What is an absolute must for a congregation?
What does a congregation need to be able to function and live its faith? The wishes around the world are as broad and diverse as the living conditions are. But what is really required? We are going to take a look at an ongoing project that has come up with some surprising answers.
A tree instead of a church building, a table as an altar, and at the most a few hymnals … This is the way things are in many a congregation, especially in the refugee camps in East Africa. Even under such circumstances, brothers and sisters manage lead an active and joyful congregational life.
“A church in which people feel at home and, inspired by the Holy Spirit and their love for God, align their lives to the gospel of Jesus Christ and thus prepare themselves for His return and eternal life.” This has been the vision statement of the New Apostolic Church since the year 2007. Shortly after his ordination at Pentecost 2013, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider made this statement from the Catechism his agenda.
What is absolutely necessary?
That this statement is more than just a few nice words was seen a few weeks later in an interview, in which the Chief Apostle explained that for the Church to realize its vision, the congregations also need a minimum in the way of equipment. “We have to figure out what a New Apostolic congregation needs absolutely so that it functions and the members can experience their faith.”
For the Chief Apostle, a church building is not absolutely necessary. “We have many congregations that gather under a tree. It is not very likely that we will be able to build a church for every single one of our congregations worldwide.” What is important, however, is a Bible, ministers, communion wafers, the monthly Divine Service Guide for the ministers, and teaching material for the children.
Collecting data and devising a strategy
In the fall of 2013, the District Apostle Meeting appointed a committee to work out a strategy on how best the work in the congregations can be promoted. A list of criteria was developed and an analysis started. Initial findings are available, but they still have to be evaluated in more detail.
What is important for the Chief Apostle and the District Apostles is that strategies are developed from these studies. The findings, after all, are to result in concrete support programmes. “In my opinion this is feasible without compromising our congregations in Europe,” Chief Apostle Schneider said in the same interview.
Social and organizational aspects
Here too Chief Apostle Schneider follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Chief Apostle Wilhelm Leber. Already in the year 2008, he had set himself the task of creating pleasant congregations in which everyone feels at home—although his focus was more on the interpersonal than the organizational aspect. In an article in a German magazine, Chief Apostle Leber asked: What makes a congregation pleasant?
His answer? Being caring and loving in our dealings with others, fostering sincere fellowship, having a committed circle of ministers, being there for everybody, and tolerance towards different preferences and interests. Chief Apostle Leber quoted a word from Paul that with respect to our international community has lost none of its validity, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2: 4).
Photo: NAC South East Africa