Is the church facility like an island in the midst of blight and secularism? Or is the church facility a wide and deep harbor, willing and able to accept many different kinds of individuals and families?
Is the congregation afraid of its neighbors? Or is the congregation becoming neighbors with a towel over their arm?
Are leaders of these neighborhood churches demoralized and visionless about ministry? Or are these church leaders confident in the gospel and God's work to restore all things to him through our work - his way, in his time, in his power?
Lesslie Newbigin charts out in chapter 19 of The Gospel in a Pluralist Society a way for leaders of churches to rethink what it means to be a missionary leader in their neighborhoods. The wisdom of this chapter energizes me, provides enlightened direction, and provides a sense of calm about the work ahead of us.
You ought to purchase the book, if you haven't already. And you ought to read this chapter (and reread this chapter if it's been awhile). Below are some portions of the chapter that were both convicting and inspiring to me.
If I am right in believing, as I do, that the only effective [interpretation] of the gospel is the life of the congregation which believes it, one has to ask about how such congregations may be helped to become what they are called to be.
I have already said that I believe that the major impact of such congregations on the life of a society as a whole is through the daily work of the members in their secular vocations and not through the official pronouncements of ecclesiastical bodies. But the developing, nourishing, and sustaining of Christian faith and practice is impossible apart from the life of a believing congregation. It is therefore important... to consider... the question of leadership for such congregations.
The business of leadership is precisely to enable, encourage, and sustain the activity of all the members.
What kind of ministerial leadership will nourish the Church in its faithfulness to the gospel in a pluralist society?
We have lived for so many centuries in the "Christendom" situation that ministerial training is almost entirely conceived in terms of pastoral care of existing congregations. In a situation of declining numbers, the policy has been to abandon areas (such as the inner cities) where active Christians are few and to concentrate ministerial resources by merging congregations and deploying ministers in the places where there are enough Christians to support them.
Needless to say, this simply accelerates the decline. It is the opposite of a missionary strategy, which would proceed in the opposite direction - deploying ministers in the areas where the Christian presence is the weakest. The large-scale abandonment of the inner cities by the "mainline" churches is the most obvious evidence of the policy that has been pursued.
If the gospel is the good news of the reign of God over the whole of life, public no less than private; if the Church is therefore called to address the whole public life of the community as well as the personal lives of men and women in the private and domestic affairs, what kind of ministerial leadership is needed?
The vision of the church as a body which exists for the neighborhood and not just for its members, as the sign of God's rule over all, is much harder to sustain.
Is it the primary business of the ordained minister to look after the spiritual needs of the church members? Is it to represent God's kingdom to the whole community? Or, and this is surely the true answer - is it to lead the whole congregation as God's [message] to the whole community?
The task of ministry is to lead the congregation as a whole in a mission to the community as a whole, to claim its whole public life, as well as the personal lives of all its people, for God's rule.
* It means equipping all the members of the congregation to understand and fulfill their several roles in this mission through their faithfulness in their daily work.
* It means training and equipping them to be active followers of Jesus in his assault on the principalities and powers which he disarmed on his cross.
* And it means sustaining them in bearing the cost of that warfare.
What, then, will be the relation of the minister to this community? I have used such words as "enabling,""sustaining," and "nourishing" to describe his role in mobilizing the congregation for its mission. But how shall this be done?
Ministerial leadership for a missionary congregation will require that the minister is directly engaged in the warfare of the kingdom against the powers which usurp the kingship. Of course the minister cannot be directly involved in each of the specific areas of secular life in which the members of the congregation have to fight their battles. But there will be situations where the minister must represent the whole Church in challenging abuse of power, corruption, and selfishness in public life and take the blows that follow.
The minister's leadership of the congregation in its mission to the world will be first and foremost in the area of his or her own discipleship, in that life of prayer and daily consecration which remains hidden from the world but which is the place where the essential battles are either won or lost.
He is not to look around to see who else is following. He is to look one way only - to the Master who goes before him. Ministerial leadership is, first and finally, discipleship.