Friday, March 26, 2010

UBA 4.0

We don't see trees grow or notice ourselves aging each day, but these things happen. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes only when viewed through the lens of time. But things change.

Associations, like trees, change, grow, develop over time. Take UBA, for example. UBA has gone through three distinct stages in her 170 history (yes, UBA was begun in 1840 and is 170 years old this year).

UBA 1.0 -- In the beginning was the church, or churches to be more accurate. Three churches joined together to form Union Baptist Association. Associations were formed for several reasons: to promote Baptist understanding of doctrine and Baptist church polity [our Baptist identity], to provide fellowship, to encourage starting new churches and to promote benevolent work.

When UBA began there were no national or state conventions and no agencies. They came later. As they developed, the focus shifted from the association and the local church to conventions and agencies. This led to the next stage of associational life for associations.

UBA 2.0 -- As national agencies developed, the focus shifted from the local church to the state convention and national agency. National agencies began developing programs to be implemented by churches all across the convention. Baptist churches became standardized. It didn't matter if your church was in California or the Carolinas, it was like virtually every other Baptist church. Local associations became implementers of national programs at the local level. The primary purpose of the association was to help produce good Baptists.

Houston is a city of entrepreneurs. Innovation, creativity and risk-taking are accepted, even encouraged and highly rewarded. The leaders of UBA reflect the spirit of Houston. UBA helped start two major universities -- Baylor and Houston Baptist, Memorial Baptist Hospital (today part of the Memorial-Hermann system), Center for Counseling before Christian counseling was well-established, Union Baptist Foundation for starting churches, Baptist Mission Centers and Trinity Pines Conference Center. So it's no surprise that when church life began changing in the late 80s and early 90s, UBA began to change.

UBA 3.0 -- UBA transitioned from being a promoter of Baptist programs to a team of consultants for churches and community transformation in the mid 90s. Rick Warren once referred to UBA as transitioning from being a program-driven association to a purpose-driven association. UBA led the way in leadership development with programs like Young Leaders (later LeadersEdge) which was duplicated in associations across the country, church planting and community transformation. Mission Houston grew directly out of the community transformation initiative of UBA.

Beginning in 1965, Houston began to change dramatically. Prior to 1965 almost everyone that immigrated to the United States came from the British Isles and northern Europe. That meant they were predominantly white and Protestant, Catholic or Jew. American immigration laws changed in 1965 and the face (literally) of America has dramatically changed since, with Houston leading the way in this new diversity.

Houston has transitioned from being a bi-racial Southern city (1960) to being one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse cities in America. We've identified about 350 different ethnolinguistic people groups in Houston with 215 languages spoken. Four out of ten people living in Houston will not speak in English when they go home tonight. There are more Hispanics living in Harris County today than the total population of Harris County in 1960!

The folks moving into our neighborhoods from around the world are no longer predominantly white, Protestant or Jew. Many will be Catholic (often a syncretized version of Catholicism). More likely they will be Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, animist, or of no religious faith whatsoever. This provides the greatest opportunity for world missions at a local level we have ever known. While our forefathers learned about missions in a study group, we can learn by doing it firsthand in our city. This is one of several reasons it may be time for UBA 4.0.

What might the next iteration of Union Baptist Association, what I'm calling UBA 4.0, look like? That's yet to be determined, but I believe it must focus on our Great Commission responsibilities.

Peter Drucker said every organization must answer two questions: what business are you in? and how's business? I believe churches are in the Great Commission business. We are in the business of making disciples of all peoples. If that's true, then how's business? (I addressed this a bit in my previous blog "A Parable Inverted.") The short answer is this -- "not good!"

If the Great Commission is the church's primary task, and if we are not doing that job very well, and if it is the function of the association to assist the church in fulfilling it's purpose, then maybe it's time for us to rethink the purpose and function of the association.

I continue to wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.

I think it's time for UBA 4.0. What do you think? Feel free to post your comments.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Parable Inverted

One is such an important number.

True or false? A proposal to make German the official language of the United States of America was defeated in Congress by one vote! If you said "true" you are almost correct. Here's the story. In response to a request from a group of German-Americans from Augusta, Virginia, a House committee recommended publishing 3,000 sets of laws in German and distributing them to the states (with copies of statutes printed in English as well). The House debated this proposal without reaching a decision, and a vote to adjourn and consider the recommendation at a later date was defeated by one vote, 42 to 41. There was no vote on the actual bill, just the vote on whether or not to adjourn. Because the motion to adjourn did not pass, the matter was dropped. If they had considered the bill later, would they have voted to publish in German? Probably not. The House, a month later, debated a similar issue and decided to publish only in English. But the legend persists to this day that the German missed becoming the official language of the US by one vote.

There's no denying that one was an important number to Jesus. He told a parable about the importance of one, three parables in fact, all found in Luke 15. A shepherd had one lost sheep, a woman lost one coin, a father had one wayward son. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in the fold and risked everything to find his one lost sheep. The woman turned her house upside down trying to find her one missing coin. The father abandoned decorum and protocol to welcome back his one wayward son. These parables show us God's heart for the lost, his willingness to do whatever was necessary to bring one more person into a relationship with him.

Last week our staff went away for 3 days to begin trying to "think different(ly)" about UBA and to ask what our responsibility was to our churches. [see my January 2010 blog] We are not interested in thinking different just to be different. We recognize there is a significant gap between what God wants and what is going on in our churches and in the world.

We didn't just talk about things. We sought God. We prayed. We read Scripture. We listened to God and shared with one another what God was saying to us. And there was amazing, amazing clarity and consistency in our conversation.

One of the things we discussed was the parable of the lost sheep. The good shepherd left 99 sheep in the fold to focus all his attention on rescuing one lone, lost sheep. Rescuing the one lost sheep became his priority! He risked everything to rescue that sheep.

Then we looked at the way the church (not any specific church, but churches as a whole) does things. What did we observe? We've inverted the parable. We focus our attention on the sheep in the fold, not on the lost sheep that need to be rescued.

We may say lostness is a priority, but what do the records say? In 1999, with 489 churches, UBA churches baptized 9,596 people. In 2009, with 599 churches and with 583,771 more people living in Harris County, we baptized only 9,595 people. With 110 more churches and almost 600,000 more people living around us, we baptized the same number of people. You tell me, is lostness really our priority?

I wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.

We're just one association, but if we did, maybe others would follow.