By Dr. Bill Mankin
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:12,14-15, RSV)
The Region staff has undertaken to make a Family Time visit to every church in the Region; we want to understand better life of the church, how the church functions, what its community is like, and how the Region can better help the church fulfill its purpose. So far, we have visited about a third of our churches. Reflecting on what we have seen and heard, I have been trying to find some common threads that can guide the Region in refining its vision. But, the thing that strikes me the most is how different each church is that we visit.
The most obvious difference is size. Some of our churches are very small; others are medium to large. There are many ways in which small and large churches differ in how the members relate to each other, how the pastor leads, and how the church fulfills its mission. Our churches use a variety of governance strategies, from traditional trustees/deacons/Christian education boards to single board governance.
In good Baptist style, our churches embrace a wide range of theological perspectives, from the conservative New Hampshire Confession of Faith to modernist, progressive outlooks. They vary in the level of their connection to the programs of the Region and the affiliations of missionaries they support.
Different churches have unique and creative ways of involvement with their community. Some work with Burmese refugees. Others provide a food pantry or volunteers for a community soup kitchen. Still others pair with a local school to provide services to students in need. One takes pizza to teenagers at a local skate park. Another reads the Bible publicly at the State Fair. Several participate in Shoebox or Angel Tree ministries at Christmas. Some organize mission trips.
So, what can I see in common that bonds all of us together into an association of churches? ABCRM is like a family, where each individual is different and has different desires, goals, and different views on some issues, but is held together by a strong family bond. The bond holding our Region together is our common love of God and desire to serve our neighbor. We are joined together by our commitment to the four distinctive Baptist freedoms:
- the authority of the Bible with the freedom of each person to interpret it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit within the community of faith;
- the freedom and responsibility to approach God directly, not through a priest, and make our own moral and spiritual decisions, respecting therefore that others may reach different conclusions;
- the freedom of each individual church to order its own worship and work in ways that the members believe best fulfills the call of God; and
- the freedom of each one to worship or not, in whatever way one chooses, without interference or coercion by the state.
Just as individuals exercise their freedom with help and accountability of the community of the church, churches exercise their freedom with help and accountability of the association of churches that we call American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains. Each church is free to make its own decisions, but we are bound together by our common purpose. Within our connections as a Region, we seek unity, not uniformity.
I am thankful to be an American Baptist.
Prayer: God who created us as one body with many members, grant that our unity of purpose in worshipping and serving You may lead us to work together in joy and humility to be the hands and feet of Christ, in Whose precious name we pray. Amen.
Ministry and Mission Coach