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Friday, November 18, 2005

The Kingdom is Flat

At a gathering of pastors, administrators and church excutives last week, I listened to a candid evaluation on the state of denominationalism. The summary word was "capacity". Most church systems that were put into place in the late 1800's are now at capacity or beyond capacity. When the Evangelical Covenant denomination broke up into regional conferences in the 1960's, there were as many churches nation-wide as there are currently Covenant churches just in California! How can one regional leader called a Superintendent, cover that many churches?

Today new Covenant pastors do not share the same set of unifiers: same college, same seminary, same ethnicity, same hymnals, same faith heroes. Now we come from all over the world. Many come out of successful careers and not directly from college-seminary. Our heterogeneity, while a distinct advantage, poses a number of problems for cohension.

One prophetic comment still rings in my ears. The speaker said that the old lines between missionary and minister are vanishing fast. So too is the line between clergy and laity. The old definers just don't define any more. They used to work, but don't work in today's world.

All this called me back to Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat" book that came out this year. Off-shoring, globalization, the internet, bundling of products, declining software costs all flatten out the global playing field. I think the same is happening in and to the church, and while we don't like it, it is nothing but good news. The flattening process is in alignment with the New Testament vision of a kingdom where there is "neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ ."(Gal 3:28)

As I have been reading in Diarmand MuCullogh's book "The Reformation", I keep seeing the problem makers being the dividers ...and they often happen to be clergy who have a deeply vested interest in protecting their positions, outdated as they might be. Is that some of the embarassing success of the Mormon church? They have no paid clergy. (They have some other weird issues theologically, but systemically, they are pretty lean).

The emerging church friends I know, are less out to dismantle the existing church as much as to recognize the kingdom's "flatness". What legitimate role will church leaders play in the next decade? Will departments and headquarters go the way of personal secretaries and private parking spots? Hmmm.

1 Comments:

At 6:14 PM , Anonymous Dan G said...

Don,
I am about one-third the way through the "The World is Flat" and I am finding it fascinating. Friedman's concept is very telling of our society, our world. Is it any wonder that churches are finding the playing field flatter? Many traditional issues are being scrutinized and challenged often for the better. One area I have recently found interesting and I believe falls into this area of flattening is in missions. No longer can we as "western Christians" plant missionaries into areas and expect the "natives" to follow in our footsteps and live our form of "religion". More denominations, including the Covenant, are now partnering with indigenous pastors, who have sufficient training, to reach more effectively those in any number of cultural environments. The hierarchial attitude of the west has been flattened to work at ground level with the many it hopes to reach.

 

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