PART II: ANSWERING SOME QUESTIONS
In the previous entry, Rob Prince, Lead Pastor of Flint (Michigan) Central Church of the Nazarene, detailed the current reality facing our denomination in the U.S. and Canada and began to offer some suggestions for a brighter future. His recommendations echo many of the same sentiments we in the Mesoamerica Region have been attempting to address through the ministry of Genesis. Let’s continue this conversation today by reading Rob’s second article, and know that we will also be covering these topics in a future episode of the Worthless Servants podcast.
In my previous blogpost, I posed the question: What if we thought differently about the future church and ministry in the Church of the Nazarene in the USA/Canada region?
I offered a new scenario of normalized ministry, if indeed you can call it new. Paul, a tent maker (see Acts 18:3), was bi-vocational and still managed to plant a bunch of churches and write a major chunk of the New Testament. Maybe better stated, I asked: what if normalizing bi-vocational ministry and the planting of 5,000 house or in-an-operating-business churches by 2030 in the USA/Canada could happen?
Here are some possible answers to a few questions that might have been raised:
What could happen (through this method)? Many of these churches could grow beyond their house or business meeting place – to that we’d say, “Hallelujah.” But even if that didn’t happen there would be 5000 new house churches or gatherings meeting in a business place averaging 25 people or more for a total of at least 125,000 new Nazarenes.
What else would happen? We’d see smaller, viable, reproducible, faith communities where non-Christians meet up with theologically trained pastors on a daily basis all over the country.
What else wouldn’t be there? Let’s name them: church buildings to maintain, pastors’ salaries, students’ debt that hinders financial stability of the minister, and other expenses that drain a church budget but have produced little or no results. Remember: for all the money spent last year in churches around the USA/Canada, the church has been in decline…and for more than the last decade the church has been in decline.
What’s the worst that could happen? The coffee shop, thrift store, business venture/house church goes belly up or the pastor has proved to be a goober. Well, then you pull up stakes, sell the building, and move to the next small town or to the other side of that same town or urban area and do the same thing.
What’s the next worst thing that could happen? We burn out our people. Pastoring, running a business or working a job, having a family…there aren’t enough hours in the day. This problem could be helped with more and better delegation of responsibilities in the local gathering, better support from the district, partnering with more established churches, and efficient time management from the pastor.
How could the denomination pay for it? If the USA/Canada church model must be strengthened to keep the global mission of the church operating, then envisioning a way forward to make that happen must be a priority.
The homes/buildings for this new church venture would be purchased from district funds that have been acquired from the sale of other properties.
The college tuition would be covered by an increase in the USA/Canada portion of the WEF funds. Increasing the USA/Canada portion of the WEF funds is necessary if the goal is to strengthen the local churches by providing an educated clergy who are also able to sustain themselves without church budget funds.
If strengthening the USA/Canada church is priority #1 (and it is my contention that it must be for the long-term well-being of the global church) then this should be reflected in the WEF allotment to USA/Canada region. WEF dollars could be spent not only on educating a new horde of pastors at N.T.S. or N.B.C. but also in bringing in missionaries from other world areas to reach the various ethnic groups in the USA/Canada region.
Honestly, what has to happen to start 5000 churches?
More than money or finding pastors—there will need to be some major shifts in thinking.
- Church buildings are not necessary for Kingdom growth. This goes against the now-debunked theory: “If we build it, they will come.” No, they won’t. A more accurate moniker is: “If they build it, they will have a huge debt and will be unable to invest in ministry.”
- Pastors are not obligated to be compensated by the church. Paul and many more modern tentmakers show that bi-vocational ministry can be done successfully. The fastest-growing church on the district where I serve (Eastern Michigan District), Family Community Church in Goodrich, Michigan, has no paid church staff and averaged 295 people in attendance in 2019.
- The USA/Canada must be strengthened now (yesterday, actually). The ship is sinking. If the USA/Canada Church is not strengthened, the whole global church will be impacted negatively. The situation is critical, and the needs are immediate. Taking our collective heads out of the sand is needed.
- Who am I kidding (Take 1)? Nazarene churches (and pastors) are too territorial. Too often when an existing Nazarene church is in a town and a church plant is suggested there is major push back. Like it was played out in the old Western slang vernacular that says, “This town ain’t big enough fer the both of us.” But the truth of the matter is that nearly every city could use more churches preaching the message of holiness. We need a more “What’s good for Kingdom” mindset and less worry or contention over territorial boundaries.
- Who am I kidding (Take 2)? There are pastors just like me, who have earned our living off the church for 25+ years and are too old to learn a new trick (i.e. “we ain’t changing” and we aren’t about to open a coffee shop anytime soon). This is the biggest hurdle. I get it. The shift to make bi-vocational ministry the norm, not the exception, will take my generation and the generation behind me to retire.
In the meantime, pastors in my bracket need to cheer on those who are stepping out on faith. Applaud the adventurous, worthy millennials and iPhone generation pastors (OK, Boomer) who will do the hard kingdom work of bringing the church back to the center of ministry again. These are the ministers who willingly serve without pay in house churches and build the Kingdom of God in coffee shops, restaurants and public meeting places.
We need a new era of evangelism. Probably the old way of Biblical tracts and four spiritual laws isn’t going to have the same effectiveness in USA/Canada. Instead, the Jesus model of moving in and living among the people, the Paul model of being a tent maker and living off their secular work, and the Stephen model of Kingdom before self are what is needed (and repeated 5,000 times) if the USA/Canada church (and in turn the global church) is going to be strengthened in the coming decade.