September 23, 2013

Taking Hold of Life

            This has been a busy weekend of ministry for me, and I give thanks for these opportunities.  On Saturday I met with Christian Church (DOC) leaders for their annual leadership conference.  We thought together about “Re-thinking Ministry for a Changing Church,” recognizing that the context in which churches minister has shifted radically in the past few decades.  The results of the cultural marginalization of the church are evident in all our congregations, and creative engagement is urgent.
            Members of the host church, Hillcrest Christian, sported tee shirts with this message: “the church has left the building.”  I think they got that exactly right.  All ministries cannot be accomplished at the church house.  It is as the Body of Christ scatters within the larger community that Christ’s transformative presence is made known.
            Third Baptist Church in St. Louis hosted me for a Central Day yesterday.  Partnering churches are inviting members of the faculty, staff, and student body to share in worship leadership and offer an update on the growing mission of Central.  Anchored in mid-town, this historic congregation not only finds ways to use their sprawling building in redemptive ways, but also engages the urban festivals and street fairs that happen on their doorstep.  (The church sidewalk was strewn with glitter yesterday, a reminder of the dancing groups that had pranced by on Saturday.) “Being in the City for Good” is a watchword that shapes their ministry, and the church seeks to share life with their neighbors.

            When I visit Third, I make it a practice to attend my favorite Sunday School class, The Prayer Partners.  Comprised of persons of differing abilities, this class engages faith at the most practical and robust level.  As members offer testimony to needs met by God, their witness kindles the flame of my prayer. Truly, their life together is a sustaining lifeline for them—and others.
            Terrell Carter, a Doctor of Ministry student at Central, is functioning as Interim Minister of Administration.  A seasoned and gifted pastor, he said: “I am putting what I am learning at Central into action every day.”  He understands that while there are basics in pastoral leadership, there are also much needed adaptations to achieve congregational health.  Providing stable leadership and guidance during the tender time of pastoral transition, he is calling the church to be the hands and feet of Christ, indeed, the very presence of Christ.

            As I conversed with Disciple and Baptist leaders, I sensed more concern to be faithful followers of Jesus than to preserve existing structures.  This is the right pathway.  As the Epistle reading for next Sunday encourages: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).

            Molly T. Marshall

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