One of the many topics of discussion at the 2012 Synod will be the pending adoption of the Belhar Confession as the fourth confession of faith of the Christian Reformed Church. While this confession originated as a call to racial unity, it now carries a broader call to social unity. One could go so far as to say that the Belhar Confession is a call to ecumenism. Even for those that are not willing to go that far, it is certainly admonishing us as a denomination to view justice and a missional mindset as an obligation, and not merely as a secondary ministry that some may or may not choose to participate in. While adopting a confession makes a bold statement regarding the vision and heart of our denomination, it does not assure that each congregation is or will be living according to the truths found within this confession. For this reason, I offer the following statements to aid in checking our ministry vision to help us make sure we are not just adopting a confession, but that we posses the mindset and perspective required to live out what is contained within the Belhar Confession:
Remember that the Church is global, not just local.
Do we spend more time trying to build our kingdom (i.e., our local congregation’s attendance) than we do trying to build The Kingdom (i.e., evangelism in our local community.)? Remembering that the church down the road is also part of the body of Christ, and that we are both called to reach the lost with the gospel, can drastically change our outlook on ecumenism, interdenominational cooperation, church growth, and outreach strategies. It assumes an outward rather than just an inward focus. Little “c” churches that have lost sight of the big “c” Church will see other congregations as competition, (which is an importation of corporate America) and will loose sight of its calling to spread the gospel. Instead, they will focus on getting more people in the door, regardless of whether they are a convert as a result of that church’s ministries or just someone that was sick of the church down the road and decided to switch.
Remember that the goal of the local church should be the growth of the global church.
In 1970, there were just ten mega-churches (attendance of 2000 or greater) in the US. In ten years, that number had grown to 50. By 1990 it was 250, and by 2005 there were over 1200 (Jethani 89). Looking strictly at the increase of large churches would leave the impression that the North American church is growing. Before we break our arms patting ourselves on the back, it should be noted that while the statistics vary from year to year, on the whole, the church is declining in overall number, and that nearly fifty smaller churches close their doors every year. (Jethani 89) What we are currently seeing is not church growth, but rather migration attendance, which we can not mistake for God’s activity and blessing. In fact, it is estimated that of the churches that are growing, an average of only 5-10% of their growth is a result of new converts, while the other 90-95% is from “transfer attendance.”
Church planting should be “ministry planting” with a congregation forming from the resultant converts of the community ministries. Church buildings should be viewed, as Tim Keller says, “as a community center with worship space.” Instead of asking, “What can we do to grow this congregation,” we need to be asking, “Is what we’re doing as a congregation bringing more people into the body of Christ.”
Remember that the leadership of the local church should be the ones with their hands “dirtiest” from ministry.
The picture the New Testament paints of deacons is that they are the ones leading the hands-on ministries of the church. (Breshears 75) Therefore, deacons should be the ones leading a local congregation in ministry, they should be spiritual examples to the rest of the congregation, and they should be selected based on their spiritual maturity and involvement in ministry, not their prowess in business or marketing (I Timothy 3:10). Deacons are ministers, not a corporate collection of policy-making, number crunching, financial arbiters. How would a local congregation change if it was being led by the ones that were physically ministering to the poor, neglected, and abused?
Is your congregation ready to step up to what the Belhar Confession is calling us all to? Are you there already? My hope is that this will be the tone of the discussion at the 2012 Synod.
Breshears, Gerry, and Mark Driscoll. Vintage Church. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.
Jethani, Skye. The Divine Commodity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. Print.
Submitted to The Banner (The official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church) on December 14th, 2011.