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Churches advocating change must be healthy, prof says

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–An African American church must register a healthy pulse, be of sound mind and purpose and have a strong pastor if it is to serve as a change agent for the community, a professor and pastor said.
“A healthy church is a change-agent church. A healthy church is always growing,” T. Vaughn Walker told participants attending Black Church Leadership Week at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center Aug. 4-8.
Walker, who led the workshop, “The Black Church as a Change Agent,” is professor of black church studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and senior pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.
“The number one issue of many churches is their need to change — to adapt to the communities’ needs,” Walker said, adding African American churches come from historical and traditional backgrounds — “the churches that have the hardest times changing.”
Many abide by such creeds as “We’ve always done it this way,” Walker said.
“The goal is simply to perpetuate the past. Change is almost always seen as a negative, and stagnation is interpreted as stability.”
Walker said he takes many of his precepts from Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Church.”
“I don’t know of a book that has impacted me more. I’ve read it three times, and I’m on my third copy because I keep giving my copies away.”
From Warren’s book, Walker gives the five-part strategy for developing a healthy church.
— It must be warmer through fellowship.
— It must be deeper through discipleship.
— It must be stronger through worship.
— It must be broader through ministry.
— It must be larger through evangelism.
“I suggest the issue for churches that want to become change agents is that they become balanced and healthy,” Walker said. “The African American church has always been a holistic church, meaning it always believed in ministering to the whole person. It now has to develop a holistic strategy for healthy church development.”
Churches usually find themselves in one or two categories of ministry, Walker said, and according to Warren’s book, the five types of churches are:
— the soul-winning church, with a focus on saving souls;
— the experiencing God church, with a focus on worship;
— the family reunion church, with a focus on gathering and fellowship;
— the classroom church, with a focus on preaching and teaching; and
— the social conscience church, with a focus on changing society.
“A holistic, healthy church balances all five of these components,” Walker said. “We shouldn’t get stuck on one of these, but balance to encompass all five.”
Additionally, Walker said, a church must know its purpose — its reason for being — if it expects to perpetuate a changing ministry.
A church must ask itself four key questions, Walker said, including:
1) Why does the church exist? “I’m not sure many congregations have wrestled with that question.”
2) What are we to be as a church? Who and what are we? “Many churches have not answered the ‘who’ question,” Walker said. “The younger generation answers that question differently than the more mature in the denomination. People are going to join the church that meets their needs.”
3) What are we to do as a church? “‘What does God want done in this world?’is the question that all churches must answer to move ahead with change. One reason churches are not making radical changes is because many churches rigidly define who they are,” Walker said, referring to Warren’s five types of churches.
4) How are we to do it? “It’s one thing to know what to do, but then we have to decide how to do it.”
One of the most important components of a church seeking to change its ministry for its members and the community, Walker said, is the pastor.
“If the pastor is not committed to change, nothing will happen,” he said. “The African American church probably reflects that greatest because of the historical role of the pastor in the church.”
Churches that are anxious for change must have pastors who are, according to “The Purpose Driven Church:”
— called. “One critical area in the African American church has been in calling ‘called’ people,” Walker said. “There are too many instances where a pastor is not sought for his spirituality and godly leadership, but because he can preach and whoop.”
— planted. “He must be planted by God, not just by a church.”
— faithful. “A pastor has to be able to stay in there and hold on until that change takes place,” Walker said. “There’s not going to be any change if a pastor only stays with his church for 18 to 24 months.”
— strong/courageous. “If a pastor is going to make change, he can’t give in to tradition.”
— visionary. “Vision is the ability to see the opportunity within the current circumstances.”
— risk-taker. “If God says, ‘Do this,’ then he has already worked out the provision,” Walker said.
— full of faith. “God rewards those who diligently seek him. It is impossible to please God without faith.”
— catch the wave. “Like surfers, pastors and churches must continually catch new waves when the old ones fizzle out. God doesn’t change the message, but he often changes the methods. A change-agent church is called to catch the waves God is sending, and the pastor must lead the way for churches in catching the waves.”
— not fearful. “The pastor has to be willing to make changes even if he doesn’t really want it. He has to not be afraid of it.”
— commitment. “Part of change is that it takes time. Pastors have to be committed enough to the church to ride it through.”
— influence. “Pastors must decide whether they want to influence people or impress them,” Walker said.
Black Church Leadership Week is sponsored by the Southern Baptist Sunday School, International Mission and North American Mission boards, Woman’s Missionary Union and the Annuity Board.

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  • Terri Lackey