Continuing from our previous post about the Church Planters' Symposium in Wake Forest, NC...
Day 2 - Going to the Conference Center in the Morning
After getting ready at the hotel, eating the famous Hampton Inn continental breakfast, checking out, and loading the car, we headed out and took a few pictures in the immediate area, including the nearby Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary grounds. After parking in downtown, we still had a bit of time, so we strolled over to the farmers market that was set up in another nearby parking lot. There were a combination of foods, crafts, and other items for sale. We sat in a gazebo at one end for a little bit, but then needed to move on because a music group started setting up their instruments there. When the hammer dulcimer was set up, Jonathan was tempted to stay and listen, but we all knew we wanted to get to that conference! So we headed over and went in.
Scott, Jason, and Dan were joined by Steve Breagy, another man from Hope Baptist Church who is going through an elder examination, to form a panel to discuss various topics of church polity. They used a printed package that Hope Baptist uses for new prospective members as a basis for the presentations.
Scott reviewed principles and practical advice from an article by Mark Dever about church membership... sounds like the term "member" was being used in a little different sense than Paul uses when he explains the metaphor of the universal body of Christ with His members. "Member" here basically meant a believer who is an identified, committed, involved part of a local assembly... there are no indisputable proof texts in the Scriptures for local church membership, but there are passages that imply formal membership in a local assembly... 1Corinthians 5:2,7,12-13 outsiders and insiders, inclusion and exclusion... 2Corinthians 2:6-7 majority refers to a group commonly recognized as church's members... membership verifies salvation and encourages the development of fruit in life, practicing one anothers... signifies a regular responsibility that involves one in others' lives... criteria: only genuine regenerated believers, love, covenant, fruit of godly character and actions... requirements of members - attend, give, pray, attend communion, attend business meetings... beware of meaningless membership... clearer witness to non-Christians, edify the church, spiritual protection, spiritual assurance, God's name... For me, I definitely see the value of a verbalized, known by all, drive-a-stake-in-the-ground commitment of a person or family to a local assembly (and for that commitment to continue through all the rough spots). But I haven't gotten yet to the point of being fired up about the administrative aspects of keeping a membership roll or that that document has any kind of big meaning in itself -- though church directories have been handy things, haven't they? And 1Timothy 5:9 talks about a list of widows...
The panel then touched upon Hope's church constitution, though they didn't cover it in depth. It starts with the purpose of the church, followed by a boiled-down statement of faith with 5 basic essential doctrines that they believe all born-again believers must hold to. Following that, there is a reference to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 being their fuller statement of faith which all officers must uphold and teach (members may take exception to any of the points in that confession, but agree not to cause dissension by speaking against them within the church)... then follows a description and commitment to many principles and practices, many things covered in the previous post, plus several other matters. This was only touched upon.
Following that, the panel spent some time on the value of churches having a written covenant. They went down Hope's Church Covenant point by point (12 points on one sheet of paper). All the points are specific commitments to how the church members will love one another and behave toward one another as a local body. Very neat. New members (after an initial review process and approval by elders) formally stand before the whole church and commit themselves via this covenant to the rest of the church. I don't recall seeing the practice of a written covenant in the NT, but I can see the value of thinking through and setting down the specifics on paper of exactly what I am committing to when I join with the church. Jason and Scott emphasized that the purpose of this whole presentation was not to get everyone to buy in to Hope's constitution and covenant, but to give an example of what one can look like and to encourage its use as a helpful tool.
Lunch - Barbecue pork on rolls, potato salad, chips, brownies. YUM. Oh yeah, by the way, they offered sweetened ice tea to drink. My observation is that Virginians' tea "standard" tends to be unsweetened, with sweetened as an option, but North Carolinians tend to be the other way around - sweetened is the standard... More chat time with other participants. Also got a chance to talk to Scott's dad, Mr. Bill Brown, who dropped by for a while.
Singing - By the way, on both days, before each session, a seminary student named Andrew, led us all in singing a hymn and prayer, then introduced the next speaker. He wore a very cheerful countenance, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He did a great job.
Started with the principle from Psalm 127 unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain... checklist can be helpful, but really need to depend on the Lord and follow the Scriptures... cannot possibly cover all the aspects of starting a church, but covered a few main things, then left the rest up to questions... Leadership - need qualified men as leaders, see previous messages; seek out the elders from among yourselves, practice hospitality so you can really get to know one another's character before making an elder... Doctrine - orthodoxy and orthopraxy, hash them out with other families at the front end; holding fast the faithful word, sound doctrine and its application are important; if we differ on anything is it really a big enough issue to be divisive? Leaders really need to be much closer in agreement, other members more leeway... Vision and mission - what is our purpose, and how to we intend to work toward it... Location - homes, rent, or buy? do we take on debt if we buy?... Money - how handle tithes and offering, accountability for handling funds; tax Id and bank account; 501c3 incorporation or not... Do we pay the elders... how practice the Lord's Table and how often... how many families minimum to make a viable church body? Enough to be able to practice one-anothers and not too big for everyone to know one another, no definite number in Scripture... How find other like-minded families? VF NCFIC web site, home school networks, reach out to those who don't yet believe or practice the biblical principles of family... examine men for elders, observe them for a while under pressure, have whole congregation together to question the elder candidate; ask neighbors and friends (good reputation?) and wife!
Break - more chat time, met and chatted with Eddie from Emporia, VA, great testimony about how he had been a full-time "traditional pastor" but became convicted by the Lord about biblical principles of family integration and eldership; after talking to deacons but not getting agreement, he felt he had to resign (which lost him his church, his job, and his home); but soon after, the Lord arranged that he would meet up with a group of families in the area who had been praying for 2 years for a qualified elder who held to these principles -- and there's Eddie! Now the guys in his new fellowship (2 of whom were at the conference with him) call him their hero. Also during the breaks, we would look over and see Dan's son faithfully typing up his dad's power point presentations for him.
First and foremost, we need to be very deliberate about lovingly working within my existing church before I should think about leaving... be very watchful for wrong, critical attitudes... the Lord didn't make me an elder in existing church so I don't have any authority for forcing an elder to change, appeal patiently, humbly, and in love... Apply 1Corinthians 13 as I appeal... Possible reasons to leave after all that: serious doctrinal error, protecting your family, inability to fulfill responsibilities (subjective), or I would cause dissenson by staying... if I have to leave, do so in good grace and love... for new folks visiting your fellowship, talk to their previous church to make sure they left in love.
Scott Brown, Growing a Church
Teaching through Ephesians 4... walk in a manner worthy of His calling, behavior and attitude... guard and preserve unity of Spirit with 4 virtues - lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering, bearing with one another in love; appreciate our oneness in Christ... grow the church through grace, gifts of grace and gifted men... speak the truth in love and grow up into Christ, reap the fruit of the Spirit's gifts operating... put off worldliness and patterns of Gentiles... 30 years later, in the book of Revelation, John appealed to the Ephesians to renew their first love.
Saying Bye - lots of good-byes with our new acquaintances, thanked Scott, Jason, and Dan profusely for ministering to us... chatted more with our Massachusetts friends and got their email address if we want some pointers on planting... helped stack the chairs against the wall, then headed out to the car and hit the road, taking a few more pictures in town on the way out...
Trip Back - oh, by the way, Wake Forest has one of those atrocious "traffic circles" right near the seminary, always a challenge not smashing into someone else, but we went through safely one more time as we left town... Hannah discovered how to take a short video on my camera and took some interesting (?) footage... another very nice country drive back through NC and VA... we stopped to grab something quick for supper; arrived home around 9:30 pm tired but happy to be back with Deb and Sarah (and Pepper too, of course, bark-bark I'm so excited).
We are very thankful that we had the chance to gain some perspective and wisdom from these men and to gain encouragement from like-minded families. Pray that the Lord would help us apply His wisdom as we seek what He would have us do.