An Old Church Structure for a New Century

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Church Structure

In general, I agree with Rev. Rushing. However, there is a factor that throw a monkey-wrench into the polity as he believe it ought to be functioning: the role of the General Church Boards and Agencies.

Originally, they were set up to be support agencies for the local churches. They were there to give instruction, assistance, and training to the folk in local churches. They had "field workers" (my Grandfather was one of them) who went out and worked with the local churches in one or two Annual Conferences, training pastors and laity to be more effective evangelists, teachers, administrators, fund-raisers, and persons who gave social witness.

Such a program is costly, and as a result, the idea of the field workers went out in favor of a centralized staff, each of whom had some sort of "portfolio" of areas in which they worked. They related to centralized members of Annual Conference Boards and Agencies, hoping that those workers would take up the task of the former "field workers."

The result was that each board and agency began to see itself as an entity unto itself, and it gathered its share of supporters and "groupies" who believed whole-heartedly in the mission of "their" board and agency. Proof of that was the 1972, what I call shotgun marriage of five agencies into the General Board of Discipleship. Even though they were one board, each division had its supporters from their original agency, each of whom wanted to support only their division. The Division on Evangelism set up its own newsletter which paid lots of attention to its understanding of Evangelism, and none to the whole. They even started a separate "Foundation for Evangelism" which, among other things, served as a funding source for that Division. The same could be said for all of the other Divisions, as well. Each Board or Agency, or division thereof, started "certification" programs for non-ordained professional church workers---some of those certification programs even included clergy.

In so doing, each group became insular and myopic, and I believe they lost sight of the goal of being support agencies for the total ministry of the Church by focusing only on their areas. It led their supporters to do the same. No one did this maliciously or with the intent to fragment the ministry of the Church. It simply was a result of not having enough people to get out and work among the clergy and laity of the local churches--and seeing, on the ground, how their area of expertise fit in with what was happening in the local churches outside their own particular geographical area (Evanston, Nashville, New York, Dayton, etc.) and the large, highly educated local churches to which they belonged or in which they participated.

The result led to pastors who, seeing a DS once a year, learned to become insular, ourselves. The General Church essentially became irrelevant to our own situations.

I wish I knew how to undo that.

Tom Griffith more than 5 years ago

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