On Sunday, the elders and I presented the congregation with our first candidate name for our merged congregation:
A CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST CONGREGATION
It is important to remember that the elders are presenting this as a candidate name for the congregation to consider, pray about and discuss at this time. Choosing a name is like calling a pastor. We need to carefully consider the name – ask questions and get a feel for it – before making any decision as a congregation.
Let’s take a moment to consider the components of the name.
In reviewing our vision, the elders realized that what we do as a church really is the journey together. Our worship, our ministry – these things are just stops on the journey. And a sojourn is a stop somewhere, often for a long period of time, on the way to somewhere else.
What’s more, as we looked through the Scriptures, we were repeatedly confronted with this idea that God’s people are journeying through this life. This imagery pervades Scripture – from Adam and Eve journeying from Eden to Abraham’s travels to the Exodus to those who have ‘come to Mount Zion’ in Hebrews. And in every context, our journeys on the earth are as ‘sojourners.’
There were over 200 submissions for names over the past six months! Going through them gave the elders a sense for the heart of our congregation.
Our heart really beats for relationships – with one another but also with other churches. We wanted a name that reflected the intimacy of the relationships that exist both in our congregation but also to the ‘Greater Church’ – the work of Christ across the world.
We considered several relational terms but settled on fellowship because it best reflects the deep intimacy of the Greek words koinonia (community) and ekklesia (assembly or ‘church’) used by the New Testament writers to speak of the individual assemblies and their relationships to each other.
A CONSERVATIVE BAPTIST CONGREGATION
Looking at the name Sojourners Fellowship, it could be assumed that we are becoming “non-denominational” or abandoning our heritage as a baptist church. This is not the case at all.
The term baptist denotes a specific doctrinal identity – specifically, baptists were identified by their commitment to the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, the autonomy of the local church, and to the identification with Christ through baptism by immersion. We will continue to embrace that doctrinal identity.
Our current cultural context does not put much weight upon doctrinal statements in the names of a church. Most people we are reaching do not particularly care what type of church we are because they know we are first and foremost identified with Christ. But we felt it was necessary to make some kind of identification with our doctrinal heritage. How could we strike the balance between our context and our commitment to Biblical truth.
We felt that this identification would be best made by continuing our affiliation with the Conservative Baptist Association. Our affiliation with the CBA gives those concerned about doctrinal identity a reference point without placing unnecessary barriers before those who Christ has positioned us to reach.
WHY SUCH A STRANGE WORD LIKE “SOJOURNERS”?
While sojourner is not the most common English word, it has entered our vocabulary chiefly from its use in the English Bible. It provokes thought because it is atypical and a little unusual. We want people to know right away that our congregation is not just a typical church where people come, do their thing and then go on with life. Rather, this is a gathering of sojourners who are traveling together through life.
WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP IN THE PROCESS?
For the next couple of Sundays, I will be available for informal questions both before and after the worship gatherings. I am also available during office hours (Tues 12-6, Fri, 9-6) for anyone to drop in and chat about the name. You can also contact me via email or at the numbers listed below to talk about it. Additionally, the other elders are also available to talk about it and provide some more details about the process.
We want to remind everyone that this is a congregational name, which means we all need to share our thoughts – good, bad and indifferent. Let’s work together on this decision.