by Dr. Paul Raybon
You may remember doing a values clarification exercise in school with this prompt. “Your house is on fire, what 10 things will you try to save?” Then a follow up, “Time is running out! You have to leave five, what will you keep?” Individual lists are then shared in a small group. It is a thought-provoking way to get folks to talk about their values.
Our congregation has lost its buildings to fire twice in 210 years. Sometimes I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the first gatherings after each fire. What did they decide they had to do first? What was essential to continue as Hominy Baptist Church? (Apparently not minutes!)
As we emerge from a pandemic into the heightened realities of a “post church” age: emptier pews, needier buildings, aging leaders, reduced resources, and burned out, or at least singed, clergy, it’s a good time to consider “What is essential?”
When we pose that question to ourselves and our congregations, we can save a lot of time by guiding them to think not of specific programs or activities but what those favorites accomplish in the life of the church. So instead of “graded choirs” perhaps “opportunities for children to experience sacred music.” Good luck on thinking of an example that won’t alienate half your group before you start!
We’ll be asking this question in our congregation in a few weeks. In preparation I’ve considered my own answers and asked our staff to consider theirs. Here are a few ideas that are bubbling to the top so far:
Focus on Christ: If Jesus isn’t at the center of what we do, we are not church.
Love: If our words and actions towards each other and our neighbors do not embody Christ’s love, we are not church.
Honest Worship: If our worship doesn’t meaningfully express the realities of our world and the eternal truths of our faith, we are not church.
Welcoming Fellowship: If we are not prepared to welcome and care for people from all walks of life without prejudice, we are not church.
Transformative Dialogue: If we don’t provide safe spaces for open conversations about Scripture and issues that have real and eternal consequences, we are not church.
Effective Ministry: If we are not connecting people with opportunities to make a real difference in the world, we are not church.
Compelling Stories: If we are not sharing stories of why this body of Christ is changing our lives and the lives of others, we are not church.
This is by no means a definitive list and will doubtless be reshaped in future conversations, but it gives an idea of what might be essential for all our congregations as we explore what it means to be church in a time when what was once the norm may never return. The church is on fire, what will you try to save?
These thoughts are from Rev. Dr. Paul Raybon, our partner in ministry in the Western Carolinas, who can help you and your ministry navigate congregational unity and effectiveness. He is Co-Pastor at Hominy Baptist Church near Asheville, NC and works with churches and leaders as a coach and consultant in communication, visioning, administration, and spiritual formation. Contact him for more information about how he can help you.