Brothers and Sisters,
Many of you know of my church history—I am a cradle Presbyterian and have not strayed from
the Presbyterian fold. I was baptized at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Raleigh NC,
December 29, 1963. My church families include Peace Presbyterian (Jacksonville, FL),
Dorchester Presbyterian (Summerville, SC), and Central Presbyterian (Atlanta, GA). While in
seminary I served Westminster Presbyterian (Charleston, SC) as an intern and since being
ordained I have served the Brevard-Davidson River Presbyterian and Arlington Presbyterian
Churches. I am steeped in all things Presbyterian and in my relationship with this church I have
experienced change. There are two changes that are most notable for me—the move from an
attractional to missional model of ministry and the intentionality of nurturing spiritual growth, of
creating disciples.
When I was growing up the church had all kinds of groups and all kinds of programs. There was
the youth group and the book group, Mother’s morning out and the men’s prayer group, the
quilting group and kitchen crew, the choir for all ages, classes on raising children, on managing
your money, on resume writing and jazzercise. All these were held with the hope that people
would come through the church doors and eventually join in membership.
Today’s hope has a different focus, from looking within to looking outward—outward into the
community and the world meeting the needs of our neighbors and sharing the Gospel where we
are planted. Churches today are moving from an “attractional” model where we hope to bring
people in, to a “missional” model where we focus outward into the surrounding community.
Connected to this shift in ministry is the intentional nurture of disciples. As followers of Jesus
Christ, we are called to be disciples and that calling requires more than just attending worship
once a week. As disciples of Jesus we are invited to explore our own relationship with the
Divine through prayer, scripture reading, spiritual disciplines and service. We are invited to
explore this on our own and with others. The true work of the church, in my opinion, is to
nurture those who choose to be a part of the community so that we can share our faith and
witness to the power of the gospel to all we meet outside the church building.
Recently, I came across this article “Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 11 Things I Learned” by
Thom Rainer. Mr. Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to
LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he
was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He recounts
working with a church whose membership declined from its peak of 750 in 1975 to 83 in 2003.
The church eventually closed and as he reflected on the “whys” he realized that nearly every
aspect of their life together had been focused inward. They were primarily concerned with
themselves and their own survival. Reading through the details is painful and hard and as I
looked at his list, I was comforted by the fact that while this could have been Arlington
Presbyterian Church, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the Arlington faith community because of the hard
work that has been done over the last several years—work that has been communicated to all
members and friends, work that all have been invited to participate in: the New Beginnings
Project, the house meetings, the decision to move towards Mission redefinition, the October
2011 retreat, the conversation with Shannon Kiser and the hiring of Shannon to be our new
church development coach, the forming of the vision team, the work they did during the summer
of 2012, the realizing of a vision and now the moving forward to make the vision reality. (This
history is captured in the vision team report to session. It can be found on the Moving Forward
page of the website.) This is not a faith community that wants to die. This is a community that
wants to live.
The current vision is for Arlington Presbyterian Church
• to create and nurture a community of disciples,
• to be a people and place of crossroads for the community,
• and use our resources to help others by redeveloping the property to provide affordable
housing.
This third part of the vision does mean the current building will be torn down. And my sense is
that it is this third part that causes some people pain and grief. Our memories are often located
by place—this is where my children were baptized; this is where I got married; this is where I
was ordained an elder; this is where we gathered to mourn my husband’s death; this is where my
friends surrounded me when my mother died. Place is important. I know the power of place and
it is hard when place changes. Recognizing both the aging state of the building and the
overwhelming need for affordable housing in the Arlington community, we are seeking to be
good stewards of what God has given us and want this place to continue to glorify God and care
for our neighbors.
And even in a different building the community of faith will still exist because as we all know
the church is the not the building; the church is the people.
Will there still be a community of faith at 3507 Columbia Pike? Yes.
Will there still be a community who worships and serves together? Yes.
Will there still be a community who cares for one another in times of transition, grief and death?
Yes.
Will there still be a community who baptizes babies and celebrates weddings? Yes.
Will there still be a community that welcomes people into the faith, nurtures spiritual growth,
and offers witness to the resurrection? Yes.
Will there still be a community that serves the neighborhood and world outside of its doors? Yes.
Will there still be a community of faith dedicated to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus
Christ? Yes.
For me, this is not death; this is life.
Blessings,
Sharon
http://thomrainer.com/2013/04/24/autopsy-of-a-deceased-church-11-things-i-learned/