Friday, February 18, 2005

Denomination Renewal Done Right

In this age of denominational declension, it is heartening to see that rather than give in to the spirit of the age, some are standing up and speaking out. I applaud the efforts of this valiant band of PCUSA leaders who recognize the need to change not just cosmetically but completely. A great blend of returning to one's roots and reaching ahead to the future.

I particularly I love the restructuring they propose:

Key Design Elements for an Effective Connectional Structure

Theology and Mission

  • An unambiguous, biblically-derived statement of orthodox and reformed faith essentials
  • Defined theological and ethical boundaries to which we would subscribe
  • Unifying mission that is biblically-rooted and evangelism-driven

We envision a connectional structure unified by a shared commitment to a biblically-rooted theology and mission, and not by polity alone. This will require a statement of faith and practice that articulates the essentials of orthodox Christian faith as historically understood, and which establishes clear theological and ethical boundaries. To this statement participating members would subscribe. We believe this need would be served by the Apostles’ Creed and a newly crafted statement of faith essentials. The statements in our existing Book of Confessions will continue to offer historical context as we move forward in ministry and mission, but a new and concise statement of theological essentials is needed. Ordination would be predicated upon acceptance of this statement of faith, and biblical discipline would be exercised for those who fall outside of these established boundaries.

We envision a connectional structure that is also clear and unequivocal in its mission to go and make disciples of all nations. The church does not exist for itself, but as a servant for Kingdom ministry and mission. It is called to advance the Gospel, both proclaiming and embodying the reign of God in Jesus Christ. For this ministry we are accountable to God and one another.

Ministers of Word and Sacrament A prayerful and supportive process for Ministry Preparation and Placement which provides guidance in the areas of theological education, credentialing, discernment of call, and ministry placement

  • Ordination that upholds the biblically-grounded faith and mission of the church
  • Access to resources for personal spiritual growth and effective church leadership
  • Contracted pension and health care benefits

We envision a connectional structure that provides active support for its clergy. This will include spiritual encouragement, career guidance, equipping for ministry, and practical benefits assistance. The connectional structure will cultivate leaders based on gift assessment, and will place an emphasis on leadership development that is biblically grounded and culturally relevant. We believe it will be necessary to create a new call process that more effectively discerns God’s call and prepares people for faithful ministry.

Leadership Networks

  • Organic relational networks based on theological unity, regional proximity, and ministry affinity
  • Mutual support, encouragement, and prayer in a climate of trust
  • Theological and moral accountability (discipline) that is relationally grounded

We envision a connectional structure that is defined by relationships more than by structures. Congregations will be healthiest when their spiritual leaders are joined in close friendships of mutual support, trust, and encouragement. Such relationships create a natural context for sharing resources, fostering spiritual growth, offering encouragement, and providing theological, moral, and missional accountability.

Local Church

  • Unqualified support for the ministry and mission of the local church
  • Guidance for the church through its growth cycle, from inception through growth stages and ministry transitions to merger or dissolution
  • Access to resources for spiritual growth, relational health, and ministry effectiveness for the church, its pastors, and its elders
  • Assistance in strategic planning, ministry discernment and conflict resolution
  • Guidance for the call and ordination process
  • Missional encouragement and accountability
  • A minimalist local church polity that promotes and does not hinder ministry effectiveness

We envision a connectional structure that is centered on serving and equipping the local congregation for contextually relevant ministry and mission. Cutting edge ministry requires ongoing training for both sustained spiritual maturity and adept cultural exegesis. For this reason, education, consulting, planning and resourcing will be priorities. Property will belong to the local congregation, with provision made for how it should be dispersed in the event of congregational merger or dissolution.

Local and Regional Church Networks (Presbytery)

  • Local and regional networks that exist to support the ministry and mission of the local church and are a creative response to the particular ministry context of that area
  • Regular gatherings of pastors and elders for prayer, worship, networking, resource sharing, equipping, and theological reflection
  • Local and regional partnerships based on affinity of ministry contexts
  • Discernment, planning, coordination, communication, and intentional resource pooling for effective shared regional ministry and mission
  • An ordination process that is prayerful, discerning, and supportive, and upholds our shared theological and ethical essentials
  • A judicial structure that supports our defined theological and ethical boundaries and is based on relationships of trust and mutual accountability
  • Minimal staffing and structure

We envision a connectional structure with regional church networks that are alliances of churches and leaders who are one in heart and purpose, allied for the sake of shared ministry and mission in a particular region. More relational than structural, network gatherings will be characterized by prayer, worship, theological reflection, networking, resource sharing, equipping, and planning for shared ministry. Regional gatherings exist for the local church, not for themselves. Staffing and structure will be minimal, set in place only to support the ministry and mission of the local church and its leaders.

National Church Networks (General Assembly)

  • An alliance of like-minded churches sharing a commitment to biblically-derived theology, mission, and church government, gathered for mutual encouragement and shared ministry and mission
  • Regular gatherings by pastors and elders for prayer, worship, networking, resource sharing, equipping, and theological reflection
  • Discernment, planning, coordination, communication, and resource sharing for shared national and international ministry and mission, including partnerships for ministry and mission with like-minded Christians of other denominations and parachurch ministries
  • A judicial structure that supports our defined theological and ethical boundaries and is based on relationships of trust and mutual accountability
  • Streamlined, minimalist polity that is flexible and responsive to changing needs and cultural dynamics
  • Infrequent national assemblies for the express purpose of polity refinement and structural adaptation for a changing cultural context

We envision a connectional structure that is more relational and missional than structural at the national level as well as at regional levels. Shared ministry and mission of local churches in local, regional, contextual, national, and global partnerships will be at the fore. A dramatically downsized national staff will feature mission specialists operating on a convene-and-deploy model to foster effective church partnerships for culturally relevant ministry and mission between churches in similar ministry contexts (urban, rural, suburban, multi-staff, generational, etc.). The connectional structure will serve the local church in its ministry and mission by drawing upon proven programs, curricula, and other resources available from across the broader body of Christ.

We envision a connectional structure in which polity will be supportive and permission-giving, not regulatory; it will foster, not hinder, ministry and mission; it will serve, not constrain. We envision a book of government that could fit in a shirt pocket. Recognizing the need for ongoing restructuring as the surrounding culture shifts, yet not wanting polity to dominate our national gatherings, provision will be made for a separate process of polity refinement and structural reform and adaptation.

International Church Networks (Missions)

  • Discernment, planning, coordination, and communication for shared regional ministry and mission
  • Strategic mission partnerships to unreached people groups
  • Connections and networking with the global church, allowing us to learn from what God is doing in the two-thirds world

We envision a connectional structure that builds alliances with other connectional structures, organizations, and ministries for the sake of effective cross-cultural Kingdom ministry. As bringing the hope of the Gospel to unreached people groups is of the highest priority for global mission, we will joyfully partner for mission with those who share our commitment to biblically-derived ministry and evangelistic mission. Ecumenism is understood first missionally, not ecclesiastically.

They recognize that a top heavy organization will only hurt the mission of Christ through His Church. This model unleashes the local church to do ministry in its context.

I hope there are similar thinkers and leaders in my own denomination. So RCA listen and learn from our brothers and sisters in the PCUSA. Change or is the time to decide!

No comments: