This one is for all the Baptists out there! It doesn’t mean others couldn’t or shouldn’t read this, you still might learn something.
I have been doing some work and some thinking about the role of the association/region in Baptist life (the denomination for you non-Baptists folks). Specifically, I have been thinking about the way churches relate to each other via the association/region. Baptists tend to give a good deal of lip service to the idea that we are interdependent and that we have to rely on each other in order to do ministry, but our associations/regions are loosing resources, staff, and credibility quickly. Maybe churches don’t care about each other and thus don't care about our association/region?
I really don’t believe that is the case, we still care about our connections with other churches, be we have to relearn how to care. For one thing associations/regions are dying because churches are struggling with their own resources and would rather give higher priority to the pastor’s salary and heating the building over the association/region. <
> There are, no doubt, other reasons for the decline of the association/region that I just don’t want
to take the time or energy to get into. For me right now, it isn’t the why but
the what that I am interested in.
In the past 50 years or so the association/region has been fairly strong and acted as a central hub for the relationships of churches. Churches related with other churches through the association/region. Now, with the association/region weakening churches are finding themselves more and more on their own, not sure what to do when faced with the idea of working directly with another church. Because of this a direct encounter between churches is similar to the awkwardness of a Jr. High dance:
Church 1 – uh, do you, uh, wanna, maybe, I mean if you want to, do some ministry together?
Church 2 – um, sure, I mean if you want to, I guess, um… looks away awkwardly
Church 1 – ok, great!
both stand there, looking at the floor, not sure what to do next
Church 2 – ok, by!
Church 1 – um, ok. By.
Painful, isn’t it. Here is my thought – through the presence of the association/region we (churches) have been taught and conditioned into a certain approach and nature of relationality. Think of Foucault’s analysis of institutions and relationality (specifically his work on the Asylum and the doctor-patient relationship). The institution of the association/region has shaped the relationships of churches.
Or think of Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy (which I just started reading). Religion (in this case the association/region) serves to legitimate as certain social structure. As religion crumbles the social structure crumbles (or the other way around?). The legitimacy for that method of relating is lost and churches now have to redefine themselves and their society.
Pretty down stuff, huh? For the non-Baptists out there, consider the overall decline of the presence of religion on the American landscape. Society is changing, can churches change with society in a way that will allow them to thrive and still maintain their integrity?
The last thing we want is a church to wake up in the morning and regret what it did the night before in order to be seen as popular.