When I first came into contact with First Baptist Church of Fort Dodge, IA back in the fall of 2009, I realized that two things would need to be a priority at the start of my ministry (if God led me there, which I am thankful He did!) in their midst: unity and identity. From a variety of sources, I came to the belief that this congregation had been hurt and damaged, and due to this, there was a struggle with unity. (As a side note, I mentioned to someone in the church the first summer I was here that, back in the fall of 2009, God had not allowed me to see and understand just how deep that hurt and damage went. I am thankful for that, for if He had, I told this person I would not have come to Iowa, am I am so thankful that God led us here!)
Unity through a mutual trusting, respect-filled and loving relationship between the congregation and her pastor was the top priority when I came to Fort Dodge. That relationship exists. Unity through healing was also very important. That healing has occurred for which I am most thankful to God.
Over the last 18 months or so, the emphasis has slowly shifted from unity and healing to the issue of identity as a local expression of God’s people here in Fort Dodge. At the core of this identity is the question which we have been exploring since October 2011: What does it mean to be God’s people here in Fort Dodge, IA in the 21st century?
I have long had the fear that the gathering, the community of God’s people, has really become nothing more than a service club. I am a proud member of the Fort Dodge Noon Kiwanis club. We, as a club, do some wonderful service in our community and contribute to some national and international causes. I often wonder if the typical expression of God’s people in community has really become nothing more than what my local Kiwanis club does.
Yes, the community of God’s people are to be involved in our communities, sharing the love of Jesus in very real ways, seeking to bring the qualities of God’s kingdom and his character into this world in real situations and to real people. But, if that has become the true and practical identity of a church and someone who is a child of God, then there are many without a faith basis who would qualify, but we know that it is only through faith in Jesus Christ through which a person becomes a child of God, not just a creation of God.
So, what is involved in the identity of God’s people that sets us apart as different than a service club? Well, I find the obvious answer to be the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and our response to his power, presence and movement. The problem is this: there is a much more difficult aspect to this obvious answer becoming a real and functioning reality in our midst.
It is with this problem with which I have been wrestling over the last number of months. That second priority, that of identity, is now at the forefront of my ministry here among and with the people known as First Baptist Church of Fort Dodge, IA. Inside that identity as a local expression of God’s people is creating an atmosphere where the Spirit is loosed to work as he desires and people not only given the freedom to participate and followed but actually empowered and encouraged to do so, in whatever form the Spirit decides he wants it to take.
It is the creation of that atmosphere, that environment, that now invades my thoughts constantly as God moves forward through my ministry with and to this congregation. Inside that environment and for it to be experienced at its fullest and deepest level, I am finding it to be necessary that there be less form and more function, less structure and more allowance for the spontaneous movement of the Spirit, less emphasis upon us and more upon God.
I don’t know. More to come.