By Marshall Fant III
As ministers of the Gospel, it’s natural that we would want to preserve and revitalize the institutions that have accomplished God’s work in the past. But what do we do when we realize that a church has lost its effectiveness, and efforts to revitalize have failed? Should a church like that be kept alive at all cost?
Sadly, some churches have accomplished their purpose and need to close. This decision presents countless uncertainties that likely will elicit fear in even the most audacious church leaders. But closing, though often difficult and emotional, does not need to be interpreted as failure. In fact, a church that dies with dignity can have a major impact on other churches and even continue its ministry into the future.
The process of closing a church presents numerous difficult questions. How does a church die well? How is it possible to end well after so many years of fruitful ministry? How do the leaders of a church maintain a good name to its members and community? Yet, despite the questions, a church closing must be guided by one unwavering rule: the rule of integrity.
This is an adaptation of a sermon I preached this past Sunday. Like many churches, ours struggles with feelings of “failure” because we aren’t a large church. I often preach a sermon like this every year or so to remind the congregation about biblical metrcis for understanding what a “healthy church” really is.
What is a “healthy church?” There are plenty of bad answers to answer this question. They’re usually driven by either (1) un-biblical ideas how salvation works, or (2) a pampered, consumer mindset that Jesus knows nothing about.
I recently had a conversation with two 19-year olds who grew up in our church. I wanted to encourage them to become members and encourage them to serve. Instead, they told me how disappointed they were about the church.
It isn’t a large church, so they told me “it feels like church is dying.” It isn’t a particularly hip church, so they told me “church should be a place where all people feel welcome.” These are common sentiments from many churchgoers in America.
Read the series.
I mentioned Gary Blessman in the first article in this series. Gary is the Vice President of Institutional Finances1 at Central Seminary and the Business Administrator2 at Fourth Baptist Church and Christian Schools.
Jim Peet is no Gary Blessman—I will never be a Gary Blessman! But my church is not Fourth Baptist Church, and we don’t have a seminary. An organization like Fourth Baptist Church and Central Seminary needs a professional treasurer—ideally someone who is a C.P.A. and has an accounting degree. Gary graduated from the University of Southern Colorado with a degree in accounting, and from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters in Church Administration. He passed his C.P.A. exam in 1987. He was the bursar at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the controller at Mount Senario College before joining the staff at Fourth Baptist Church. He has the requisite education, and experience for his ministry.
The treasurer of a large church deals with issues “beyond my paygrade”3 such as:
Read Part 1.
I’m somewhat familiar with “where Minnesota golf was born,“ because the Minnesota Mayflower Society where I serve as a board member has our annual Thanksgiving banquet at the storied Town and Country Club in Saint Paul.
As the first “country club” in these parts, Town & Country Club was more of a social organization inspired by the clubs in Saint Paul that were formed as a nucleus of the annual Winter Carnival. A residence on Lake Como was the first clubhouse in 1887. The Club moved to its present home at the Marshall Avenue Bridge on the Mississippi River in 1890. Today, this “country club” is in the heart of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, but in 1890, it was in the boondocks of Saint Paul.
The original Town & Country Club, a Saint Paul landmark, was designed by state capitol architect, Cass Gilbert, and built in the early 1890’s for $25,000.
Through an unusual set of circumstances, I am now the treasurer of a church that I was barely acquainted with one year ago.
A year ago, I was 2 months past 39 radiation treatments for cancer and my cancer doctor gave me the news that the regimen was apparently successful. As an aside, doctors never commit to the word “cured.” But so far so good! My pastor commented to me, “I guess God is not finished with you yet!”
My wife and I began to pray, what would God have me to do with my retirement time?
In June, I became aware that a small church in an exurb about 25 miles NW of us needed a treasurer. Their treasure had resigned, and no one had stepped up to volunteer. I contacted the pastor and indicated that I would be interested in the position. He was just about to go on family vacation followed by a mission’s trip to Kenya, so the meeting was deferred for a month.
On July 3rd I had follow-on blood work and again received the “all clear.”
Kathee and I prayed about this and contemplated whether the Lord was in this or not. Some questions and considerations were that we were in a very good church just several miles from our house. The new church would mean quite a bit of driving and a commitment to be very involved no matter how harsh the weather. In Minnesota the weather is a real factor.
Reposted, with permission, from Theologically Driven.
One of the more interesting discoveries I made when researching Baptist polity a few years ago was the lost practice of “recognition councils.” Most Baptists are familiar with ordination councils, in which a local church calls together a group of elders and messengers from like-minded area churches to examine an aspiring minister’s fitness for ministry, and thereafter to advise the church either to pursue ordination, to delay ordination until the examinee is more fit for the ministry, or to deny ordination entirely. Recognition councils occur when a new assembly calls together a group of elders from like-minded area churches to examine its governing documents, and thereafter to advise the assembly to pursue chartering, to delay chartering until its documents are in order, or even to abandon entirely its plan for a new church.
Typically, recognition councils examined a prospective church’s constitution and bylaws, doctrinal statement, and covenant. But there are a great many other documents that may also be subjected to examination: mission statements, philosophies of ministry, employee job descriptions, teacher policies, nursery policies, facilities-usage policies, etc. What I’d like to suggest in this post is that the lost practice of recognition councils be formally revived, or, at the very least, that churches informally pool their collective minds to assist one another in creating ecclesiastical documents that are orthodox, orthoprax, and in our litigious society, as litigation-proof as is possible.