Cooperation Within the Church
The new president of the Philadephia Lutheran Seminary wrote yesterday about his trip to a Baptist Seminary. The interfaith effort prompted David Lose to write about cooperation in the Church—something 2×2 addresses frequently.
Failure to cooperate is a key reason the Church cannot pull itself from its downward spiral.
The Church is not set up for cooperation. Competition is everywhere.
- Pastors compete for increasingly few “plum” calls.
- Congregations compete for increasingly few “plum” pastors.
- Within the congregations Pastors compete with Lay Leaders for authority.
- Congregations compete for status and for members.
- Regional offices compete for dollars. Their only source of money is congregations. This colors how they allocate their services and how they view less lucrative, but important, small churches.
- Denominations compete for influence.
- And then we get to Church Agencies. These serve all kinds of mission needs. • World relief. • Children and families. • Mentally and physically challenged. • Elderly. • Homeless. • Military families. These agencies do important work that congregations cannot do alone. They are funded with the pooled resources of congregations and as they seek additional public support, they sometimes forsake their Christian message.
- Seminaries and camps are no different. Fund-raising is an important job for the leaders of these fine institutions. They are less tempted to forsake their Christian message!
We are all in competition for a bigger piece of the same shrinking pie. Competition makes cooperation difficult.
Congregations—upon whom the entire Church depends—need cooperation desperately. We are seen as the pockets of the Church. Failure of all Church entities to cooperate is wearing holes in the linings of our pockets. That hurts the entire Church’s mission.
Years ago, 2×2 proposed a program that encourages cooperation in ways that would benefit all. It would strengthen local churches. It grew from our 80 church visits. We saw congregations eager to reach out that just couldn’t find a way.
A major challenge for neighborhood congregations is aging. The only thing that is aging faster congregations is the pool of available clergy! This creates hopelessness in the congregations. Everyone is worn out!
Many factors led to this—economic and social changes for starters. But the result has been that many neighborhood churches sit in the middle of vibrant neighborhoods and no longer have the volunteers capable of outreach or the money to pay for long-term professional help. The only model for leadership is paid clergy with long-term calls and salary expectations that are increasingly out of reach.
VBS-Aid recognizes that many neighborhood congregations want to reach community. They just can’t within the usual model of church work—One pastor. Lots of volunteers.
VBS-Aid would provide short-term, qualified help. Well-trained teams of college-aged young people would travel to congregations to provide the energy and hands-on leadership for summer programming. Pastors or pastoral candidates would provide important advance and follow-up help, so that the programs would not be feel-good shots-in-the-dark. They would be connected with the rest of the congregation’s ministry.
The teams would be trained by leaders of church camps—experts in training teams of youth. In return, a visit to church camp would be built-in to the VBS curriculum, giving the camps contact with a fresh audience.
Seminaries benefit because the intensive “internship” of college-aged youth fosters interest in church vocations. They would also be creating a new field experience for pastoral candidates—intensive evangelism experience, something small congregations need in pastors but rarely find.
These teams would be compensated, but the investment would be far less than seeking full-time educational directors or outreach ministers.
- Small congregations can get much-needed help.
- Camps gain access to congregations—often a challenge for them.
- Seminaries have a recruitment tool.
- Denominations have healthier congregations.
Here is where this idea stands.
- We met with camp leaders who are interested. They went so far as to work up some figures.
- We’ve had interest from congregations of several denominations. They typically contact us too late for the current year. Partnership would help us identify congregations earlier.
- We approached one of the nearest seminaries—not Philadelphia Seminary. While the person we met with moaned about not being able to manufacture pastoral candidates, he missed the recruitment potential of a program like this. Businesses recruit talent by creating opportunities like this. The Church can, too.
- The regional office made a photocopy of our proposal and filed it away, we presume.
So that’s where our effort at working together is stalled—at the seminary and regional body level. The problems we foresee will be the problems of hierarchical thinking. Who owns the project? Who gets credit? Who calls the shots? Who controls the budget?
There are answers for all these questions. That’s where most Church creativity and cooperation is stifled. Talk it out!
We still think it’s a good idea and are primed to pilot it.
Take a look, Philadelphia Seminary. Talk with us. There are dozens of congregations within 15 miles of Mount Airy that need this kind of help. There are thousands across the country. We are looking for partners!