Monday, November 3, 2008

Small Church, Good Church, Good Shepherds

By John Jefferson Davis
Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics

Recently I had the opportunity to be the plenary speaker at the annual convention of the American Baptist Churches of Maine, meeting at the United Baptist Church of Caribou, Maine, not far from the Canadian border. I was informed that Aroostook County, the northernmost county in the state and a center of the potato farming industry, has the land area of the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined! I had the pleasure of connecting with a good number of our graduates who pastor ABC churches in Maine, including Al Fletcher, the executive pastor of the ABC churches in the state, and Ken Phelps, an area minister and “pastor to pastors” in the region.

As I talked with the pastors over meals and during the breaks in the program, I was reminded that small churches can be good churches, and that the New Testament model of ministry is that of a shepherd who cares individually for the flock, and not that of a CEO who manages a large corporation. These pastors were doing good pastoral ministry in small churches in an economically depressed region, but their faithfulness and commitments to long-term ministries are deeply consistent with New Testament values. I took away from the weekend a renewed sense that our school, Gordon-Conwell, needs to pay attention to the needs of the small churches in New England and elsewhere, and not just to the needs of the mid-size and larger churches.

My messages to the pastors were focused on the theology of worship and the theme of the real presence of the holy and living God among his people as they gather for worship, drawing on the research that I have done for my book manuscript on this theme, tentatively titled Searching for God on Sunday Morning: the Ontology of Worship. The term “ontology” is meant to point to the “weighty reality” of the God who is really present among his people, not just “up there” or “in our hearts,” but truly “among us.”

In the message titled “Meeting Christ at the Table,” I presented an argument for more frequent communion and for an understanding of the Lord’s Supper that is not just one of “remembering” an event from the past, but an encounter with the Risen Christ who is spiritually present with his people at the table through Word and Spirit. If you would like to pursue this line of inquiry, you can download this chapter by clicking on the "Download File" link below.

God’s blessings on your ministry wherever you may be.

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