Our American Baptist “Mission Summit” in June (national-international convention) brought several thoughts to me with special emphasis.
FROM THE BIG STAGE
Two principles that stood out to me were especially emphasized in our “big” evening meetings, with over 2000 American Baptists present.
I. Unity in Diversity
This has always been an emphasis of America’s Baptists, especially those not in the south, but is increasingly so. We have been the most diverse American denomination in terms of black-white fellowship; and now may other minority groups are becoming more and more a factor in American Baptist life.
II. The Simple Command of Love
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
Justice, and mercy. Justice and mercy are just love being expressed in very practical ways, and toward all people whether we know them (or particularly like them) or not. This is a theme American Baptists have been emphasizing since the 1630’s, through the run-up to the Civil War and after, and ever since. We have not been at all perfect. But we have worked seriously and at considerable cost on these things, and we still do.
FROM THE GRASS-ROOTS
Individuals repeatedly mentioned these principles in grass-roots discussions at the Mission Summit conversation tables – whether the subject was training leaders, bridging generations, using social media, dealing with old buildings or whatever – these were brought forth as crucial basics that we must achieve whatever other ideas might come up.
III. Live It Yourself!
No clever strategies will solve church problems or make ministry efforts successful if not backed up by us as individuals actually living our faith. The world needs to see and experience the reality being lived by those who know God; it does not need us going out and whacking them with a list of religious rules or with beliefs and theories about god and salvation. It needs us to be LIVING the Gospel as individuals, and the people in our churches know that.
We don’t learn to live together – or do ministry together – if we are not willing to work on what is often the difficult project of having genuine connections and relationships with others. Those others might be our co-workers in the church, others who are trying to serve our community, or the people we are trying to help. But we have to relate with one another as with real people (because we and they ARE all ‘real people’), even though we can never find any already perfect people to relate with!
V. Out-Look, Out-go
We know each other, more or less – and can grow comfortable with each other, more or less. But we will be deeply changed, brought into focus, made much more effective if we make careful continuing efforts to listen to those who are NOT part of “us.” This is the cheapest, quickest way to get a real education! And it is crucial if we want to see our strategies for church survival, church health, and ministry succeed.