in my opinion, is the underlying cause for all the other issues that need to be addressed such as; the lack of new people, few children and youth, poor discipleship endeavors, and relatively few people becoming new disciples of Jesus Christ on a yearly basis. That major concern is the spiritual behavior of the congregation for more than two decades.
This concern has several specific elements to it. The sin the New Testament speaks of the most are the specific sins that come through the misuse of the tongue. Yet this congregation has been and continues to be known for the gossip and slander, of others including former members, pastors and even the denominational district of which it is a part. Often the words are communicated in a sinful way designed to control the church, to stop change and to recapture past behaviors. Also there has been no congregational discipline by leaders and so like undisciplined children people have been allowed to act out in ungodly ways and nothing has been done.
Secondly there is no expressed interest in Biblically confronting people and the issues related to these sins. No one has talked to us about confession and forgiveness. The solutions suggested are that either individuals leave or be ignored.
As a result of not confronting sin the congregation has a reputation in the community and in the denomination of a church that hurts and discards pastors. It also has the reputation of marginalizing people who want to see the congregation function more to reach lost people than serve the saints. That reputation may be somewhat moderated now since the decibel level has decreased with the coming of the current pastor and his spouse. But the grumbling continues and will eventually re-surface because the root causes have not been dealt with by leaders in the congregation.
Finally, some in this congregation recognize that this body of believers has been disobedient to our Lord’s “Great Commission” to go and make disciples. The congregation exposed its real values, as opposed to its stated ones, when it reduced the 2011 budget line for evangelism, which was meager to begin with, in order to have more money to spend for those ministries that benefit those who are already disciples.
It is amazing that a congregation in a denomination that is supposed to be known for its holy living continues to act so unholy.
The last part of the report involved recommendations (prescriptions) that would help the congregation return to health and wholeness.
The congregation needs to request the District Board of Administration to reclassify the church to “Developing Status” with the intent to “Re-Launch” the congregation as a new church by the Fall of 2011. In other words the congregation needs to start over again by re-inventing itself, spiritually, missionally, and organizationally. What that re-invention might look like is not entirely clear since there are a number of ways a congregation can do this. However, what is key is that the congregation needs to experience spiritual reformation, a new way of identifying itself in the community and unity in pursuing a common mission and vision.
Assuming the congregation votes to make this request on April 3, 2011 several things will need to occur. The congregation will pay for pastor Dean and Rosalie Brown to attend the GHC Discovery Center (May 10-13) for assessment/training. Once the Discovery Center is completed the pastor and his spouse will draft a re-invention plan to present to the DBA for approval.
Once that plan is approved by the DBA it will be brought to the congregation by the pastor to determine who will join the pastor and his spouse in pursuing a new mission and vision. The congregation will be provided the opportunity to join the pastor and his spouse in concentrated times of prayer to ask for God’s leading and direction in how this re-invention will be developed. The new plan will be initiated by June 1, 2011 and implemented by no later than October 31, 2011.
THOSE WHO ATTEND THE CONGREGATION REGULARLY WILL VOTE TO EITHER ACCEPT OR REJECT THIS REPORT ON SUNDAY APRIL 3, 2011. EACH BALLOT WILL BE SIGNED. NO BALLOTS WILL BE COUNTED IF NOT SIGNED. IF ACCEPTED IMPLEMENTATION WILL BEGIN AND THE PASTOR AND SPOUSE WILL RECEIVE HELP AND COACHING FROM THE DISTRICT FOR THE NEXT YEAR TO ASSIST IN THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NEW PLAN FOR RE-INVENTION.
Dr. Paul D. Borden
Rev. W. Paul James
Dr. Mark Gorveatte
Dr. Dan A. Berry
To be continued...