I write this article sitting at gate 10 of Dallas Love Field as I wait to board my flight back to North Carolina after a whirlwind trip to Texas to take part in introductory meetings around the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Thriving Congregations Initiative. The program is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Thriving Congregations Initiative, which is aimed at strengthening Christian congregations so they can help people deepen their relationships with God, build strong relationships with each other and contribute to the flourishing of local communities and the world.
Participating congregations receive opportunities to cultivate qualities of thriving through gaining clarity about both their own gifts and convictions and also the needs and opportunities in rapidly changing ministry contexts. This process cultivates five distinctive qualities of thriving congregations: holy tenacity, compelling clarity, faithful agility, rooted relationships and dynamic collaboration. More on those as time passes. Ultimately, the initiative invites congregations to design new ministries that fully utilize their gifts to meet an urgent need through “holy experimentation.” Throughout these journeys, cohorts of participating congregations will engage with one another in leadership team retreats while also inviting their entire congregation into deeper encounters with Bible study, theology and spiritual formation.
Before this initiative goes live before congregations across the Fellowship, CBF wants to prototype the process on a small cohort of 4 churches. Yates was honored by the invitation to be one of the four initial congregations to work through this process and provide the necessary learning to expand the circle of thriving congregations.
Over the next year, a small team of members will gather around this opportunity to conduct some experiments in the way we engage on mission, embodying the healing ministry of Jesus in our neighborhood. The timing of this invitation is exceedingly good in Yates’ life. As we reckon with the new world wrought by the past few years of the pandemic experience, everyone we meet bears wounds, whether physical, spiritual, social, economic or relational. We know Jesus the Great Physician has work for us to do to bring a Spiritually-empowered, healing touch in our congregation and our neighborhood. We set down the life-giving conversations of the visioning process when the pandemic demanded immediate and drastic reorganization of church life. It is time to return to them. Yates will seek to step boldly into these ministries by exercising our great gifts and growing in the traits of thriving congregations (holy tenacity, compelling clarity, faithful agility, rooted relationship and dynamic collaboration).
As a way of helping us pastors understand what this might look like, we stepped out of church and into Globe Life Field, the next-generation ballpark that is home to the Texas Rangers. The ballpark is a marvel of engineering, but we wanted to learn more about its design. Our tour guides were the chief architects who designed it, and they talked for hours about the process by which they create spaces of welcome and meaning. It is a powerful experience to step out of our sacred spaces and visit a “cathedral to baseball” to learn from experts in their field so we could draw correlations for our own contexts. This sort of design thinking is a new way for the church to innovate its ministries toward thriving and renewal.
And I like those words thriving and renewal. I hope you do, too. They have been the center of my prayers for our church as we consolidate and listen for God’s remarkable call to participate in God’s healing of our wounded world and innovate more and more into the lifegiving community of a relationship in, and with, Jesus Christ. As we make our way through the summer, the seeds planted in our soil this week will quickly be germinating and growing. I hope that you, with me, will pray for the process of innovation as we seek to go – and grow – on mission.
Grace and Peace,