Category Archives: 2015-06

Pastor’s Pen for June, 2015

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.2) Although I read many books over the course of a year, I rarely agree completely with the authors’ insights.  A notable exception is the new book “Facing Decline, Finding Hope” by Jeffrey D. Jones, associate professor of ministerial leadership and director of ministry studies at Andover Newton Theological School. (Rowan and Littlefield, © 2015 -- subsequent location references are for the Kindle addition) As the title of the book implies, he is acutely aware of the challenges currently faced by many local churches.  While he demonstrates a profound understanding and sympathy for the situation these churches and their leaders find themselves in, he makes it unmistakably clear that these churches must change if they are to remain faithful to their divine calling -- a calling that does not guarantee their survival any more than it did for Jesus himself! Jones recognizes that many churches are struggling with dwindling attendance and lack of financial support, but raises the question:  “Is this focus on institutional maintenance and survival pursued to the detriment of God’s mission in the world?” (location 621)  He insists that unless we constantly reexamine our operational assumptions about the church, our institutional concerns can become a form of idolatry that undermines our usefulness to God.  To prevent this from happening, he says that we must replace five of our old questions with five new ones that are more responsive to God and to our cultural context: Old Question:  How do we bring them in? New Question:      How do we send them out?                                    (location 698) Old Question:       What should the pastor do? New Question:      What is our congregation’s shared ministry?             (location 883) Old Question:       What’s our vision and how do we implement it? New Question:      What’s God up to and how do we get on board?     (location 1071) Old Question:       How do we survive? (or in churches that are less desperate, “How do we structure?”) New Question:      How do we serve?                                                (location 1267) Old Question:       What are we doing to save people? New Question:      What are we doing to make the reign of God more present in this time and place                                                                                         (location 1408) Jones then goes to some length to explain the importance of each new question and to identify some of the implications they have for churches that seek to answer them.  He also identifies many of the forms of resistance that will be faced by anyone seeking to make the changes this new approach to church life will demand. I completely agree with the insights and conclusions presented in this book.  I feel that Jeff Jones has clearly articulated the priorities that have guided my ministry for the last 43 years, and also explains why my best efforts have so often met with intense and sometimes irrational resistance.  I’m sure that you can now see how my (admittedly imperfect) efforts to restructure our congregational life reflect my concern for the new questions Jones presents.  I take great comfort from the thought that my efforts have been faithful, even when they have not always been effective.  I pray that God may have used me to plant the seeds of these new questions here in Sharon that may yet germinate and take root in the days and years ahead.                                     -- Duane