The reflection below was written by Rev. Regan Stoops, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and is shared with permission. Rev. Stoops originally published the reflection following the ABC Mission Table, November 9-11, 2015.
For the last few days, I have been in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania with about 100 pastors, region staff, and national staff to discuss and make a way forward for the denomination. It was an opportunity to look at the world we live in, the challenges we face, and to set priorities for our work going forward. It was a busy, tiring, but valuable experience with a hopeful end of helping our churches encounter these challenges too.
The time we had together began with some opportunities to break the ice, get to know some things about each other, and begin the process of working together for a goal. It was cheesy, and we learned a lot about how poor pastors are at geography, but it got us started. Also, out of the groups formed during ice breakers, we found our team for prioritization. The next step was choosing from a large list of priorities to establish 5-7 that would be most important for this season of ministry. It was clear that all the priorities matter, and many are continuing to be worked on, but we would have to choose the things that our efforts could be put into going forward. The list of priorities came out of table conversations at the 2015 Mission Summit this past summer.
The entire list was:
101. Discipleship – How can we develop mature and faithful followers of Jesus Christ in a world where so many of the traditional practices seem not to work?
102. Living Out Our Cultural Reality – The ABC is already a multi-ethnic organization and the U.S. is fast moving to be so; what does that mean for our ministry as we move into the future?
103. Next Generation of Leaders and Congregants – How can we work alongside the next generation of leaders to co-create a future ministry together that includes all generations?
104. Pastoral Attrition – There is an increasing pattern of pastoral attrition—people leaving the ministry—especially after the first five years of ministry. How can we curb this trend?
105. Spirituality – How can I deepen my relationship with God, allow faith to play a more vital role in my life, and discern what God’s next steps are for my life?
106. Volunteerism* – How can we partner in ministry with the increasing number of persons looking for meaningful work apart from their paid or pre-retirement positions?
107. Women in Ministry – Women in ordained ministry continue to be under-represented in ABC ministry in terms of the proportion of ordained women who are available to serve, especially in significant leadership roles. How can these barriers be overcome?
201. Refugees from Burma* – How can we better understand and alleviate the plight of refugees who have fled from atrocities within Burma as they await resettlement and arrive in the United States?
202. The Gospel in a Rapidly Changing Society* – How can we engage Christ’s presence in a rapidly changing world?
203. Human Trafficking* – How can we build upon the strides already made in curbing human trafficking in prostitution, agriculture, labor, and other areas?
204. Immigration* – How can we partner with what God is up to with respect to U.S. immigrants and immigrant congregations?
205. People with Disabilities* – What should ministry look like with respect to people with disabilities?
206. Poverty* – The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. How can we better understand and deal with the causes of poverty?
207. Violence – Violence dominates the media headlines. What should the role of the church be in dealing with violence in today’s world?
301. Alternative Models of Pastoral Ministry – Many small congregations are unable to employ full-time, seminary trained pastors. How can we create, support, and encourage congregations to embrace new models of pastoral leadership?
302. Community Networking* – This is now the “age of networking.” How can church leaders partner with community leaders in order to create the types of communities that God desires?
303. Congregations of the Future* –How can traditional congregations experience the new forms of congregational life that are emerging?
304. Congregations without Buildings* – Increasing percentages of church budgets are going toward the maintenance of a church building. What might a congregation look like with no physical building?
305. Missional Church – Many ABC congregations have embraced a missional model of ministry. What have we learned and what are the next steps in this approach?
306. Revitalizing Aging Congregations* – Many congregations include a significant number of older adults. How can these congregations find new life and hope that extends beyond a survival mentality?
307. Technology – Why do some congregations embrace new forms of technology while others strongly resist it? How can technology be used as a tool for ministry?
*Denotes a new conversation for 2015
As a group of 5-6, we would go to each theme, discuss it’s importance to us, and mark it with up to 3 dot stickers according to our group’s priorities. This process didn’t seem like it would be very helpful, but it was surprisingly challenging and positive. The things I expected to care little about were made clear as priorities to many outside my realm of ministry, and vice versa. The process was great and we eventually, through the dot-sticking process, were able to set 7 main priorities [Next Generation of Leaders, Violence, Discipleship, Poverty, Gospel in a Rapidly Changing Society, Women in Ministry, Alternative Models for Pastoral Ministry].
The next step was to choose a priority that each one of us was interested in to form a new group and write a case statement about it. These statements would be used to give a clear understanding to the priority, and to help our churches see the need to address them. (Again, this doesn’t mean we stop doing ministry in other areas. In many cases, ABCUSA is already doing a lot of work on the other topics so they are not included in the top seven.)
I chose “Gospel in a Rapidly Changing Society” because I see a real need for our churches to learn to bring the Gospel into our context, which is definitely changing all around us. We had a large group, which broke into two in order to work in smaller teams.
Then we talked. We talked and talked and talked some more. Did you know that pastors like to hear their own voices? It’s true. In fact, the biggest struggle of the week for me was that in these groups, we seemed to be trying to solve the problem rather than clarify it. But eventually, we made our way through the guided questions so that we could put a statement together. (Shout out to Deborah Jackson of Ministers’ Council for taking all our comments and compiling them into something legible.)
Among all the work, thought, and conversations, we were led into worship by Zina Jacque; who challenged us, encouraged us, and told us to rest or die. 🙂
I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this process. And I’m hopeful for the future of our denomination and our work for Christ. There are great challenges ahead; like learning to love, worship, and do ministry together even when we disagree; like replacing the humble leadership of Roy Medley, who I was blessed to have as a part of my group this week and is retiring. But in the midst of these challenges, I am praying that we can do great things together for the Kingdom.