I was privileged to take part in a meeting today that many from my first pastorate will find very good. First, a little background.
Like many Baptist Churches, Bethel Baptist Church formed as a split from another church. After meeting at several locations in Weatherford, the church body obtained property just off FM920 northwest of downtown Weatherford in the late 1970s. Several men served as pastor of the church as the attendance numbers ebbed and flowed.
In late June/early July 2007, I received a call from the deacon chairman asking if I was available to preach on the following Sunday. The one-week invitation turned into an interim position which turned into my first pastorate which lasted just over six years. We had good days and we had bad days. Although our numbers were shrinking, our depth was growing.
In October 2013, we knew that we could no longer to afford to keep the doors open and it was clear that God was leading us to close the doors. Our bylaws stated that the building and property would be given to the Parker Baptist Association, so after removing my library and other personal items, we handed over the keys to my long-time friend and fellow seminary student, John Thielepape, the Director of Missions of Parker Baptist Association. During our last meeting, some members voiced fears that the Association would quickly dispose of the property, putting to death the legacy of our church. But I knew it would be OK. I reiterated that God was leading us to do this and that I trusted John and the members of the Association’s Executive Board.
A few months later, God opened doors (literally) for ministry to continue at the property. Among other ministries, MercyHeart, a ministry founded by a friend of mine began ministering to the Parker County families of inmates on Tuesday Nights. A local church had sold its property to developers and the new building wasn’t ready to move into, so they began to meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, bringing their air conditioners to replace Bethel’s broken units.
After serving in several interim pastorates in Parker and Wise Counties, this past July I was called to be the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church, five miles north of Weatherford. Yesterday, John (back from a sabbatical) called to welcome me back to the Association and to tell me of the meeting this morning. The meeting would consider the proposal to enter a lease-to-purchase agreement with a young church. A related proposal would take proceeds from the lease payments to designate for funds for church planting and missions. John said he’d like for me to be there.
Today’s special Called Meeting of the Association’s Executive Board required 20 attendees to form the Quorum. I was the last person to walk into the meeting and signed the attendance sheet in the twentieth position. We had a quorum. Both proposals passed unanimously.
I must give a big shout-out to the Parker Baptist Association Executive Board and its Director of Missions, my friend John for their wise stewardship of the property and their vision of extending the ministry on the property.
Those who feared the worst in closing the doors of our church should feel a great peace because God continues to use our former church building to do ministry and extend His Kingdom. And that’s a really good thing! God is good!
Please join me in praying for Pastor Joel Kindberg and Grace Covenant Church as they begin ministering to the people of Weatherford from their new address at 201 Kathey Street in Weatherford. MercyHeart will continue their ministry alongside Grace.
Too often we measure ministries by “nickels and noses” or “buildings, budgets, and butts”. If you’re around a group of pastors of different churches, the topic of church size quickly comes up, one will brag about his church’s latest building program, another brags about his latest offering, and still another about how many new members have recently joined the church. And if you ask how many people attended last Sunday Morning’s church service, you will hear a “ministerialy-speaking” number that more often than not, is inflated.
Speaking of inflated numbers…. the first church I pastored had nearly 300 members! But I don’t know that even on the “high attendance” Sundays of Christmas and Easter we ever had more than 50 people in the sanctuary. As we dug into the names, we found that we only recognized about 60. Sixty of 300 names!
You rarely hear of churches cleaning up their rolls, mainly because reporting the numbers accurately makes it look like the church has had a drastic drop in membership. And smaller memberships mean fewer people can go to denominational meetings and vote on behalf of your church. But, honestly, how many people go to those denominational meetings anymore anyway?
Wanting to account for the actual number of sheep in our fold, we began removing the names of people we didn’t know, or that we knew had died. So what happened to so many people on the membership roll? I suspect that many moved away, joined another church, or simply dropped out. Perhaps many were children who prayed a prayer during a Vacation Bible School over the course of 30+ years, and their names were added to the membership and they were never heard from again. (and did we ever follow up with them?)
I have heard of church business meetings where a number of people showed up for the first time in years in order to vote out a pastor (maybe some people didn’t like the way he parted his hair) or to change the direction a pastor was trying to lead the church (perhaps to be less “religious” and to be more like Jesus). Phone calls were made and accusations were leveled, with the result of the poor church clerk having to pour through the membership roster to make sure that everyone in the meeting was entitled to vote, based on their “membership” in the church. I must confess that this is one of the reasons I wanted to clean up the membership rolls; I didn’t want the church to be sabotaged by people who had no vested interest in the normal operations of the church. If there were people who wanted to maintain membership so they could have a “church marriage” or a “church funeral”, I was prepared to conduct their services, but I felt that those “members” had “broken covenant” by choosing to no longer attend and support the church with their time, talent, and their treasures.
So what is church membership?
Even after paring down the list of names to those 60 that we knew, we still had some names on the list because they were family members of charter church members, for whatever reason afraid of removing their grandchild or cousin from the roll. Were they afraid they wouldn’t come back to church? Hadn’t the grandchild or cousin already made that decision?
OK, I’ll step off my soapbox after saying that we need to seriously consider what “church membership” means. By “we”, I mean churches, staff, as well as everyone who calls themselves a “church member”. Wouldn’t it be better to call everyone either a church member or church attender based on their investment of time, talent, and yes… treasures?
I came across a really good post this morning that addresses this question of how to best measure one’s ministry. From a pastor’s perspective, I believe we should change our criteria.