I am seven years into my first tenure as a senior pastor. The congregation I am blessed to serve in that capacity consists of roughly 300 souls near the urban center of Grand Rapids, MI at a location that has been occupied by their forebearers since 1892. There was a time when I was in seminary and dreaming of planting a new church (you know, one that would avoid all of the mistakes of every other church and implement all of the pristine principles of belief and practice I was being taught) when I would have laughed at the idea that this would be the kind of church I would find myself serving. Yet, as anyone who has served as a pastor will tell you, the call and gift of God to minister among the people of Jesus is irresistible. The delightful gifts from God that are the members of Berean Baptist Church have truly become my people over these past 7 years. We have loved and laughed and lost together over these past seven years.
So it was no surprise when our church first used the NCD survey that “loving relationships” showed up as one of our strengths and that it also ranked high four years later when we took the survey again. What both of those surveys revealed, however, was that our strength can also be a weakness. As a historic congregation with multiple families tied together going back generations, it can be hard for newcomers to really integrate and become part of the community, unless they are a hardy sort. We were able to identify that we struggled with having a truly outward focus versus an inward focus as a congregation.
When Bryan Moak shared the Church Unique tool following our second NCD experience it seemed like an ideal vehicle to help us have some of the conversations around that dynamic. Over the past year, the pandemic and lockdown notwithstanding, we were blessed by his leadership to take us through that process. It has raised plenty of tense questions as we have had to take a hard look at where this church is and honestly evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. It is easily the most difficult and exciting work I have been a part of in the past seven years.
The exciting part is to be able to dream and envision, not in the idealized abstract I entertained in seminary, but in the concrete reality of this congregation what could happen if we invested ourselves in the process of growth and change that NCD and Church Unique facilitate. The difficulty is that especially in a year when we have been forced into so many changes already, change management is made even more complicated. There is a delicate balance to be maintained in bringing everyone along while not shying away from urging that necessary changes to see the best that God has for us. It is messy and scary but I really believe that if we are willing to lean into how Jesus would renew us as a faith community, the question will not be what did we lose, but rather what did we gain?
Berean Baptist Church
Grand Rapids, MI