Within months, various committees were formed, missionaries were supported, and youth ministries were begun. Accountants, technology specialists, builders, pastors, and others all freely contributed as they were able, and the church had met every need. Beneath the surface of BBC’s practices are shared underlying assumptions. When remarking on the greatest need or weakness of BBC, every person who was interviewed quickly mentioned the lack of a senior pastor and his role in the church. One of the largest assumptions of BBC is that the pastor’s job is to direct what the people should do, and the people’s job is to do it.
One person put it succinctly when she said, “We need a pastor who can set vision” (I3). Another person put it more directly, “We’ve been waiting for a pastor to come and tell us what to do” (I5). In other words, Without a pastor, the church cannot function properly. The pastor is like a father who directs and orders his family. Everything hinges and is dependent upon the pastor. Like a queen bee and her hive, BBC is waiting for their pastor leader to cast vision and direct them, eager for the opportunity to follow through on these directions. But when the queen is gone, though the hive continues, it may struggle.
When this is the case with a church and its pastor, it is difficult to build momentum and grow as a church, and easy to see in part why the past number of years have been so difficult. For example, if the church’s greatest practiced value is faithful proclamation of the Word of God, what happens when the church does not have a pastor to proclaim this Word? Certainly BBC has continued to pursue practicing this value, but it has largely come from outside help. Interim pastors come and go, but the temporariness of their stay makes it difficult for a church to build their identity around.
With occasional exceptions at youth gatherings, all of the Bible teachers have been hired help, furthering the assumption that the church is dependent upon the pastor or trained professionals for the ministry of the Word. If the pastor is viewed as the fatherly caretaker of the church family, who is there to care for them, instruct them, and comfort them when they are needy or hurting? If the church values the contributions of its members, who is to say what should be contributed and where it should be contributed if there is no pastor? How will we know the best way to reach out to the community if we don’t have a pastor to tell us?
People faithfully continue to give their money and their time, but this giving can grow wearisome if there are not clearly defined goals and designated purposes behind the giving. When evaluated from a Biblical perspective, Baptist Bible Church lives up to their name in many respects. They are correct in their understanding of the necessity of a pastor to shepherd, care, protect, teach, and direct their flock. Without a shepherd, they are more easily misguided and vulnerable. It is difficult to overstate the importance of a pastor in the culture of a church.
However, neither are they totally helpless without a pastor. Most people in the church have been believers and attending churches for decades and know the scriptures well enough to instruct others if they are willing. As one individual said, “We’re not new to this” (I5). Why then, do we seem to put so many of our eggs in the pastor basket and act like we’re clueless without a pastor? BBC strongly affirms the centrality of the Bible in the church and individual’s life. However, BBC is lacking in how the members themselves handle the Scriptures in relation to one another.
While as a church BBC strongly affirms each believer’s right to directly approach God in the name of Jesus, we are not as eager to practice the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers we as Evangelicals affirm as it relates to teaching one another the word of God. As individuals, we read our Bibles like Protestants, but corporately we function like Roman Catholics, awaiting proper teaching from the consecrated professionals. While the Bible affirms the pastoral ability of teaching (1 Tim. 3:2), it does not limit that responsibility to the pastor. On the contrary, Col. :16 says to believers “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (emphasis added). BBC is also faithful to the New Testament’s widespread language of the family as a metaphor for the church (1 Tim. 5:1). But if BBC is really such a tight-knit family, questions arise. How do we prevent ourselves from the perception or reality of an insular community? If newcomers are not related to anyone here or am new to the area, can they still be part of the family? If we’re a family, how is our family supposed to grow? Certainly not through natural procreation alone!
Rather, the church begets spiritual children through the gospel (1 Cor 4:15-16). Likewise, all believers in Jesus are tasked with the responsibility to make other believers of Jesus through the proclamation of the gospel in the world, not only in the church (Mat. 28:19). One would hardly know from attending worship services how evangelism is practiced outside the church. Rather, one might get the impression that Mat. 9:37 says that they should pray to the Lord of the harvest to simply bring all the harvest into the barn Himself, or in BBC’s case, to get unbelievers to automatically show up to church!
But as one member said regarding BBC’s relationship with the community, “We don’t view them and they don’t view us” (I5). With these things in mind, one of the practiced values that would be helpful to reinvigorate in BBC is the priesthood of all believers, especially as it relates to the way members of the church interact with one another. Because they are a loving church family, it is tempting to say that they easily pass Biblical standards for how their members interact, to the exclusion of certain other Biblical standards such as teaching and encouraging one another as a gathered body.
One person I interviewed mentioned how little she knows about certain people in the church, lamenting how when the sermon is over, most people immediately walk out of the building and drive home with little interaction with others. Even before the service begins, most people are quietly sitting in their usual pew, looking forward, waiting for the service to begin with little interaction with others. What could be done to increase interaction among the members while also promoting the priesthood of all believers as they teach, exhort, and admonish one another?
One member told me that in the early days of the church, their first pastor encouraged people to share testimonies of what God had done in their lives (I5). Isn’t this what a family does, after all? A true family cares for its members and is eager to hear how they are growing. Unfortunately, in the busyness of the early days of the church, this practice never took off. Because many of the people in the church have an aversion to public speaking, it may be best to start out small and ask for a testimony of only a few minutes.
It could be a testimony of how they came to faith in Jesus, something they learned recently learned from reading the Bible, how they were encouraged by another member of the church, or something God has been doing in their life recently, among many other things. This practice could be further leveraged as an encouragement for community outreach if people gave testimonies about how they were able to serve Jesus outside the church, or opportunities they’ve recently had to share the gospel with unbelievers.
Unless we are a dead church, certainly there would be many such short testimonies the congregation could give! These testimonies could happen during the newly formed Sunday School hour. That time could be devoted to testimonies and prayer because the corporate worship hour is already largely devoted to studying the Bible. Or this time of testimony could also happen in small groups hosted in member’s homes. In the pre-history days of BBC, many of the people naturally gathered in homes for Bible study. It would probably do the church some good to bring these home Bible studies back and to lead them themselves.
These small groups could even be an opportunity for community outreach and evangelism as members make a regular practice of inviting their neighbors and colleagues to join the home group! By doing so, the practice of the priesthood of all believers will be lifted up, as well as inviting others to join the church family. An additional way to incorporate testimonies into the culture of BBC would be to start a new practice that I’d call “Family Sunday. ” Family Sunday would happen at least quarterly, and would blend well into BBC’s existing cultural DNA.
Many families traditionally value the importance of Sunday dinner together around the table, so why not practice this as a church family? Besides, Baptists are famous for their potlucks anyway! Family Sunday would bring this family intimacy to the level of the whole church. Testimonies could be given at individual tables during or after the meal, or people could give a brief testimony before the whole church at some point during the meal. As far as the vision of the church’s interaction with the community, BBC needs to place a higher value on practicing being salt and light in the community, or they run the risk of being an insular community.
There are plenty of ways to use salt and light as symbols within the church. On one side of the stage, a block of salt could be set, while on the other, a large lantern. Inside each exterior door, there is a salt bucket placed there for the winter. Simply decorating the bucket with the words “YOU are the salt of the earth” would be a powerful reminder to the people every time they left the building. Posting a sign that says “YOU are the light of the world above every light switch would send a similar reminder.
The church could also use some practical advice on how to get involved in the community. When the usual prayer time is done, in addition to praying for the needs of the church, prayers should also be made for the surrounding community and its needs. After members are mobilized to serve, give them a time to explain how it went and let the church celebrate what God did through our family outside our church walls! What would be the possibilities if even 10% of the time and money that is given to the church ministries was turned outward and put to use to minister to the needs of the community?
As the church continues to grow in its awareness of community needs and our ability to meet them, the church-community relationship will grow. By doing so, they will be welcoming outsiders to the BBC family, and more importantly, to the family of God. Baptist Bible Church was formed out of the shared values of the proclamation of the Word of God, the church as a caring family, and the contribution from all of its members. By making some of the above adjustments, not only will the church remain in congruence with its existing values, but will leverage those values in a way that will address some of the existing weaker areas.
Symbols of salt and light around the church, times of home Bible study, Family Sundays around a meal with testimonies, and a greater awareness of community needs will lift up Word-centeredness, the value of family, and generous acts of contribution towards meeting community needs will help BBC grow stronger in their identity while sending the loving and welcoming message to the community that at Baptist Bible Church, “Our Family is Your Family. “