Identity and Institution
Yesterday I spent much of the day at my first Commission on the Ministry meeting for the Michigan Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In May I will become the new chair, which means I will lead the group that decides the fate of ministerial candidates, as well as determines standing for current clergy. It's an important responsibility, because churches need competent, faithful, and committed leaders.
I can't reveal anything about any of the candidates we met with. That would be inappropriate, but thinking about the process we undertook got me thinking about the role of denominational identity in one's call to ministry. Should a congregation expect their pastor to not only have an understanding of the denomination, but a commitment to it? I don't mean blind allegiance, but a commitment to represent the values and theology of that denomination to the community we are to called to lead? I ask these questions as one who has strong ecumenical inclinations.
I should add that contributing to my ruminations was the conversations I was listening to on NPR as I drove to Lansing, conversations about political affiliation. I find it interesting that both parties feature candidates with little commitment to the party they seek to lead. They were looking for a vehicle to pursue their agendas, and have found support and resistance from more committed party members. Should the parties expect a certain loyalty?
To bring this reflection to a close, I simply ask does the institution help define one's identity, whether in church or politics or any other station in life?
I am a member of a political party, because it seems to be the right vehicle for me to express my understandings of governance and social policies. Being a political junkie of sorts, I understand what makes the system click, and that strong parties are a necessity in our current system. But, I'm not so sure that the party defines my identity.
As for the church. My inclinations are ecumenical. Yet, the principles and values of the Disciples fit who I am. I get frustrated with the institution, but I remain committed to this institution because it gives form to the values that I embrace. I affirm the principles of freedom and unity. I affirm the principle of frequent communion at the Lord's Table. The institution, even if it is a fragile and very human thing, provides a context for these values to be expressed and lived. So, when it comes to pastoral leadership, I do think it is important that one has a good understanding of the denomination's identity and a commitment to teach it to one's congregants. In my tradition that is the purpose of covenant -- the glue that holds us together!
That is, I must say, the message of my book Freedom in Covenant!