Monday, August 1, 2016

On Car Trips and Churches

Cars are central to the American identity.  There are actually more cars per capita in Italy than there are in America.  But the car is not a core symbol of Italian identity like it is of American identity. The “family vacation” and the “road trip” have an iconic status in America.  Many of our movies and novels and TV shows are built upon the architecture of a car trip.  Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock spent 116 episodes in a corvette along Route 66, the road itself a symbol of Americana.

As Americans, we have the sense that we are always on the way to somewhere else, even if we are remaining in the same location.  This ties into the mythical—as in organizing and meaning- giving—role that progress plays in the American mentality.

The book of Hebrews paints the life of faith as a journey (chapter 11).  The writer describes a trip that never reaches its destination in this life. People of faith are forever “longing for a better country.”  They are “aliens and strangers on earth.”  As a nation of immigrants who left other places to find a better life, this resonates with us.

George Bullard, in his book Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, compares church life to a car trip (pp. 77 ff.)  Bullard lists vision, relationships, progress, and management as the four organizing principles of church life; these four principles form the DNA of a congregation.  Bullard then defines the role that each of these four principles plays in the car trip of a church.

Vision drives the car.  It fuels the forward progress. 

Relationships navigate along the journey from the passenger side of the front seat.  They flavor the quality of the journey.  It is important to understand how Bullard defines relationships.  He does not mean how well we get along with each other or how much we like each other.  He means the relational processes by which persons are brought to faith in Jesus Christ; become connected to the local church; are assimilated into the life of that church; and have opportunities to grow, serve, and utilize their gifts.

Programs sit behind Relationships in a supporting role.  They provide the opportunities and activities through which the best possible relationship can be foster with God, one another, and the community in which the church is located.

Management sits behind Vision.   It provides Vision with the infrastructure it needs to guide the car along its journey.

What happens when Vison falls asleep at the wheel or gets left behind at the gas station?  Management takes the wheel.  Bullard observes that this is what happened when Moses (the visionary) was up on the mountain too long.  Aaron (the manager) took over and a golden calf was constructed.  (In case you are not familiar with the story, this chapter of the saga does not end well.)

When management (such as finance, building repairs, reporting, control, and hierarchies) take precedent over vision (such as asking why we are here or what does God have for us to do or who is our neighbor or how can we join in with what God is doing), then we end up with golden calves.

George Bullard will be with our Region on Friday, November 4, for our pre-biennial day of training.  He will help us learn how to keep Vision in the driver’s seat.  If Vision has fallen asleep or got left at the gas station and Management is at the wheel, Bullard will helps us get Vision back in the driver’s seat.

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State