"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
September 23, 2006

Baptist Ecclesiology – My Church Planting Experience

This is part four of series, for part one click here, for part two click here, for part three click here. Some years back, my local association was actively looking to promote church planting. I was coming to end of a good experience with a small church, there had been some real growth and I […]

This is part four of series, for part one click here, for part two click here, for part three click here.

Some years back, my local association was actively looking to promote church planting. I was coming to end of a good experience with a small church, there had been some real growth and I felt positive about the approach to ministry that was being revealed.

So, I prepared a little presentation on one neighborhood which had no Baptist church (actually, where the Baptists had left many years back). It was a vibrant, culturally alive, and mostly unchurched community with a clear local identity.

I sent my preliminary paperwork off, including my little presentation to the denominational head office and spoke with the person in charge of the initiative. We made an appointment to meet and chat. I discussed this with a small number of people and asked them to pray for the meeting.

Time came for the meeting and the guy didn’t show up. Not only did he not show up, but he denied ever having made the appointment. Not only did he deny ever having made the appointment, he refused to make another one, claiming to be “very busy.” He had read my materials, but I couldn’t draw a further comment from him.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement РI was gutted. The experience hit me hard and it hit me deep. I’m still not sure if I really have the skill-set to be a church planter, but I am convinced I have the skills to research a mission opportunity. A ministry colleague suggested I plant the church anyway. He was convinced it would work and maybe he was right. But at the time I didn’t see myself steeping out of the denominational tent in that way.

I don’t like to post negative stories like this one, for a host of reasons. However, I’m not sure how I can talk about my struggle with the models I have seen of Baptist denominationalism without mentioning it.

The bigger problem wasn’t what I should do, but why this unworked mission-field existed. Here was a local area that was culturally and economically significant with no church or plant programme, while other areas that already had church connections were seeing new plants.

It left me wondering whether a centrally controlled, autonomous and quite obviously unaccountable (at least on the micro level) church planting programme worked for Baptists.

For a Baptist, any central organisational structure is a major problem. The only reason Baptists ever bother to have denominations at all is in response to a collective action problem – local churches need things that only church collectives can provide. These tend to be accreditation and training of clergy, missions infrastructure, large scale charitable work and maybe, church planting initiatives.

I’m not claiming denominational structures never work, because they do. I benefitted greatly from a denominational theological education and I have seen good initiatives in various ministry areas. My experience at the Baptist World Youth Conference in Harare in 1993 had a huge role in shaping my global view of faith.

But, I’ve also seen saddening levels of careerism as well. If I’ve had bad experiences with denominational pen-pushers I can think of a dozen peers who have had worse ones. My church planting experience was disheartening, but ti was small. However, if you accumulate these stories, you get a bigger (and uglier picture). I hate to say this, but I think the system is broken (at least at this point).

When I was a student minister, a pastor said to me, “if the denominational head-office ceased to exist, how long would it take for us to notice?” It was a good question and at the time I thought the idea that we might not notice for a long time was a sign of a healthy church. Just send off the denomination subscriptions, drop the head office propaganda in the circular filing bin and get on with the ministry. Now, I’m not so sure.

The collective action problem is too great, the independent local church too much of a haven for ministerial malfunction and the denominational infrastructure too full of comfortable and respectable jobs. I’m no longer convinced that the structures that Baptists create to solve these issues (at least the ones I have seen), really work.

Which presents a problem for me and I think for many other mission-minded Baptists. Stay or go? I believe this problem is further exacerbated by the levels of conflict within local churches, which I will turn to in the next post on this series. The Baptist ideal is one thing, the Baptist reality is another.

[tags] Baptist, Church Planting [/tags]

Responses
hamo 16 years ago

i have been reading this series with interest. i am a ‘baptist by chance’, (ie grew up in the church) but found that when i explored other denom affiliations that i was more ‘baptist’ than i realised.

i’m not sure i could even articulate the distinctives any more (i didn’t do that class at college) but i sense they are ‘in me’ like DNA.

i have chosen not to be acrredited (ordained) but i do like my links with the baptist crew.
look forward to hearing more of your thinking on this one.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Hamo, thanks for the comment. I like the allusion you made to DNA. For me, there is no question the Baptist ideals appeal to the way I’m wired.

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