Where is the voice of the Holy Spirit clearest: in the administrative offices of a national entity or institution, in the programmatic events of a state convention or on the ground, the grassroots, among churches in association?
It’s an unanswerable question.
The Holy Spirit speaks through all dimensions of denominational life, but I believe a deeper contextual understanding exists in the grassroots among churches in association.
Associations often hear the voice of God and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit coming to them from the churches and in the context that makes up their fellowship.
The real-time missional actions, affirmations and even the agonies of churches and their leaders empower a spiritual movement. Churches spring forward into action from the base of their Jerusalem context.
Leaders of state conventions and national entities hear the voice of God and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in a different way. They develop programs to deliver their perspective on missional engagement. Their motives are good. Their passion is great. Their commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment is evident, but they sometimes overlook allowing the Holy Spirit’s voice to be interpreted by the grassroots.
During my years in denominational service, I developed a spiritual and strategic conviction that understanding the voice of the Holy Spirit needs a context.
At one point, I was called on to develop strategies for the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. The effort was called Mega Focus Cities (see below).
Associations were to enter these collaborative dialogues with their grassroots to develop a list of resourcing requests.
The state convention and national leaders made commitments to resources they would provide to enable Kingdom progress.
Most of the resource requests were granted. Some were not because those resources did not exist yet, and a plan was needed for someone to develop them.
A few times the state or national entities had difficulty agreeing with a strategy and were not ready to offer needed resources.
In one effort for a newer convention area, church planting led the way as the primary strategy, which is logical. Church planting done well is the most effective strategy for evangelism and ministry.
At the same time, these places are tough places to reach lost and unchurched people.
When associational leaders realized how many missionary pastors were burning out or suffering significant health difficulties as they struggled for ministry success, they worked on a strategy to help.
The association presented a five-year strategy that revolved around collegiate ministry. Their metropolitan area had several major universities and churches who wanted to address this target group.
The national entity openly opposed the strategy and debate continued for several weeks.
In the end, the entity agreed to partner in the effort.
When a vice president of the entity delivered the signed approval form, he said, “I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it. But I choose to honor the process of the association. Here is the money to fund it.”
The churches in that association took a respite from the pressures of church planting and focused on the collegiate strategy for the next several years, and it made some progress.
The churches in the association then turned their efforts once more to church planting — this time with renewed energy.
When all agree
In this real-life example, ministry leaders wrestled with the issue at hand and how best to address it. Ultimately, the voice of the Holy Spirit was heard and honored by all dimensions of our denomination.
My prayer is for leaders throughout our denomination to continually work to increase the capacity of the grassroots churches in the associations in each state.
Embracing this approach honors our cooperative missions commitment to bold Kingdom ministry.
Mega Focus Cities strategy
- Get the sharpest representatives of our denominational dimensions in a room together. Prayerfully and strategically determine next steps.
- Engage in collaborative dialogue. Commit resources to empower the movement of the gospel in each area.
- Provide associations with needed research, strategic thinking and leadership development resources from all denominational dimensions.
- Associational leaders develop strategic plan, then continue dialogue based on the plan.