Scott Boulevard Baptist: A Church Without Walls

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Scott Boulevard Baptist Church June 2015

By Joe LaGuardia

A pile of rubble and a towering, broken steeple are all that is left of the historic Scott Boulevard Baptist Church building on the corner of Scott Boulevard and North Decatur Road in Decatur, Georgia. To many passersby, it is an eyesore. To those who are entrenched in Baptist history and the life of Scott Boulevard in particular, it is a foreboding reminder of the many churches that have closed over the last few decades.

But one must look past the pile of tile, wood, and steel.  One must look deeper, beyond plywood frames where stained glass once stood, and find that the wrangled structure does not mark an end to a sixty-year old church, but a new beginning.

Just as the building’s demise communicates the fragility of all our churches, it also communicates the need for many churches to redefine what it means to be a holy people, set apart for the work of the Gospel.

As the Bible says, perishable items, church buildings notwithstanding, perish, but the Word of God will last forever.

That very Word promises that God’s Body—Christ as represented by the church—also lasts, but in many different forms.

Unbeknownst to those who see a ghost of a great church of yesteryear on a busy downtown corner, Scott Boulevard Baptist Church is actually thriving in a new location, that of the prayer chapel at First Baptist Church of Decatur.  Sure, Scott Boulevard does not have the same assets it once did when a building was readily available, but it has found new life in ministry that has reached—literally—beyond brick and mortar.

Scott Boulevard Baptist garners about 35 people in worship, but much of the congregation’s worship and ministry take place in the homes and apartments of seniors who are homebound or shut-in.  Two ministries, developed over the last two years and funded by the sale of the building, drive the church’s new vision and focus into the future.

The first ministry, called Care Partners, is an expanded deacon ministry of sorts, a group made up of caregivers and other care providers for as many as 30 members of the church who are no longer able to attend.  Care Partners pray for loved ones and keep in touch in a variety of ways.

The second ministry, Church at Home, consists of several lay members and clergy gathering in the home of seniors to provide prayer, worship, fellowship, and Bible study.  Taking Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:20 that “where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be among them” seriously, the pastor of Scott Boulevard Baptist, Rev. Greg Smith, feels that this is a unique and vibrant aspect of the church’s ministry.

Church at Home provides spiritual community and support for individuals who would otherwise be isolated.  “In selling our aging building,” Pastor Smith wrote by email, “We have chosen to sustain people instead of property.”

The church is ready to launch a third major ministry called Spiritual Friends, which seeks to reach underprivileged senior citizens in the local community.  This will move Scott Boulevard Baptist beyond its own membership and have an ecumenical, if not interfaith component.

According to Pastor Smith, this focus on missional engagement and intentional outreach to a population other churches would render beyond their scope of ministry is what keeps the legacy of Scott Boulevard Baptist alive: “There is more face-to-face ministry happening now than in any other time since I started to pastor the church in 2007.”

Although there are many who grieve the dismantling of old Scott Boulevard Baptist, we should not grieve the loss of a congregation because the church is fulfilling a unique niche in the downtown Decatur district.

If anything, other churches should celebrate and mimic this church, which survived a cultural chrysalis of change against all odds.

Scott Boulevard Baptist teaches us that no church should be defined by its building, but by the magnitude of its ministry.  Only when a church defines that unique asset does it become the presence of Christ in the immediate neighborhood.

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Church is a Collaborative Project

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By Joe LaGuardia

Christianity is a collaborative faith.

In a letter to churches in Corinth, the apostle Paul confronted several congregations that were arguing with each other.  No two churches were alike and each one served a purpose in the Body of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12:27, he wrote, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

Fortunately for us — 2000 years removed from Paul’s situation — collaboration is still highly valued in our society.  Businesses, organizations, and individuals that value collaboration succeed.  We have sent men to the moon and rovers to Mars all because of the cooperation of thousands of individuals.

Non-profit and governmental agencies that promote teamwork are able to combat social ills that have long plagued society.  Churches that cooperate in the public sector not only fulfill part of Jesus’ Great Commission, but thrive in a marketplace in which the lines between secular and sacred often blur.

Rockdale County enjoys a great deal of collaboration on multiple levels.  The Rockdale Coalition for Children and Families, for instance, hosts a free networking lunch monthly for non-profits in the area.

I’ve attended several of these lunches, and I’ve met so many different leaders, laborers, and clergy who also cherish the value of partnering together to resolve some local issues that need tackling.

Without this network, we would have to go it alone; and, for a church as small as Trinity Baptist, going it alone means not being able to reach out as effectively as we hope.

For far too many Christians and churches, however, collaboration still brings with it a sense of fear and anxiety.  Some churches believe that they cannot collaborate with organizations that do not share their exact political or theological beliefs.  They would rather “reinvent the wheel” than partner with another organization that is already making a difference in the local community.

Such churches feel that in order to collaborate they must compromise their convictions.

This approach brings with it more issues than one might initially guess. For one, a church that refuses to collaborate assumes that it has all of the answers and knows exactly what a community needs.  This is not always the case.

Sometimes, Christians can be so brazen about their theology that it actually works against the impact their church can make in the community.  It may also exacerbate needs rather than resolve them.

In other situations, a church that assumes it has “all the answers” can sometimes fail to ask the right questions.  Where social economic justice is concerned, this can mean the difference between a church enabling dysfunction instead of empowering a community to become economically sustainable.

Failing to assess needs can lead to dependence rather than interdependence or, better, synergy that utilizes all of the creative gifts that can benefit an entire spiritual ecosystem.

Such differences of opinion within Christ’s Church is not new.  Paul’s admonishment to churches in his own era prove that divisions and squabbles will always pervade church and society.

Yet, we must be passionate about reaching out, communicating what we have to offer, and seeing ourselves not as lone rangers in a threatening prairie of dry spiritual barrenness, but part of a much larger Body of Christ working within a vibrant oasis of plenty in which God’s Spirit is already present.

May we be ever mindful of our neighbors and the partnerships we share, for we have more in common than we know.

Next week, we will continue this conversation about collaboration as it relates to racial reconciliation in our community.

God is not a CEO who feeds into our endless consumerist appetite

We can’t go anywhere, even if we walk from one room in our home to another, without seeing an advertisement trying to sell us something.  Turn on the television, open the newspaper, click a button or two on your cell phone or laptop, and there you will see a product that you think you need.  Right now.  This instant.  Click it, charge it, ship it, done.

Advertisements have one goal in mind: entertain and inspire you (or, more likely, your children) to consume, consume, consume.  No wonder, we have an insatiable appetite for consumption.  Businesses shape our culture and our visual experiences on a daily basis; we have become a country of consumers.

Consumerism is so pervasive, that we now see it as a form of entertainment.  We go to our favorite stores for fun.  Retail therapy, some call it.

Since advertising has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, we also feel that church should be equally entertaining and titillating.  Churches are not in the business of entertainment; they do not exist as just another product for people to consume.

A church is a place in which Christians and seekers come together in a sacred community to glorify God.  This is true worship, the heart of worship.

Worship is connected to the word, liturgy, which comes from the root word, laity, or people.  Liturgy means “the work of the people,” a people who respond to God’s mercy and love in ways that express their love for God.

Liturgy is something we do for God’s sake, not for our own sake; though, it does benefit us because it allows us to fall deeper in love with God.

Worship reminds me of my marriage.  When I am with my wife, I am not so selfish as to always ask what she can do for me and presume she will always meet my needs.  I diligently seek to meet her needs in order to bless her and express my love and admiration for her.  It is not transactional–I don’t expect anything in return.  I bless her simply because of the fact that she exists and she is my beloved.

Don’t get me wrong: Worship is not supposed to be irrelevant either.   Ministry teams must craft worship services in which churchgoers glorify God in dynamic ways.

But notice that this goal does not intend to entertain or meet the perceived wants of churchgoers; it intends to reveal the deeper needs of a community that is longing to escape the endless cycle of desires and wants that advertisements in our world promote.

We come to church because we are tired of buying things and buying into things that will not satisfy.

I have been to churches that are boring and cold; I have been to churches that are so entertaining you forget you’re at church.  Authentic worship is somewhere in the middle: It motivates laity participation, demands personal sacrifice for the greater good of the Body of Christ, inspires a pursuit for God’s holiness and righteousness, and provides an open atmosphere for all types of people to work out their salvation in fear and trembling before an awesome and mighty God.

Our temptation in worship is to domesticate God and make God into our image–a God who resembles a giant, jolly mouse that makes our dreams come true.  We cannot control God, for we are made in His image for His purposes.

Let us pursue–in word and deed, worship and mission–His will for our lives, so that we are not merely entertained by a puppet God, but are experiencing the love of a God who truly satisfies.