NBRC Historical Turning Points: The Lord of the Dance
There they sat ladies in hats and gloves, men in suits and coats. A much more dignified congregation than that one born in the barn, sitting on a haystack. Gathered in our traditional, white-washed sanctuary was a small but growing congregation. 50 years ago they sat somewhat stiff and formal, but appreciative of the high-quality of the young pastor’s sermons. 25 years later at the end of the second longest pastorate in NBRC history, what a transformation! A much larger congregation, a much larger building, a much larger program, and a looser congregation. No longer did the ladies wear hats and gloves, and less men wore neckties. For the Prayer of Confession Pastor Henninges might read the newspaper headlines to the congregation to challenge them to confess the sins of the day. A little too loose for some. A favorite song was Lord of the Dance… They may not have danced in the aisles but they danced in their hearts.
The Spirit of God changes people/congregations because Jesus changed history. John’s disciples wanted to press Jesus and his disciples into an old mold. Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but you do not? In other words, how come you’re not playing by the routine religious rules, rabbi? What makes you think you can change things? But Jesus was the Lord of the Dance. Just as an old wineskin could not contain new wine that was still fermenting and expanding, neither could a tired, old religious system contain Jesus’ expansive love. Jesus accomplished a big C change (history) with his life and death on the cross. From that point on the Spirit accomplishes many little c changes so that individuals/church continue to learn how to express Jesus’ same love in changing times.
During the Henninges era the Spirit accomplished many little c changes. Stand up if you first started coming to NBRC during Bob and Barbara Henninges time. These are the real experts in how God changed NBRC from 1955-1981. You see that era has impact on us yet today! How blessed we are to sit on the shoulders of past saints!!
It seems to me that the Spirit made three main reformations in those 26 years:
First, the pulpit was never so lively. Not that Bob ever stood behind the pulpit because he usually stood something like this. Yet one of you described Bob’s sermons as ones that you remembered yet on Thursday. He was able to take the issues of the day, as if he were still reading the newspaper, and speak God’s word directly to them. He had the gift of prophecy. So what about the controversial issues of the day like civil rights, or the Viet Nam War, etc. Well, he wasn’t like this pastor… though he always included humor in his sermons. He took on the social issues with sort of a Hillary bent. One Republican friend admitted that sometimes she wanted to stand up in the middle of a Henninges sermon and shout, That’s WRONG! Another close friend described the aim of his preaching to help NBRC be the hands of Jesus in the world. The word of God lived!
The second great change that God did here in that time was to form the Preschool. Hardly a year after the Henninges arrived Barbara was already helping Carolyn Zeek and others to start this first Preschool in the area. For 50+ years God has used the Preschool to bless many children and to grow this church with so many kids, that in the Henninges era you had to come 30 minutes early for a seat at the 6 PM Children’s Christmas service.
The last major change that the Spirit accomplished between 1955 and 1981 was explosive growth. Though the Bridgewater population grew by 150%, the church membership grew 240%! The first floor Christian Education building was added, and many programs, especially musical choirs, were begun. NBRC was bursting at her seams.
What new wineskins are needed for the Spirit’s new wine today? Or what changes might God want? Here’s how I see the Lord of Dance teaching us a few new moves.
Church-going young families have dwindled. When we arrived here in 1999 the kindergarten Church School class had 15 kids. Recently it averages about 1/3. The Preschool begun in the Henninges era is 40% of its peak size. We’re aging. That’s not bad, I like to age—what’s the alternative? However, an aging congregation slides down the precipice of long-term decline. What can we do beyond the church plant to bring younger families to Christ? A contemporary service is one direction, but we need more directions. Whatever we do will need blessing from we aging folk who may not like it.
Our ministries need to focus less on ourselves and more on the unchurched. Some of the great classes we offer on Sundays and Wednesday nights, like Parenting Teens, need to be offered to the community. Instead of putting on a dinner for ourselves, why not put one on for the firemen? How about prayer plants for our political leaders, etc? In the new era of folks not seeking a church, Jesus wants us to seek them.
If God is to continue to reform us today as God did in the past, Jesus will want everyone’s help. If you’re part of the older generation, the Spirit asks for you to bless some changes you don’t like as you were blessed to make changes in a by-gone era. If you’re of the younger generation, you will need to step up and lead change. If you’re middle-aged, like me, you need to help the younger make their changes, and help the older accept those changes. For that’s the generational dance of the Lord’s change.
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