Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Watching the Fellowship


Last week I flew to Hamilton to attend the 54th annual convention of The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada (FEBCC, henceforth, "The Fellowship"). I have attended a Fellowship Baptist Church since 1981, I took my undergrad and graduate studies at a Fellowship school and I have pastored in Fellowship churches since 1989.


The Fellowship is a diverse group of churches from coast to coast (about 500 of them). There are regional distinctions and distinctions between churches in any given region. We share a statement of faith and a national identity through missions, educational institutions and the national office. Some recent changes have given me lots to think about. I do plan to do a few posts on these changes. If any Fellowship pastors or members of Fellowship churches find this blog, I'd love to have your comments. If you are not a part of the Fellowship but wish to help me think through some of these questions, I'd appreciate your input.


This post is for background. Let me give a little bit more: In the Spring of 2006, the Fellowship hired a new President, Dr. John Kaiser. Dr. Kaiser came from Growing Healthy Churches (formerly American Baptist Churches of the West) in Northern California. He has written a book titled, Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in their Mission. We took the first step toward retooling our National Fellowship this year at convention. We adopted Dr. Kaiser's "Accountable Leadership" model and did away with a multiple board structure for our agencies. This is for a six-year trial period. We can adopt or reject the new way of doing things at any Convention during that time. Dr. Kaiser is confident that we will be sold on the fruitfulness of the new structure.


The more I think about this new direction, the more questions I have. Here are a few of them for a start:


  • Are we an association of churches or a denomination? Is that a meaningful distinction any more?

  • I have serious reservations regarding a corporate model of leadership for local churches, but is it acceptable or even desirable for a National administration? The National Fellowship office is not a church, but exists to serve churches.

  • With that in mind, is it important for an administrative body that serves churches to be theological, i.e. define their terms (missional, disciple, conversion, etc)? Is it safe to assume: a). we are on the same page on doctrine because of our shared affirmation of faith and / or b). theological precision is a local church matter?

  • The ultimate purpose of these changes is to grow churches, both by expanding the size of existing churches and accelerating the planting of churches. What is the most effective way to influence local churches to achieve these goals while respecting their autonomy?

I am not opposed to streamlining administrations to make them more effective in accomplishing their mission. I am not opposed to helping churches grow and multiply - in fact, I could use some help in mobilizing our people to be more mission-minded here in Edson. One thing I do know is that I am not going to cheer for the team that wants to maintain the status-quo (I don't even know if that "team" exists). We do need change and renewal as a Fellowship of churches.


However, I want to know if my restlessness is warranted. Am I asking the right questions? Is there cause for alarm or shall I just hang tight and see what develops?

12 comments:

Spurgeonwannabe said...

Dear Terry,

My name is Josh I am pastor of another Fellowship church in Manitoba.

I know Neil and Kim (though they won't admit to it)but they are good people we went to the same church for a while

I was completely weary of the entire unfolding of our convention

I am absolutely certain the issue at hand which is that our churches are losing ground is real, but the solution is not administrative.

We need to identify ourselves as ones who preach the Word of God clearly. You have never seen such a mixed bag as you do today because no one wants to commit to Bible teaching and preaching but rather programs. Emergent Church mentality has crept in.

stauf46 said...

Thanks for identifying yourself, Josh!

I certainly agree with you. I have been itching to write something more substantial on this subject, but I know that I should write our national president first - that would be the courteous thing to do before I go public.

George Andres said...

Terry: You spoke at our church the Oct.26-28 weekend.That should help you identify where I'm at.
I share your restlessness and feel somewhat helpless in knowing how to react to the situation we face.
If we feel we have something worth fighting for, then hanging tight to see what develops is not the answer.I tried to pass on your blog site to my Pastor but he was unable to access it.Any help with this?

stauf46 said...

Thanks for the comment, George. I believe that what is worth fighting for is the Gospel, where ever that takes us. I hope to do my little part!

stauf46 said...

George, I emailed your pastor with the link - I hope that works for him.

Darryl said...

Found you through Michael Haykin's blog. I pastor a Fellowship church in Toronto and have been wrestling with similar questions. I'm all for structural change, but I think the problem goes a lot deeper.

Thanks for this post.

George Andres said...

Terry:Tom Ascol at http://founders.org/blog addresses the healthy/unhealthy church topic.See his entries for Nov 1&5. We are not the only ones concerned about this matter.

John Kaiser said...

Terry, you were kind enough to send me an email about your questions and concerns. Perhaps it would be helpful for me to respond to your posted questions. Here goes:

Terry: The more I think about this new direction, the more questions I have. Here are a few of them for a start:

Are we an association of churches or a denomination? Is that a meaningful distinction any more?"

John: It all depends on what you mean by "denomination." In common usage it is simply an identifiable group of churches with a name. In that sense the Fellowship has always been a denomination. To some people, "denomination" should only refer to hierarchical groups. In that sense, there can be no such thing as a Baptist denomination, due to our congregational government. Personally, I think people are playing games when they work too hard to avoid the common usage of the word.

Terry: I have serious reservations regarding a corporate model of leadership for local churches, but is it acceptable or even desirable for a National administration? The National Fellowship office is not a church, but exists to serve churches.

John: What makes a model "corporate" to you? Is holding leaders accountable for obeying the Great Commission "corporate?" That's all I'm trying to do. If corporate structures cannot be made useful servants to the cause of Christ, can we begin the deconstruction with the pension accounts of the pastors who criticize corporate structures? :) (Just funnin' with you here!) The perjorative use of "corporate" here may be name-calling as a substitute for a careful argument.


Terry: With that in mind, is it important for an administrative body that serves churches to be theological, i.e. define their terms (missional, disciple, conversion, etc)? Is it safe to assume: a). we are on the same page on doctrine because of our shared affirmation of faith and / or b). theological precision is a local church matter?

John: I'm happy to define the terms as I use them. Missional = obedience to the mandate Christ gave us in Matthew 28:19-20. (I realize this is not the "emergent" use of the term.) Disciple = literally a "learner," which I take to begin with conversion in view of the baptism reference in Mt 28. Conversion = the point of passing from death to life in Christ. Regarding our Affirmation of Faith and local church matters -- As Baptist churches, each congregation is directly subject to the Lordship of Christ in discerning the meaning of Scripture. Congregations freely agree to work together based on an agreed Affirmation of Faith, with matters not included left to the local church. For the Fellowship to dictate interpretation beyond what the churches have agreed to in the Affirmation would violate the point in our Affirmation about the "sovereignty" of the local church.

Terry: The ultimate purpose of these changes is to grow churches, both by expanding the size of existing churches and accelerating the planting of churches. What is the most effective way to influence local churches to achieve these goals while respecting their autonomy?

The structural changes at Convention had to do with streamlining bureacracy in a top-heavy denominational organization. It is a mistake to equate the bylaw vote at Convention, as necessary as it was, with the heart of mission and obedience to Christ. I spent a lot of time explaining that publicly. The issue is spiritual: Are we going to get serious about obeying the mandate of Christ for his Church? If so, we will remake our structures as needed to keep our foolishness out of the way of fruitfulness. By the way, the goal of thriving churches is making new disciples, not simply larger churches. Each church is free to work with us on this or not. My hope is that we will help enough churches to joyful obedience, that others will want to get in on the harvest.

Hey, I hope this helps your readers. God bless.

John Kaiser

John Kaiser said...

Oops! that last long paragraph on my previous post should have started with "John:"

JK

Ken Davis said...

Wow,
I wish I could get responses from the pres.

Darryl said...

"The issue is spiritual: Are we going to get serious about obeying the mandate of Christ for his Church? If so, we will remake our structures as needed to keep our foolishness out of the way of fruitfulness."

Well said. The structural issues deal with the structural problems, and those are important. But the spiritual issues go deeper.

I imagine some of us have questions because we have seen structural and programmatic solutions offered by others as the solution to all problems. If I'm honest I have to admit I have been guilty of this myself.

I'm looking forward to wrestling with some of those deeper issues, and praying for the Fellowship's leaders. Talk about a challenging assignment!

John Kaiser said...

Ken Davis said...

Wow,
I wish I could get responses from the pres.

December 05, 2007 7:23 PM

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Hey, Ken. Have you forgotten that you asked about three questions in a row at Convention and got lengthy responses from me in front of hundreds of people? Here I am responding to you again. Hope it makes your day, Brother. :)

John K.