Hi everyone. Rob here.
One of the things that is changing rapidly in church life is the role of denominations. In many ways a denomination is like a multi-national corporation that oversees regional areas and a multitude of smaller companies. They try to maintain consistent messaging, regulate training and keep order so that they may be a trusted brand. That’s not meant to sound cynical. The intention is to reflect Christ rather than make money, but the reality of running a large, often international, denomination means making decisions in a rather corporate, governmental kind of way.
Most denominations started life as reform movements. They saw the gospel of Jesus being lost for various reasons. Sometimes it was corruption through power, getting too close to government, too much emphasis on rules and rituals, doctrinal differences or matters of church practice. It doesn’t take too long, however, for movements to become institutions that struggle to allow the wind of the Spirit blow through them. Denominations, in their current state, make us look divided, political, petty and slow. Instead of reflecting the dynamic life of Christ in us, denominations often reflect the human need to control and regulate. What can be done?
As a pastor I always found that the churches I was most aligned with shared a common mission, not a common denomination. For us this meant churches that were committed to being a positive presence for the good news of Jesus in their local community and then, beyond to the world. Even within my denomination (which prefers the term, ‘movement’) the churches that shared similar missional goals were closer. If churches were missional allies more than doctrinal partners then denominations have the potential to become movements again.
I imagine 10-20 small, nimble, mission-focused churches allied together, sharing resources and administration costs, bringing the youth together, meeting together to worship and swap stories every couple of months and praying together as leaders. I see that as a movement. That movement then needs other allies in order to keep getting other perspectives. But how do you protect it from becoming a large, static denomination?
I suspect a key answer is money. Make sure that the movement doesn’t have too much of it! Like the small churches it serves the movement needs enough money and no more. Movements also need to be monitored for missional effectiveness. Every decision needs to be filtered through the lens of, ‘does this help us do God’s work in the world?’ It’s the same lens that the small churches it serves needs to have. In other words, the churches and the bigger movements need to share the same goals and the same methodology. Again, the 12 step programmes offer insight on this. The message of the programme remains consistent between head office and local meetings. Most decisions remain at the local level. Yes, there is drama sometimes, but the message and the mission remain central through it all.
That concludes my exploration into rethinking church. Thanks for hanging in there. I hope it sparks conversation and a lot of prayer. No matter the form it takes, the church is God’s chosen vehicle for bringing the message of Christ’s love, hope and restoration to the world. May that vehicle carry the message well.
Grace and peace.