Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Associational Decisions

It's interesting to me that some scriptures in the New Testament offer some insight into the issues we're dealing with right now in our association.

We're trying to find our way into the future before us. We're facing a changing culture, a different kind of congregational climate, a bad economy, and a rapidly proliferating technological society. A very real effort is being made in PBA life these days to determine what our priorities should be and what type of focus we should have. Eddie Heath, our vision consultant, is capably assisting us in crafting a plan that will propel us toward effectively carrying out a well-defined mission in the years just ahead. A leaner, sharper, more targeted network is called for in these challenging days. Though our Gospel message doesn't change, our methods and approaches must.

It appears that a consensus is slowly emerging that our model for ministry must be altered. Enthusiasm seems to be growing for moving from a structure that develops programs and outreaches and projects and asks for the churches to help to a new paradigm where the association will exist to assist the congregations in their work of touching, reaching, winning, and discipling their particular communities and settings. This would be quite a shift but it was actually approved as the visional design for our collection of churches during the last transition period and was just never really implemented.

Under this strategy, our PBA staff would consult with and help equip and enable our local fellowships to be the very best they could be. They would provide personnel and resources to come alongside our churches with instruction, counsel, and fresh ideas about congregational health, conflict resolution, evangelism, church growth, and ministry initiatives. Imagine a Troy Durio helping an inner city church more finely hone its skills in impacting its neighborhood or assisting one of our congregations on this resort oriented Peninsula develop action plans to more creatively utilize beaches and theme parks for Christian witness. Picture a Mike Vaccarelli not just keeping up the PBA web page or preparing our newsletter but going in and guiding our churches in setting up helpful technology systems that will better position them to successfully make a difference in our high tech environment. Think about a seasoned servant like Mike Haywood establishing mentoring relationships with young and potential leaders in our congregations or equipping our churches in how to develop strong youth and family ministries that will enable them to have a greater influence in their communities.

Surely there would still be opportunities and occasions for shared ministries and wide-scale endeavors in our wonderful and longstanding voluntary patnership. The basic thrust, though, would shift to a more church-centered approach.

It seems to me that Acts 11:19-26 illustrates this beautifully. When the church at Antioch formed in an explosion of evangelistic activity, the "mother church" in Jerusalem sent Barnabas there to offer some help. He, in turn, went and secured the services of Saul(Paul) and the two of them taught, consulted, and strengthened that new local fellowship for a whole year. Eventually the Antioch congregation became a hotbed of spiritual vitality and a strong missionary-sending church itself. The life and ministries of most of our PBA churches could be enhanced and lifted to new levels if we were open to dynamic new methods and approaches as presented to us by able consultants whose work it is to find out what the trends are and how best to respond.

Then there is strong precedent in the New Testament for churches cooperating together in large tasks that isolated assemblies could never accomplish alone. Paul's attempt to raise a large relief collection for the famine-stricken believers back in Jerusalem(Acts 11:28; I Corinthians 16:1-4) is one example. Maybe the popular and very successful sports and work camps and disaster relief done in PBA would be something of a contemporary demonstration of that idea of occasionally joining together in big initiatives.

Please pray for your interim leadership team and for the ad hoc groups that are now wrestling with how to put all of this together into meaningful recommendations to the entire association sometime this Spring. Just as the Jerusalem Council met centuries ago(Acts 15) to deal with a major doctrinal issue, so now we grapple with these practical and organizational matters, hoping to get to that point where we can say, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." to move into exciting, exhilirating new missional directions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Inauguration Guide

I assume you'll not be attending next week's presidential inauguration in Washington.

It's a long way to go. The traffic will be horrible. The crowds will be unbelievable. Finding a restroom or a place to eat would be difficult. You'd have to stand on your feet for hours. Your chance of even getting a faint glimpse of our new Chief Executive would be slim indeed. Who knows what the weather will be like.

So you'll stay home like millions of other citizens and watch the proceedings on television. It'll be a lot more comfortable that way. And you'll see everything close up.

But how can you really mark this significant event in American history? More specifically, what can you, as a Christian, do to have a part in this most important national occasion?

In a word, pray.

Pray for outgoing president George Bush, that he'll find rest and solace. That he'll find direction for how to spend the remainder of his life. That he'll not be overly proud of his good accomplishments or painfully haunted by his mistakes and failures.

Pray for Rick Warren, the California pastor who will deliver the invocation at the ceremony. Rev. Warren has come under attack from the Right and the Left, and regrettably from Christians, too, in those differing camps. He has strong convictions, however, and hasn't compromised. Ask the Lord to give him a prayer with substantive content. A prayer that is respectful of other faiths but that doesn't leave Jesus' name out for the sake of political correctness. A prayer that reflects the belief that God is sovereign over national affairs.

Pray for Sasha and Malia, the precious little daughters of our incoming president. Petition the Lord to keep them physically safe. Ask God to prevent them from losing their sweet smiles and their beautiful innocence and their seeming humility as they become the most famous children in the world. Pray that they will continue to be reared to live so as to give back and not just be spoiled takers. Pray that as they grow up in the White House they'll provide an example to the youth and children of America of striving for excellence.

And intercede for Mr. Obama. First Lady Michelle, too. Ask God to lead them to a good church in our nation's capital where they might grow spiritually. Pray that our new leader might be surrounded with wise, capable advisors. That he might be protected from harm. That moral values and personal integrity will prevail over whims and opinions and political considerations and polls. Ask God to help him be transparently honest. Request that the Father use him to unite us and give us hope. Pray that he will be held back from making policy or personnel decisions that would further the spiritual and ethical drift we see in our land today. That he will enjoy continued good health and have energy for his awesome workload.

You don't have to go to Washington Tuesday to participate in the meaningful festivities. You can contribute right there in your lounge chair as you lift prayers heavenward.