In yesterday’s message, Tom explained why it was important for the disciples of Jesus not to say who he was. There were many ideas about what the Messiah would be like and what the Messiah would do. As long as people did not know who Jesus was, Jesus would be freed/untied to preach the message he had and to do what he did.
Becoming untied challenges most people, myself included. We become tied to ideas, institutions, habits, and groups because they provide us with feelings of security, connection, and place. For people my age, we grew up in a society where getting tied was a normal part of society, and most people acquired a variety of labels indicating how they were tied. Society today has a lot less of that, for good and for ill. Churches used to be tightly tied and we would look to the congregation to which we belonged for friends, business partners, and life partners. But today, most people resist tight ties and only acquire looser ties that are needed for particular purposes. Denominational loyalty for religious people tends to be a lost less and even limiting attachments to congregations is in decline.
In my work at St. Andrew’s I have gotten to know several people who have attachments to two or more congregations, sometimes even denominations. Bonnie and I provide financial support to, and worship at 3 different congregations in two different denominations. One person I got to know at St. Matthew’s seemed to visit a circle of churches and was welcome and gladly received at all of them. His wife was in the choir at another church.
The congregation of St. Andrew’s, by selling the building and starting Regional Ministries, moved into a way of being that is much more fluid than most congregations, choosing to make ministries more important than congregational identity and control. As one of the leaders in this congregational fluidity, it is important that St. Andrew’s continue providing leadership as its members explore new ways of working with others to achieve doing the work set before us by Jesus. I am deeply grateful to be walking with you at this time of building a new kind of congregation, one with the porosity identified more than 2 decades ago by Tom Bandy as important for effective evangelism in a changing society.
Fluid, flexible congregations engage differently in different ministries. Some ministries are more or less internal with pastoral care being highly internal, and activities like faith studies and All Ages Events being provided by St. Andrew’s but open to participation by interested others. Some ministries are partnerships, and most of these are through the Regional Ministries Committee. At this time we have Regional Youth, Camp Caravan, and CQC as well known examples. One partnership that is not through the Regional Ministries Committee is Sunday morning worship at Deer Park including the programs for children and youth. St. Andrew’s and St. Andrew’s Regional also provide support for other ministries such as the Community Hub.
There are ministries that are develop to define as partnerships or a ministry of the church or support for a ministry. St. Matthew’s provides a program on the second Wednesday of each month for the children at Brenda’s House, and this is one example of such a ministry. The role of Knox United in providing space for Dirty Theology is another example of the difficulty of defining the relationship between the congregation and the ministry. For fluid, ministry-oriented churches, there is little need for a clear definition of the role in the ministry –> all that matters is that the ministry fit the vision, mission, and goals of the congregation.
One sign of this increasing fluidity can be found in the vacancy list where we find pairs of congregations that maintain a sense of congregational identity while testing out ways to share with each other the costs and ministries associated with sharing a minister. As we move forward in exploring forming clusters and networks for ministry, many ways of working together in the service of Jesus and the world will emerge and adapt.
In any natural forests, there are a diversity of trees and other plants. Researchers discovered that in many of those forests, trees share resources with other trees, even those of different species. We see this evolving in the world of churches, a sign of the Spirit at work in our lives, thanks be to God.