During the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship general assembly, held from June 24 –26, Craig Van Gelder, professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., led a five-hour seminar of the Congregational Leadership Institute entitled, “The Missional Church in Context: God’s Journey for a Congregation Being Led by the Spirit.”
Van Gelder, who wrote “The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit” focused on the Book of Acts and helped pastors and congregational leaders to understand how God, through the direction of the Spirit, wants to use them to lead a congregation into effective ministry in their local context.
"The church is a marvelous creation, both holy and human," Van Gelder said. "What the church does flows out of what it is. ... You have to go back to nature. What has God created?"
Van Gelder, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said congregations often follow flawed models that shift the focus away from creation and the cross.
Van Gelder predicted that in the future, denominations with fellowships that network, share resources, and collaborate for one’s spiritual growth will dominate over mainline denominations that adhere to traditional models.
The New Testament presents 96 images and analogies of God's people as a church, but the idea of community prevails, he said. "You can only know who you are when you're in community. Christians gather; they want to be in each other's presence. You cannot be a mature Christian alone."
Van Gelder also called for a new approach in evangelizing the younger generation. According to Van Gelder, forty percent of Generation X pastors have no formal theological education and that although God has provided spiritual leaders, most of them are not coming from Christian colleges. Among the younger generation, he said, people between the ages of 18-28 are very spiritual, but are the "most disaffected from institutional religion."
Van Gelder also spoke of the importance of promoting diversity and unity within churches in order to receive blessings from God.
The Spirit, which came upon 120 people at Pentecost, allowed the glory of God to take up residence on earth through God's people, Van Gelder said. The Spirit of God is "restless" and takes the gospel to "everyone, everywhere and addresses everything."
Fewer than 5 percent of Christian congregations use God as an acting subject—he's usually used as an object. But "every square inch of creation belongs to God," and it's his Spirit that drives the church, Van Gelder said.