Saturday, February 10, 2007

Denominational Musings

Every once in a while, a blog that I read with ties to another denomination provides some commentary on the state of their church that strikes me in such a way as to ask how it may apply to my own denomination, the United Church of Christ. This morning, that blogger was one of my favorites, the Internet Monk, speaking about Southern Baptists:

News flash professor: It’s over. While you were selling your 3,535th denominational bumper sticker, the denomination generationally and culturally changed. Hybels, Warren and Driscoll have the attention of your pastors[...]Giglio and Piper have the attention of your student leaders. And this isn’t going to change. It’s going to increase and multiply. Denominational headquarters may be talking, but not most younger leaders aren’t listening. They are talking to each other, trading resources of their own, using the new technology, and the old denominational lines are, sorry to say this, a hassle rather than a help to many of them.

Now, I've been feeling funny about denominationalism for months now. I love the UCC, but the general idea of institutional loyalty at the possible expense of local ministry and mission has, thankfully, caused me to be more discerning about how much time and energy I spend on wider church matters.

So let's break this down a little. I'm betting that reactions are mixed about who younger UCC pastors are reading and borrowing resources from. Our God is Still Speaking campaign caught the imaginations of many church leaders and many worked out of the resources provided through that effort. But who else are they/you reading? Maybe some really are reading Hybels, Warren and Driscoll (the ones I know probably wouldn't). For my own part I've found many emerging church authors to be very stimulating recently. I wonder how much other younger UCC leaders are seeking resources outside of what our own church produces. For instance, what resources are being used by people who didn't opt in to GISS? And FWC doesn't count because that's still a denominational thing, however nominally.

In general, the climate in the UCC vs. SBC may be a little different. There are certain parallels between many in the SBC being fed up with leadership...but my experience with younger leaders in the UCC is that they generally like and support the wider church and its leadership, so maybe their looking for outside resources isn't as prevalent. Or maybe that experience simply isn't wide enough.

Now, from the pews that may be a little different. Come to where I am and mention the wider church. At best you'll get a polite nod right before you're asked about our next special offering for the local agency. Or try to get them to give up a Saturday to attend an Association meeting. Try to justify something from General Synod after you're asked, "Don't they have anything better to do?" Part of that for people is wondering what's in it for them, but part of it is wondering why it matters at all. How does it affect their church, their families, their lives, their communities? Or to put it another way, what is the denomination doing that matters to what our local church does? They don't see it. Sometimes I don't either. That doesn't stop laypeople from supporting what they love such as our Conference camps, but that's because they see what a good experience they can provide. They can't bring themselves to say the same for our spring Association business meeting. In general, denominational loyalty takes a backseat to what their local church does. And it makes a lot of sense.

So I don't know how much leaders are looking outside the UCC for helpful resources. For my own part, yeah, a little. I'm more aware of the mixed reaction that laypeople have to supporting the denomination. That's not necessarily an old/young thing either. I know many older people who could care less about the denomination. Most younger people, when they're there, simply have other priorities like beginning careers and having babies, so the local church is as good as it gets.