Summary: Sept. 2006 Pastor’s Letter - Promoting a balanced approach to Evangelical Social Ministry, drawing on personal experience of a conservative evangelical now serving a broadly diverse independent, non-denominational community church.
Reaching Out and Gathering In
Bill Myers, Pastor
On occasion I hear from old friends and former coworkers who have known me throughout portions of the almost twenty years I served in denominational churches. They find themselves amazed, and sometimes perplexed at my decision to pastor The Glenburn Community Church (“Is that an Alliance church? is the usual question.) in the heart of the Fall River Valley (Following the question, “Where is that?” is usually some comment along the lines of “That’s kinda out-of-the-way, isn’t it?”). The predictable career-track for successful pastors usually leads to bigger churches in more populated areas with closer and closer ties to denominational committees, boards and titles. For those who know the joys of rural, small town, out-of-the-way (or whatever other phrase they may choose) ministry, however, and even among those who actually know where the Fall River Valley is, there is still an air of disbelief to their conversation.
For example, my ministry focus in the past has been in redevelopment and extension churches. What that means is that I had specialized in rebuilding churches where there had been great difficulties previously, and in helping to start churches where there had been nothing previously. As a result, I have preached and led worship in a basement, on a couple of ball-fields, a storeroom/yoga studio, an office space, a movie theater, the lobby of an office building, in two public schools, and in a variety of other “non-traditional church facilities.” A retired pastor of that denomination, learning that I was back in Northern California, said that he was familiar with the Fall River Valley. He said, “I used to take the Dana cutoff from eighty-nine. I’d get to the ‘T’ in the road where there’s that big, beautiful white church out there in the heart of the valley.” I nodded, but still he asked, “Where’s your church from there?” To be fair, it’s sometimes hard for me to look at the “big, beautiful white church” out here in the heart of the valley and not feel overwhelmed that God has called me to pastor here. As one classmate at grad school recently prayed, “And God, thank you that you’ve finally called Bill to a strong, established church.”
Over the past four years, I have regularly enlightened friends, family, coworkers and classmates (and anyone else who will listen) to the blessings of serving in an independent, non-denominational community church. First and foremost among those blessings is the reality that when it comes to making decisions about ministry in our congregation, we do not have “the manual” sitting on a shelf to tell us “how it’s done.” We have our bibles, and we have God’s answers to prayer. We look at what God says; we ask Him to lead us to accomplish it; we trust Him to get the job done through us (since there’s no hierarchy above us to whom we can defer our ministry responsibilities) with His resources (since there’s no “district budget” from which we can fund our ministries).
The unique blessings and opportunities of an independent, non-denominational community church are accompanied by equally unique challenges. It takes longer to discern God’s will through study and prayer with our board of trustees than it did to call the District Office and ask “the experts” how they wanted something done. With so many of us coming from such diverse denominational backgrounds, we have each been influenced by such “experts” in the past, resulting in sometimes contradictory expectations. As an independent church, we might sometimes be seen as a little too independent, I guess. And being non-denominational, I can see where we may confuse those used to more traditional labels (like Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, etc.), begging the question, “What kind of church are you, then?” But is it ever possible to be “too community” a church? I can’t imagine it.