WHY DOES THE HILLSVILLE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH EXIST?
From OurRock Newsletter, January-March, 2020 Issue
Let me begin my article for this edition of Our Rock by saying: Happy New Year! I hope and pray and trust that this year is filed with God’s richest gifts for you and your loved ones.
I have struggled with what to say to you as we begin a new year of ministry and mission together. Believe it or not, I have been at a loss of words. As I have pondered what to write to you, one question keeps bubbling up over and over again in my mind. That question is: Why do we exist? Why does the Hillsville Presbyterian Church exist?
I suspect that question may not be one that you have pondered or ever asked before. Nonetheless, think about that question for a moment. How would you respond to the question: Why does the Hillsville Presbyterian Church exist?
You might respond to that query by saying something like this: “Of course, everyone knows why we exist. We are like a family. We are a church family. We take care of one another. We exist to provide religious goods and services to our members (baptisms, weddings, and funerals). We have an excellent music program. We are known for our pastor’s teaching and preaching.” While all of those things may be good and true about us, they do not answer the question: Why do we exist?
As we begin a new year of ministry and mission together in Jesus’ name, it occurs to me that there are three essential things that we must do as a congregation this year:
1) We must consistently ask: Why does the Hillsville Presbyterian Church exist? We need to keep asking and asking and asking that question, peeling back the layers until we get to the kernel of the question. Here are some other ways that we might ask and peel back the layers of that question: “What is our reason for being? What is our mission? What is our purpose? What makes us unique as a congregation? What is our reputation in the community? If we disappeared, would anyone notice? What would they miss? Why Church?” To be an effective and thriving congregation, we must regularly and routinely ask: Why do we exist?
Peter Drucker, the famed management guru and consultant to many of America’s corporations, made a career out of asking three simple questions:
1) What business are you in?
2) Who is your customer?
3) What does the customer value?
While I personally cringe at the use of business language to describe the church’s purpose and mission, Drucker’s questions do apply to our ministry and mission:
“What is our business?” Calling people to faith in Jesus Christ and shaping them to be faithful disciples.
“Who is the customer?” Church members and attendees, spiritual seekers, and the un- churched.
“What does the customer value?” This is all over the map. But, I think it includes an experience with the living God, community, music and worship, and outlets for ministry.
After Drucker asked, “What business are you in?” he would always follow up with “How’s business?” It seems to me that the only way we can effectively answer the question, “How’s business?” is if we are clearly and consistently asking and answering, Why does the Hillsville Presbyterian Church exist?
For the past six months, the Session has been engaged in a discovery and discernment process that church consultants Gil Rendle and Alice Mann describe as “a holy conversation.” The Session has been reflecting on the question: Why do we exist? During this time of discernment, the Session has considered our church’s strengths and weaknesses; it has thought about potential threats to our church’s ministry and mission; it has pondered potential opportunities for growth and outreach for our church. While the Session has not completed its “holy conversation,” it is moving toward three outcomes: 1) sharing its process and insights with the congregation, 2) inviting the whole congregation into its discernment process about the church’s purpose, and 3) developing a strategic focus, plan and vision for our church’s ministry and mission.
The question, why do we exist, is not merely an interrogatory for the Session to consider. It is a query for the entire congregation. It is a question that every one of us must ask, ponder, and respond to.
2) By asking and answering the question: Why does the Hillsville Presbyterian Church exist? We can do something that is absolutely vital for our church. We can identify and recover our true sense of purpose, which is to transform human lives in Jesus’ name. If our church is to have any staying power, then we must rediscover our true purpose. Transitional ministry expert Norman B. Bendroth concludes: “The purpose of the church is to change lives by nurturing people in a life-changing relationship with the living God.”
The leading-edge questions for people who are finding their way back to church are: “How can I have a spiritual life? How can I have an experience with the transcendent? How can I get God into my life? How can I be different?” People are still hungry for a transcendent, spiritual, or religious experience. People are seeking the holy and the sacred. People are searching for stability in our troubled, turbulent, and tumultuous cultural age. Our society feels unmoored and adrift, and people are looking for an anchoring hope.
Unfortunately, many people do not look to the institutional church, or even to our church, to provide that experience. I believe that churches that understand their purpose to be transforming human lives in the name of Jesus Christ have an opportunity to help people to have an experience of the holy that is redemptive, transformative, and formative.
By paying attention to and delivering on these four vital practices, worship, teaching, mission, and community that are at the heart of Christian formation (how Christ is formed in us and how we make disciples), we can provide opportunities for people to experience God in fresh and life-giving ways.
3) Consequently, we need to find new ways of “being and doing church.” We can no longer “do business as usual.” In his book Transforming Congregational Culture, Anthony B. Robinson argues that churches need to make strategic shifts from the old model of “doing church” to the new realities of the twenty-first century. He contends that we must move from being givers to receivers who give, from a board culture to a ministry culture, from membership mentality to discipleship formation and active invitation, from community organization to faith-based ministry, from democracy to discernment, from budget as an end to the budget to as a means to do ministry, from fellowship to hospitality.
Candidly, I think Robinson is right. He is spot on. We need a paradigm shift. We need to rethink how we do church. We need to reconsider what it means to be the people of Jesus. We need to find new ways of “being and doing church.”
For me, “being and doing church” in a new way means this: To focus less on being a provider of religious goods and services (baptisms, weddings, and funerals); and instead, to look for creative ways to get into our community because we understand and meet our neighbors’ needs. In other words, we need to stop expecting people to come to us, and we need to go out to the people—to meet our neighbors where they live...to meet them in their hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, certainty and perplexity, wholeness and brokenness.
Three recent examples of going out into the community to understand and to meet the needs of our neighbors is through the formation of the Hillsville Ukulele Group, by giving out candy and hot apple cider at the town Christmas parade and through the formation of our food pantry. Certainly, these are not the only ways to meet and to get to know our neighbors and their needs. They are, however, new expressions of being and doing church.
I do not write any of this to make anyone feel badly. I write it to challenge us and to encourage us. I write it because our time is an era of rapid and overwhelming transitional change. Our culture has changed. Our church has changed. Consequently, our mission has changed.
Whether we like it or not, that is our reality. The beginning point to meeting the adaptive challenge of our reality (transitional change) is to consistently, creatively, and faithfully ask and respond to the question: Why does the Hillsville Presbyterian Church exist?
I hope to see you soon and often as we answer the question: Why does the Hillsville Presbyterian Church exist?