Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Pulling out the Scrapbooks

I am working with a team in our congregation to develop a pilot missional community. We hope to begin this endeavor in 2013. We are using Mike Breen and Alex Absalom’s Launching Missional Communities: A Field Guide. This resource has provided a framework for our discussions. Last night, we had our second meeting. We are deliberating the logistics of beginning this new ministry. In our conversation, we talked about past ministries in our congregation. Particularly, we surveyed the various dynamics of Sunday school classes that began in the 1920s-1940s in our church. One class is still in existence; only 4 or 5 people remain. Several months ago, I came across scrapbooks from this Sunday school class. It was fascinating to see the notes, attendance rolls, newspaper articles, class budgets and mission plans. Tattered pages revealed the ways these classes functioned.

Last night, our young team leafed through these books. While culture has drastically shifted in the last 70 years (class parties are no longer published in the newspaper), the relational dynamics of these classes were not unlike current small groups. The class members lived life together. They studied Scripture together, shared meals together, planned mission experiences together. They extended care in difficult times and celebrated the highlights of life in family-like ways. As we read their notes, we were reminded of their values.

Aubrey Malphurs, in Values-Driven Leadership, describes the essential task of discovering the values of a congregation. He describes church leaders initiating change without first assessing the core values of the congregation. Certainly, all core values are not healthy and some need to be shifted. At the same time, a wise leader ascertains his or her congregation’s values before moving forward. As we sat around the table, I was struck by the similar values of current small groups and Sunday school classes 70 years ago. The close-knit relationships, mission minded efforts and lifelong commitment to these relationships have held our senior adults together for 70 plus years. As we consider the dynamics of the new missional communities, it seems wise to celebrate God’s movement in the past as we plan for his movement in the future.

As church leaders, it may be wise for us to spend as much time in the archives as we do in current leadership literature. We have much to learn from our past. While dysfunction was certainly not absent, the high-level commitment of our senior adults must be admired. As many of them are facing difficult goodbyes to lifelong friends, we can learn from their relationships. Ministry will not be the same. We will be required to examine cultural dynamics; creativity and new methods of discipleship will be necessary. At the same time, the values of our congregation may continue to live in this new generation that will call itself First Baptist Church Muncie.