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Changing the scordcard(s)


Words like anemic and impotent just don't fit the biblical image of the New Testament church. Even a brief survey of the Book of Acts reveals empowered disciples intent on fulfilling the mission entrusted to them by Jesus. But, all the measurements reveal a sharp contrast between then and now. Like them or not they indicate a sharp disconnect that two thousand years of tradition have superimposed over his church.

Of course, the early church wasn't distracted by buildings, budgets, business, or bulletins, church debt, administration, programming, and a church on very corner of the neighborhood. No, mission was central even as they facced intense suffering. In fact, persecution blasted them from their comfort zone in Jerusalem and disbursed them to the utter most parts of the world, as planned. So, reading through Luke's travelogue there are many references to their being in reverent fear of God, great spiritual rejoicing, and the moving under the supernatural blessing of the Father on their single-minded focus. When there was a problem, they resolved it and moved on. Comtemporary writers strongly reference their contagious spirit, and steadfast obedience. Today many of our strongest apologists call for resurgeance of that New Testament spirit. You know, revival, renewal, fresh wind and fresh fire (the title of a great book by Jim Cymbala). Almost to the man our most strategic thinkers are calling for a new scorecard for the church, a more biblical way to pace mission and measure success.

In a non-hierarchical denomination like ours, Southern Baptist, the scorecard thing poses a singular dilemma. Our 40,000+ cooperating churches don't share a common scorecard. Yes, there are common traits and marked similarities that link us beyond our partnership in missons, education, training and leadership development, and several other shared ministry interests. One of the most striking characteristics of Southern Baptist churches, and our state conventions and associations too, for that matter, is our fierce independence. Some complain that the cooperative spirit that links our churches is often coerced involvement through our agencies, publications, and world-wide mission enterprise. As a Southern Baptist for 65 years, however, I've never been pressured in any way to participate in our denominational commitments. The point, in this context, is more strategic. There's isn't one scorecard. There are 40,000+ scorecards and changing them is a church matter and not one for the denominational structure.

This raises the bar on local church leadership. If there is to be a new scorecard that gives the local congregation a more biblical focus, it can be encouraged and taught from the outside, but implemented and changed from the inside. In this system of governance, without episcopal authority or superintendent guidance, decisions depend on local church polity. Then, there's another troubling aspect of scorecard administration. In the SBC, pastoral leadership changes every thirty months or so. The impetus for a new scorecard vascilates with pastoral changes.

And, here's the rub. The basic scorecard change must be to introduce consistency in the mission of the church by lengthening pastoral tenure. No, the mission scorecard is not pastor-centric and must be implemented long range by strong, biblical church leadership. However, with such rapid movement in pastoral leadership, the biblical mission of the church is often unintentionally exchanged for a protective, internally focused program. So, the changed scorecards most often mentioned (see Missional Renaissance, by Reggie McNeal, for example), from internal to external focus, from program centered to people development, from centralized leadership to shared leadership, must also be supplemented by something more basic. That is, keeping a church staff together for more than a honey-moon period.

And, this is a multi-layered scorecard change. Pastoral and church staff movement happens for forty-eleven reasons and leveling that playing field will always be a challenge. I mean, we do have 40,000+ scorecards and rabidly independent congregations. Therefore, every level of Southern Baptist life, from our state colleges, six outstanding seminaries, through our local associations, state conventions, and ministry partners and agencies, there must be an emphasis on God's calling, his placement of ministers, and the roles of ministers and church staffs in fulfilling the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

Is it possible? Certainly. It's a lesson God taught most of the people who were called to mission in the plan revealed in Scripture. It's a lesson the young Mary learned from Gabriel, recorded in Luke 1. "For nothing will be impossible with God" (v. 37).

Hmmm. Maybe that's the basic scorecard change, to believe him again.

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