Quite a number of years ago, perhaps when I was first serving as a pastor in Santa Barbara I became well acquainted with the word "judicatory." Perhaps I'd missed it before because it's not a word we used in my circles -- Disciples. What is a "judicatory?" Well, as I remember a judicatory is that middle bureaucracy that lies between the congregation and its pastors and the national church, and maybe they're judicatories too! In any case, I heard lots of complaints about the judicatories. I think my colleagues used it in a rather derisive sense. It is true that sometimes extra-congregational entities can prove to be a challenge to the life of a congregation. They're designed to empower congregations to fulfill their calling, but at times they can draw away people and resources from congregations, inhibiting local ministry.
In my post yesterday I raised the question of whether institutionalization is inevitable. Dick Hamm, the former General Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) wrote a very helpful response to my piece. Reflecting on the decisions made at the time of Restructure to allow Agencies/Ministries and Regions to essentially appoint their own boards, opportunities for reform became more difficult. He writes:
When Restructure occurred in 1968, we went only as far as we could go. When we permitted our bureaucracies to appoint and maintain their own boards (another expression of congregationalism), we made them bullet-proof. The only change that has since come to our regions and general units has been that which was led by regional ministers and unit presidents who had the insight, vision and skill to lead the change. Too often (certainly not always, thank God), regional ministers and unit presidents have focused on preventing needed reform rather than seeing the need for it and embracing it.
As Dick points out -- it takes leadership willing to lead the change, so that these entities can fulfill their purposes.
So, what is the purpose of these regions, which have emerged out of what were prior to restructure in 1968 State Societies (led by State Secretaries rather than Regional Ministers). According to the Design, the governing document of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Regions (prior to Restructure in 1968 these were called State Societies) have this nature and purpose:
19. The primary nature of regions is drawn from the Acts of the Apostles in Paul’s desire to nurture, support, and engage congregations as unique entities and as gatherings of congregations related to one another in their mission. Regions should embody the character of the ministry to which Christ calls His people in their mutual commitment to Him and to one another.
20. The primary purpose of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in regions is twofold: (1) to extend the ministry of Christ in mission, teaching, witness, and service among the people and social structures of the region; and (2) to establish, receive, and nurture congregations in the region, providing help, counsel, and pastoral care to members, ministers, and congregations in their mutual relationships, and relating them to the worldwide mission and witness of the whole church.
As you can see the stated purpose is for regions to assist congregations and their leaders, including pastors, fulfill their calling. Congregations may have responsibility to the Region (as I've shown elsewhere), but the key point concerns how this is lived out. Are judicatories a problem or an asset? As Dick mentions in his comments, part of the answer is to be found in we the people who comprise congregations and regions and structures lying beyond. What are we willing to live with? And if you're part of a denomination like mine -- relatively small -- just think about what the Pope has to deal with!
In a future piece I plan to explore the idea of episcopacy and how this idea fits within the Disciples structures. But in a congregation centered faith community, how does the Region as an entity fulfill its purpose?