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Church Cooperation In Community Life by Paul L. Vogt


Long years of experience in foreign missionary service has vitally affected the methods of carrying the gospel of Christian living to those who have not yet come under the influence of the Christ. Here the demonstration method of what Christianity means in terms of increased human welfare has done far more to spread the gospel than simply preaching to people. The freeing of the millions now living under the control of other forms of religious belief by introduction of schools, together with the message of health and better moral ideals through the practice of Christian living, has done more to spread Christianity than all the efforts of attempting to build a Christian spirit into a civilization not suited to it nor prepared for it.

The missionary agencies in the home fields have learned from the experience in the foreign fields, and now the programs of home missionary boards are characterized by their large emphasis upon the social gospel. The revival of interest in religious life in this country coincident with the recognition of its vital significance in sound social organization has come so rapidly and popular support has been so liberal that grave danger exists lest the funds made available should be used unintentionally in ways that tend to defeat the purpose of the gift. The church, in its benevolent program, should take advantage of the lessons learned by private philanthropic agencies in dealing with problems of reclamation of the unfortunate or of stimulating to a larger life.

Many of the efforts at social progress fail because of lack of clear statement of objectives. So far as the rural work is concerned, the following are presented as necessary objectives, if the rural church is to succeed in measuring up to its task. It is believed that funds of the church can be used safely and wisely in their attainment.

1. Strengthen the weak places in rural church work in harmony with principles of interdenominational ethics and well-established principles of benevolent assistance.

2. Increase effectiveness of rural ministry by training ministry now in service in modern methods of church work and by recruiting and training a new ministry in sympathy with rural life and devoted to its improvement.

3. Organize rural church work so that every rural family will have definitely assigned pastoral care.

4. Adjust interdenominational relationships so that the ideal of but one resident pastor and one church to each community may be realized.

5. Provide means of interdenominational cooperation so that rural religious forces may work together in dealing with common problems of rural social and religious progress.

6. Organize rural work so that it may have due consideration in the general policies of religious organizations.

7. All the above are preliminary to the one great object, from the social point of view, namely, that of making it possible for the rural church and the rural minister to function most effectively in bringing more abundant life in the best sense to rural people.

After religious forces are organized so that they can present a united front in the attack on the great social problems of rural life, then the individual churches and all churches together can undertake to meet the challenge outlined in earlier chapters of this text and also well presented in much of the recent literature on the subject. But effective organization must precede most effective and permanent service.

Certain principles have been the guiding influence in the program on which the rural department of at least one of the leading denominations has been working. For those who come to positions of administrative responsibility from time to time without having been under the necessity of acquainting themselves with the principles that should guide in the safe expenditure of funds for maintenance of pastors, these are given here:

1. Principles of interdenominational ethics should be observed in making grants of missionary funds to local pastors. It is to be feared that too often funds have been used to sustain a local work in the presence of another denomination when efforts at interdenominational adjustment would have relieved the situation by removing the necessity, namely, that of division of local resources by competing religious forces.

2. Owing to the unusual problems presented on charges asking for missionary aid only the ablest ministers should be assigned to such points. They should be supported according to their needs through missionary aid, and their acceptance of difficult work should enhance rather than lessen their standing in the church.

3. Rigid avoidance of use of missionary funds for purposes of charity, or for making appointments easier. The charge, not the minister, is the objective.

4. Centralization of effort on a few places instead of dissipation of funds in providing inefficient service in many places.

5. Gradual but certain withdrawal of support from national or State boards in order to avoid pauperizing communities by relieving them of their local financial responsibilities.

As one of the most serious problems connected with rural missionary service is that of interdenominational complications, an effort has been made to work out certain principles that may be observed by all religious organizations carrying out a rural program. At the annual meeting of the Home Missions Council in 1914 a statement of principles was adopted. In 1919 the rural fields committee of the Home Missions Council undertook the revision of these principles in the light of later experience and adopted the revision as a committee report. Because this document represents the best judgment of those in the various denominations concerned with rural work it is presented herewith as a desirable basis on which grants of funds may be safely made. The statement is presented in full:

Persuaded of the urgent need of some comprehensive and united plan for the evangelization of our country and for closer cooperation to make such plans effective, the Home Missions Council proposes for the consideration of its constituent societies the following principles of comity. It is to be distinctly understood, however, that no ecclesiastical authority of any kind is implied except as ecclesiastical bodies shall adopt these policies as their own. They have only the moral force of the consent of the parties desiring to see them become effective.

FIRST. As to the occupancy of new fields. The frequently suggested plan for the entering of new territory is to divide it among the various denominations, holding each body responsible for the proper working of its field.

a. In the judgment of this Council this course of procedure would seem to be impracticable. But a sensitive regard not only for the rights but for the sentiments of sister bodies of Christian people is demanded by every consideration of righteousness as well as fraternity.

b. In districts or in places already occupied by any denomination new work should be undertaken by any other body only after fraternal conference between the official representatives of the missionary organizations embracing those localities.

c. Occupancy of the field shall be determined by at least the following characteristics:

1. The establishment of a regularly organized church.

The establishing of a Sunday school shall not be deemed sufficient to meet the terms of this definition.

2. The appointment of a pastor who shall be expected to hold services in the community at least once every two weeks.

3. The provision of church building and equipment within a reasonable time adequate to the needs of the community at its present stage of development.

The occupation of a field by any denomination after conference and agreement shall give to that denomination the right to the field and the responsibility for its Christian culture until such changes in population shall make it desirable that it be shared with one or more other denominations.

If the above conference shall fail to reach agreement, it shall be the privilege of the aggrieved party to make appeal to its respective board or society, which board or society shall confer with the sister board or society concerned, and these boards may then request the superintendents of the
denominations concerned for the field in question to make personal investigation and to report their findings to their respective boards. If they agree, the boards shall take action in accordance therewith. If they disagree, the matter shall be referred to the boards for such action as their wisdom may determine, which action shall be communicated to the churches concerned with whatever ecclesiastical or moral force their decision may command.

SECOND. In communities already occupied by two or more denominations, in case any church or mission station shall consider itself aggrieved in its relations to sister churches, the course of procedure outlined in Section I shall likewise be followed.

There shall be friendly conference in the spirit of the Great Head of the church and recourse be had, when necessary, to the local or national missionary authorities, whose findings properly communicated shall have behind them the moral force of this Council.

Where any denomination occupies a district by groupings of mission stations under one missionary the same principles shall apply and the same method of adjusting differences shall be followed.

THIRD. |Overchurched Communities.| Not infrequently the promise of new towns fails of fulfillment, with the result that there are more church organizations than in any economic view should be maintained -- at least out of missionary funds. In many sections of the country also, because of the marked shift of population from agricultural communities to urban centers, overchurching has weakened all denominations to the point where missionary effort is necessary to restore again a wholesome religious life. Regardless of the cause of overchurching, whether from the undue optimism of the newer sections of the country or changed conditions in the older, or other conditions, the problem of overchurching must be dealt with in the true spirit of comity and cooperation for the sake of the common good.

a. The principle should be established that one Protestant church is adequate for each community of less than 1,500 inhabitants; and that efforts should be made to bring about interdenominational readjustment to this end in all sections of the country where economic and social conditions have become sufficiently established to make improbable any marked or rapid increase in population within a short time.

b. In communities of over 1,500 inhabitants there should not be more than one Protestant church to every 1,000 population.

c. In communities of over 1,500 inhabitants and of less than 5,000, plans should be worked out whereby the different denominations concerned shall cooperate in providing adequate building and equipment for community service. Such building should be strategically located and should be controlled by a governing board made up of representatives, the number of whom from each denomination shall be determined by the
constituency of that denomination in its proportion to the total Protestant or cooperating population. The rules for the control of the activities of such cooperative community service should respect the standards of the respective denominations. The support of such community service should be apportioned to the respective denominations concerned to be raised in their respective budgets in proportion to their respective representation on the governing board.

d. It shall be the duty of the denomination to which responsibility shall have been allocated to provide the best-trained leadership and the best service of which it is capable out of consideration to the other denominations that have intrusted the spiritual welfare of their membership to this group.

e. In determining what denomination has prime responsibility in a given community of under 1,500 inhabitants the following shall be considered.

1. Present resident membership and constituency. The organization having the largest bona fide membership and constituency should be considered as having prime
responsibility, from this point of view.

2. The residence of the pastor. In general, the pastor's residence should be given larger weight than membership unless the denomination having prime responsibility according to (1) stands ready to provide a pastor's residence in the community where this denomination has prime responsibility from the point of view of membership.

3. The location of the church building. The denomination that has a building located in a village center should be given precedence over the denomination that has its headquarters in the open country near a village. The building of the village church should be suitably located for adequate community service; that is, near the center of the village.

4. As between the village and the open country church, the village church should be given prime consideration in putting on an aggressive community program.

5. No missionary or |sustentation| support should be given by any cooperating denomination to a pastor in an overchurched community nor to a |circuit| involving interdenominational competition until after an adjustment is made either by reorganization of the circuit or an agreement has been reached by the missionary and administrative bodies of the respective denominations concerned as to an allocation of such missionary responsibility.

6. Church extension aid should not be given toward the rebuilding of churches in these communities until after allocation of responsibility has been effected.

7. If after due effort to secure satisfactory adjustment of relationships according to the plans suggested in First above, and by such further arbitration or other means as may be adopted by the Home Missions Council or its constituent bodies, then the denomination seeking such adjustment shall be at liberty to develop its own work as it may see fit, standing ready, however, to make agreement with competing bodies whenever they wish to renew negotiations.

8. In the interests of the Kingdom, after missionary responsibility has been allocated, efforts at unifying local religious organizations may take the form of federation, assimilation, affiliation, or such other mode as may be determined on by the local churches concerned.

9. Plans should also be worked out whereby the religious forms of the different groups may be respected; that is, that membership in the remaining religious organization may be obtained by fulfilling the obligations of the cooperating body with which the persons belonging to the withdrawing organization would naturally affiliate.

10. It is understood that nothing in this proposed set of principles implies that withdrawal from given fields shall be forced. It is only intended to provide a plan whereby all forces both local and general shall be united as rapidly as possible in the attainment of the desired end, namely, that of unifying Christian service in given communities.

11. In determining the limits of communities to which this plan shall apply the Federal Census Bureau designation of communities of 2,500 and under as rural shall be adopted except as noted in paragraph 5c.

FOURTH. Inasmuch as many of the constituent bodies of this Council are already by official action committed to the principles of comity which we advocate, it would seem reasonable to hope that at least gradually these principles would find realization along some such lines as here proposed.

It is manifest, of course, that no plan of procedure can be expected to cover all cases or to be of universal
applicability. We are glad to record that in some States there are Interchurch Federations to which local comity matters would naturally be referred. For other cases this Council proposes the erection of an Interdenominational Commission, to which any matter of comity not otherwise provided for may be referred by mutual agreement of the parties at interest. One representative of each of the bodies having membership in the Home Missions Council shall constitute this commission. When any case calling for adjudication shall rise, which case shall previously have had the consideration of any one or more of the constituent bodies of the Home Missions Council, it shall be referred to a Committee of Three chosen from this committee and acceptable to both parties. The decision of this committee shall have no ecclesiastical force, but its utterance shall be regarded as voicing the united judgment of the Home Missions Council and so far forth shall be binding on its constituent bodies.

It is recognized that these principles do not receive the most enthusiastic support of church leaders who are thinking in terms of denominational progress instead of community welfare. But this lack of support is an evidence of their value instead of a criticism. Denominational interests must be sacrificed for the sake of the advancement of the entire cause when the two come into conflict. There is reason to hope that not only Protestants but also Catholics and Protestants can come to cooperate on programs of community service, thus overcoming forever the vital objection to religious leadership now made that because of fundamental differences in belief the two great branches of the church cannot render an organized community service.

The relations of the benevolent boards of the several denominations to other church organizations are such that but little can be said concerning methods of relating missionary work to the larger program of community service. In each case where projects for missionary aid are presented effort should be made to see that local conditions are made such that the pastor can render the best service. It must be recognized that the application for outside aid is in itself an admission of local weakness. The people are poor, or indifferent to the type of service to which they have been accustomed. There has been unforeseen disaster, as the destruction of church property by fire or in some other way. Sudden movements of population have temporarily weakened the support of the church and new resources have not yet been developed. Circuit systems must be broken up so that people will be willing to support full-time resident pastors with efficient programs for service. Customs of expecting the pastor to make his living in outside work and attending to religious service as a side issue must be overcome. The pastor's residence may be in such condition that families cannot be sacrificed for the sake of missionary communities and residences must be supplied by liberal outside aid as the preliminary to effective service. Church buildings are inadequate, and the trained minister must be given every assurance that aid will be rendered in bringing physical equipment up to par. In each case the problems that present themselves must be met. The demands of any one charge do not compare with the demands of any other. And methods must be adapted to meet the specific needs of each charge. These are matters that must be left to those responsible for administration of missionary funds.

When the religious forces of America learn their problems so that a long-time organized program of religious advance can be worked out, when they learn to cooperate in carrying out this program, then the haphazard, wasteful, competitive missionary program that has characterized rural religious work in the past will disappear and we shall see one of the most marked advances in religious welfare the world has ever known.

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