Devotion for CBFSC General Assembly
June 26, 2020
Rev. Jennifer McClung Rygg
Months before most of us were aware of COVID-19, the theme for this year’s CBFSC General Assembly was selected: Encouraging Congregations to Thrive. The event was to be held at First Baptist Church of Pendleton at the end of April. Like most things scheduled for the spring of 2020, the CBFSC General Assembly did not take place as planned. Instead, we met on Zoom in June as part of the national General Assembly online event.
As so much has changed in our churches over the past few months, we have also had to shift our definition a bit of what it means for a congregation to thrive. I would guess that what we are doing for church these days is not what any of us would have pictured a year ago when we imagined a thriving congregation.
In the book of Acts, we find another example of a church thriving in the midst of conflict and change. The early church also has to find ways to thrive in the midst of changing circumstances, much of which is beyond their control.
Acts chapter 5 begins with the account of Ananias and Sapphira, whose deception leads to death and fear, as they pretend to be more generous than they actually are. Then we read about the apostles being arrested, beaten, and forbidden from teaching in Jesus’ name. This is the life of the early church: conflicts within and threats from the outside. Perhaps the church has not really changed all that much in 2000 years!
Yet in the midst of this dangerous and threatening time, Peter and the apostles boldly proclaim: “We must obey God.” (Acts 5:27) This is what it means to be a thriving congregation – to obey God.
So often, we seem to have this idea that a thriving church means a harmonious community full of people like us, with programs we like, where things run smoothly, where there are always plenty of resources because everyone gives willingly, and plenty of volunteers because everyone wants to help, and plenty of new faces because everyone wants to join us. For many of us, that may sound like our dream of what church is supposed to be, and sometimes when that is not our experience, we assume we must be doing something wrong. Or someone must be doing something wrong, because church is not meeting our expectations or the expectations of other members.
Yet, this image of a so-called thriving congregation is not prevalent in the New Testament. Instead, the early church finds itself in crisis. And in the crisis, what they cling to is “We must obey God!” This is what it means to be a thriving congregation – obeying God, even in the midst of conflict, threats, chaos, change, and uncertainty. May our congregations be faithful in proclaiming and living out our obedience to God.
Jennifer McClung Rygg is pastor of First Baptist Church in Pendleton, where the 2020 CBFSC General Assembly was to be held.