Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Start of Something Big? Or "Here We Go Again"?

My friend Mr. K thinks it is time for a new reformation, or at least a new denomination.

Mr. K is quite serious (he wants me to be the theologian).

Mr. K, to give you some background, is an ordained minister with a missions-oriented ministry based in Central Illinois. Mr. K has had experience with a Pentecostal denomination and with a Pentecostal fellowship of affiliated churches. When he began to pursue ministry, he was, shall we say, bounced around for a few years, pigeon-holed into children's ministry, and led on by a couple of pastors. He was, in fact, ordained only when he told his then-senior pastor that he was leaving the church he served as associate pastor because he had been asked to lead a small and unique church start-up in Urbana, IL.

Mr. K told me about a chat he'd had during that time with another pastor who'd become a mentor to him. The subject was ordination, and the mentor asked: "Do you tithe?" Mr. K, rather surprised, said that he did. "Then he's not going to let you go," the mentor said. His point was blunt: Mr. K tithed, he filled in for the senior pastor, he made the senior pastor look good. He fit a niche for the senior pastor. "So why would he let you go?"

This is the background that has led K to think we need another denomination, if not a new reformation. It's not a reformation of doctrine so much as of ecclesiology. A new structure to the church that makes for real community, in which the people of God share a common life. Less hierarchy (perhaps none at all!), a form of mutual submission among pastors, a place for each man and woman to use his or her unique gifts for the body of Christ. And a place for all the offices of the New Testament church: apostle, prophet, evangelist as well as pastor/teacher.

My own take on the church is not that far from his. I think the church has become an organization and not an organism. The structures of denominations, associations, and local bodies need to be re-examined and changed. I'm not sure that a single structure that is meant to be a model for every assembly, from now till the Second Coming, is the answer. But our ecclesiology needs a real re-thinking.

So the question is: Do we need to do this through a new denomination? Or would yet another denomination lead to repeating the same error somewhere down the road, oh say a couple centuries from now? As our mutual friend Mr. J has said to K and to me: "Why not work within the fellowship we're a part of?" Why start something new? Wouldn't it be better to change what already exists?

The thing is, in the experience of the three of us, the fellowship we're a part of has not been exactly helpful. In part, that's because we're a "special needs" group: 3 guys who have full-time jobs and can't rush off to conferences and gatherings and networking meetings. And maybe we're the future of the church--trained but non-professional leadership--but the present isn't treating us well.

Still, the question needs to be asked: Why start something new? Is this (unintentionally) a "give me my ball 'cause I'm going home" thing? Or is it a legitimate answer to a problem that's cutting through all evangelicalism today?

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