Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When Non-Traditional Churches Transition

I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal that deals with a transition happening at Trinity Church, Greenwich, CT. This is an "emerging church," a church that is not linked to any denomination. It was founded by a couple of musicians, with diverse religious backgrounds. Now the lead pastor is stepping down, and the co-founder, a musician, is getting stretched by other projects. The church, which has drawn in those whose religious needs/expectations are non-traditional, those who are anti-institutional, is in need of new leadership -- but where to find it.
Here's the description of the church from the article:

Trinity's founding in 1999 grew out of a spiritual crisis experienced by
the two founders, friends since childhood. Mr. Cron came from an evangelical
background but says he became increasingly disillusioned with the movement's
alignment with the political right. Mr. Mathes grew up in Greenwich attending
church but stopped in college because "church didn't speak to me," he says. He
played in nightclubs with his band, Rob Mathes and His Boy Elroy. But he says he
realized that his most powerful songs were about a constant wrestling with
"faith and doubt."

To give some context the article places this congregation in the "emergent church movement, and it quotes both Brian McLaren and Tony Jones. These two "emerging church" leaders have been critical of the institutional church -- whether mainline, liberal, evangelical, what have you. They speak of this movement as a quest, as a conversation, as the pursuit of "spiritual entrepreneurs."
Although the article doesn't really focus on this question, it hints at it, and the question is -- how do you make pastoral/generational transitions. It's interesting that this congregation has essentially turned to professional headhunters -- as opposed to "bishops" or regional ministers, etc. A corollary to all of this has to do with accountability -- who holds clergy? Who holds churches accountable? But in this case, the question is: can the church survive the transition?
The institutional church isn't perfect, but there's a reason why churches always end up institutionalizing. Look at the early church -- the church in Corinth is pretty wide open, but by the time you get to the church addressed in the Ephesian letter, and then further on, the pastorals, you're seeing further institutionalization. When you get to the 2nd century, you have a full blown institution, with bishops and more (see the letters of Ignatius of Antioch).
It's inevitable, or you die when the founder dies or leaves!

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