I had lunch with a couple of guys, and the subject of denomination came up. We talked for about an hour, and I came away with a few thoughts.
I find myself drawing away from the Associational, State and National levels of denominational life for a variety of reasons. One reason is: I don’t think that they really understand how to compete in today’s church/spiritual/religious market.
That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? How terribly secular. Well, stay with me for a minute.
I received an email from a denominational representative a few days ago. The first thing I noticed was the absence of capitalization, punctuation, an general grammar. I expect this in phone texts, messages from kids, and even online chats. I don’t expect it from a “work” communique. I can only conclude that 1) the writer is lazy, 2) the writer is ignorant, or 3) the writer just doesn’t care about me as a reader/church leader.
If I’m not respected as a person, there is little draw for me to continue in that denominational relationship.
Secondly, the competition isn’t other denominations. The competition isn’t other baptist groups. It isn’t the Methodists, the Nazarenes, bible churches, Vineyard, or whatever. The competition of the International Mission Board isn’t the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
For those that think it is, they’ve totally missed the boat.
The competition of the different denominational entities are the churches. Some churches are educating, mentoring, and promoting staff from within their congregation, instead of outsourcing to (and hiring from) a seminary/theological school. These churches have a unique DNA/philosophy of ministry, which they believe can be diluted (if not outright lost) by bringing in leadership from outside the church.
The Mission Sending Organizations (IMB, NAMB, CBF, etc.) aren’t competing against other MSOs. Instead, they are competing against other churches, and the systems they organically create around themselves.
For instance, one of the larger churches wanted to go to England for a mission trip. They put it together, and executed on their own. It so happens that the pastor was friends with the previous CEO of the IMB. The CEO called him, to some extent berating him for not going through the IMB; asking why the church didn’t. The pastor’s response was, “in the six months it took us to plan and execute the trip, we would have been waiting for permission (and overall red tape) of going through the IMB.”
Another thing the MSOs seem to not understand is the trend of churches seeking to more directly engage in global minsitry, their natural ability to do so, and their willingness to invest in a particular area for the long term.
I’m sure there will be plenty of churches going through their denominational MSO for short term mission trips. Every year, they will seek to go somewhere else (local or globally). However, more of us desire to find a place (local, regional and global) to invest in for the long term. For instance, one church in our association is heavily vested in West Africa. When the IMB pulled out, they rallied together like minded churches to continue ministry in that area. Now, there is a whole network of churches helping to shape ministry, send missionaries, and invest themselves globally.
Did you know that %60 of all the volunteers to Vietnam go through one Ft. Worth area church? This church has been overtly investing their lives into this closed/communist/atheistic country for fifteen years. They created a Non-Governmental Agency (NGO), which they funnel all of their ministry through. I went to a conference at the church where an atheistic, communist government employee actually said; “I thank God for your church and the work it does in my country.”
I almost fell out of my seat when I heard it.
Churches are gifted in such a way for this to happen. Many people in our congregations have overseas contacts. Off the top of my head, I have friends in, and from: South Africa, Togo (West Africa), Philipines, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan (her family is doing well), Albania, Vietnam, Brazil, and the list goes on. This is just one person at the age of 37. Our children are supposedly going to be even more connected. Their generation is becoming known as the “1st Global” generation. Is that kid hooked up to XBox Live? Then he is probably gaming with someone from Canada, Nicoragua, and Spain.
No only do we have personal connections with people all over the world, our jobs are more globally interconnected as well. It isn’t unforseen for one to vocationally interact with someone from another culture on any given day of the week. All of these “closed” countries, have Christian men and women working in them already! The Church is already there in so many ways, it is indescribable!
With all these connections, options, and availabilities; one denominational MSO expects to have my full loyalty and support?
This isn’t just about MSOs either, it is about every part of church life. The same organic connections are happening around areas of discipleship, worship, church planting, evangelism, social ministry, and etc. You name it, and there is probably a group of lay people, ministers, and/or churches banding together to do it in a meaning/relevant way for their area of concern.
Is it any wonder that funding for denominational groups are in decline?
It is a brave new world out there. We have many more options than we used to. I wonder if any denominational head will figure this out?