The Future of Denominations -- Including Mine
I am a Disciples of Christ Pastor. I came to this place in ministry from a place very different from where I am today. Unlike many of my colleagues, I didn't grow up Disciple. I was born, baptized, and confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I served as an acolyte, sang in the choir, and served as a lay reader. Later, in High School, I had a crisis of faith, and joined with a Foursquare Church, staying there through college. By the end of college, I was having struggles with the theological sensibilities of my chosen church home, and being that I was at a Disciples school, ended up imbibing the ethos of that church. My history professor at Northwest Christian College (now University), Dennis Helsabeck, helped me with this transition. Even after that, however, I spent time at a Covenant Church, some Baptist churches, and a Presbyterian church (some of that since being ordained as a Disciple). I went to Fuller Seminary, which is not linked to any particular denomination.
But, I have found a home in the Disciples. At the same time, even as I'm firmly planted within the Disciples ethos -- appreciating both its emphasis on freedom and its emphasis on unity -- I recognize that the church is much bigger than any one denomination. Denominational traditions are like families. Each has its own ethos and sensibilities. We see it expressed in worship, in preaching, and in outreach efforts. As Disciples we celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday and baptize upon profession of faith. But again, the church is larger than the denomination.
As we think about the institutional part of the church -- and I'm not sure that the church can avoid this institutional aspect -- the question remains, what purpose do those entities beyond the local congregation serve?
That question is addressed in an interview, which is found both in print and on video at the Duke Divinity School's Faith and Leadership website with Cynthia Hale. Cynthia is pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church, a predominantly African American congregation in Georgia, which is among the largest of the Disciple churches. She offered a prayer at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service (at which our mutual General Minister, Rev. Sharon Watkins, preached. She speaks to the question of what "services" these entities provide local congregations, and notes that the General Church, what some might call the top level, is often distant from the local congregation. Now, she pastors a mega-church, and as such it outsizes the reach of most regions. Her congregation has more money and more staff -- I'm assuming -- than the region has. So, what is the relationship?
She suggests that the local church is the foundation. The other manifestations (a Disciple term to get around hierarchicalism) seem to be dying or shrinking. The Michigan region, for instance, is struggling to call a Regional Minister. Where are the funds going to come from? Even as local churches struggle to pay their bills, they find it difficult to justify sending funds to the other parts of the church. Interestingly, one of the areas she believes regions (especially) can assist local churches is in supporting and empowering pastors. But, as a mega-church pastor, she wonders who will be her pastor, since she is already serving as a mentor to other pastors (an unofficial bishop) and her regional minister is stretched well beyond his limits (I could say the same about my own).
You will have to click here to view the video. I hope you'll check out this discussion and then come back here and offer your thoughts about this important question. What is the future of the denomination?