Different people together

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One of the most powerful values we have, yet also one of the most difficult to live out, is the value of being relationally committed. This is because we are all people from different backgrounds, seeing the world, the church and people through different eyes and with different expectations. This value remains a constant challenge across your personal life, your church life and your involvement in regional and denominational relationships.
As Christians this value is the very cornerstone of community involvement and a daily requirement of church involvement. However two problems exist when it comes to being relationally committed; firstly we are all different and secondly, we have the pressure of ministry, family, work and life on us constantly.

So how do we live out this vita l core value in the midst of the pressures and expectations of life and church?

1. Be Uncomfortably Inclusive

From very early on in the church we have had to associate with people who are different to ourselves. We see this in Acts 6 and it is addressed in various other passages including 1 Corinthians 1:10-11 and many more. To help us deal with this fact we will often minimise the contact we have with others who do not share the same view as we do. This can go to the extreme of questioning the other group’s salvation because we a have particular theological slant and believe without doubt that we are the only ones who have the truth.
In a church that I used to pastor we had a mixture of people including many people who had never been to church, many people who hated church, people from various backgrounds such as conservative Anglican, charismatic Pentecostal, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist and more… we even had on occasion an evangelistic atheist. We had people who were passionate about Labor, Liberal and the Greens and had people who believed in simple church models and complex church models. Our rule was simple, we could talk about anything as long as we did it in love.
This made a lot of people uncomfortable, however it also allowed every person to be sharpened and to grow in their maturity and assurance of faith. We understood that we could reach more people with different people and limited ourselves if we were all exactly the same. It was strange that people who had never been to church seemed more comfortable in the church than people who had been Church goers all their life.
As Baptists we are an eclectic group of people who are bound by our values. At our core we are vastly more alike than we are different and it is this sameness that allows us to include each other – no matter how uncomfortable we are.

2. Be All About People

In many ways, if we seek to exist within an uncomfortably inclusive environment, we have to prioritise people in all that we do. That means you prioritise people over theological dogma, programs, ministry, fears, preconceptions and comfort.
We can get so caught up in serving the church, trying to win an argument or trying to lead a person to Jesus that people become less important and a secondary priority. Now I believe that every person needs to come into an active, discipleship relationship with Jesus and that people need to have good theology and that service in the church is vital, however if the purpose of any of these are not jointly motivated by the love of Jesus and the love of people it is nothing but a noisy gong, pointless and counter productive.
I used to be a duty deacon at a church I attended before I went into ministry. The traditions in this church were very strong and the role deacon was seen as an elevation, even to the point that during communion the deacon who had been serving the longest got to sit closest to the pastor. One morning, when I was rostered onto be duty deacon, a non-Christian friend of the family invited me to a café with him and his friends to talk to them about church and what I believed. Because the culture of the church was church/ tradition first and people second, my shameful response was “No, I am duty deacon”. I have grown since that experience however often we do put ministry or theology or religion above the needs and the personhood of people. We cannot be relationally committed until we see people as far more important than what we do or what we believe.

How do we do this at a church, a region of Baptist churches and a denominational level?

I believe that the answer is the same for all.

1. Minister Together

A young Baptist church planter visited another Baptist church in the suburb he was about to plant into. The two churches would be very different in how they looked and operated however the church planter wanted to build a relationship with the established church so they could work together in the future. The response of the pastor to the church planter was “I don’t care what you do as long as it is not in my territory”
We have so many people who do not know Jesus in the community however we isolate ourselves as if we are in competition with each other. When people in churches, in regions and in denominations work together for a common cause the impact that can be made is extraordinary.
When you focus your ministry on sheep stealing, survival or fear of other churches you are no longer doing the work of the church but adding to the divisions in the kingdom of God.
In the same way, working in ministry with others in your local church who are different, can expand your ministry and give you greater insight into how your ministry can best serve others. Whilst seeking to only include a few creates cliques and disunity.
As a denomination the time of fighting petty battles to further a personal agenda or gain personal power has ceased and a renewed focus on our denominational purpose and values has been rebirthed. It is indeed an exciting time to be part of the Baptist Association.

2. Fellowship Together

Beyond simply serving together we need to actually join together with the express purpose of getting to know each other and to build deeper relationships with each other. This includes worshipping together, celebrating together, sharing stories together, eating together and much more.
This takes time, effort and sacrifice but is a non-negotiable attribute of church. We are not isolated people who come together Sunday morning – We are brothers and sisters in faith. We are not individual churches in the same region of NSW working on our own ministry; we are the church of Jesus Christ working toward a common cause. We are not individual churches who just happen to be called Baptist and are part of “The Association”, no; you are the association of Baptist Churches – One body with many parts.
Would you sit down to a meal with every person in your church? If not why not?
Why don’t you fellowship with people in other churches? Is your pastor afraid you will leave or do you think you are better or your church is better? Do you just not have time or do you disagree theologically?
To impact this world for Jesus we must begin to put aside our differences and commit to deeper, more authentic relationships with each other.

What are some practical steps we can take to become more relationally committed to each other?

Attend Revive Conference – When you look at all the Christian conferences in Sydney make sure that REVIVE is the one that you have to attend and the other conferences are optional. Not only is it different, it is yours. You are running this conference – would you organise a dinner party and not attend? Of course not then why would you organise a conference and then turn up at someone else’s. In my opinion REVIVE should be a non negotiable for all Baptist Churches. If you organise a group from your church to attend you can build relationships with each other over the two days and also build relationships with other churches.
Get involved with Assembly – Each year we elect volunteers to represent our church at the Baptist Assembly. Why not take a group of people to assembly who are just attending? As part of the next assembly we will be giving every person an opportunity to contribute to the denominational vision, so get a group from your church to attend.
Support common Mission & Social Justice work – Join with other churches in your region to support the work of Baptist World Aid Australia. Global Interaction, Baptist Community Services. HopeStreet or to lobby the government together.
Be proactive in Connecting Local Churches – All it takes for churches to work together is for one person to ask, “Why are we not working together?” and do something about it. Why not be that person today?
Share what God is doing – Together Magazine, Together Online, Together eNews and our Facebook site are just a few ways in which you can share what God is doing in your church with other churches. Take the opportunity to encourage others in their ministry and walk with Jesus.

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