Fix Denominations by Getting Rid of Management

I’ve been a critic of denominations. That’s not because the people who work for denominations are bad — in fact, just about everyone I know who holds a denominational position is a good, loving, Christ-centered person. I have great respect for them.

It’s not the people that is the problem, it’s the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is bad for the gospel. Bureaucracy is good at sustaining itself, but only for its own sake, not for a larger, more noble purpose like the gospel.

I think that denominations might take a lesson from a new kind of company in America. These companies are being founded and funded, but they have no managers.

Medium, a new tech company started by one of the co-founders of Twitter has no managers:
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2013 Theoblogy Predictions [VIDEO]

For the past several years, I’ve appeared on Doug Pagitt Radio to make my annual predictions for the upcoming year in religion. You can judge my prognostication abilities for yourself:

2012 Predictions

2011 Predictions

2010 Predictions 

Looking back, it seems that I’m batting about .500. Not bad (for a baseball player).

So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the Year in Religion 2013:

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The Denouement of Denominations

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to serve as the Scholar in Residence at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. You can listen to my sermon (on the Didache and what it has to teach the church today) at the bottom of this page.

My main public lecture was titled, “Why the United Methodist Church Is the Most Screwed Up Denomination,” a title that was chosen by the pastors! It was an interesting time. As seminarian and youth pastor Teer Hardy reports, he was surprised that so few of the parishioners at Aldersgate knew what happened at the UMC General Conference in May:

For me, a seminary student and candidate for ordination, this relationship between the congregation and denomination was an eye-opening moment in the conversation.  No wonder local congregations are not worried about paying their apportionments the same in which clergy are.  For clergy it can be a “career move” and for the local congregation there is no penalty.  Even appointments are based upon the overall success (or lack of) a pastor as they lead their congregation.  If congregations are not as “attached” to the denomination as their clergy are required to be does the congregation really understand what is required of UMC clergy (elders)?

Now, today comes a report from Gallup that Americans’ trust in “organized religion” is at an all-time low:

Watching Denominations Implode

It’s summertime, which means it’s the time for denominations to have their annual clusterf meetings.

The United Methodists already had theirs. At the 11th hour, a deal for new governance, allowing increased participation in denominational affairs for younger clergy, unraveled. They also reaffirmed their stance against gay clergy and gay marriage.

The Presbyterians are currently meeting (for 8 days — seriously, 8 days?!? — over the 4th of July(!)). They don’t seem to want young delegates, and the vice moderator resigned just a few days after her election, citing “pervasive, poisonous activity” in the PC(USA). You see, she solemnized the marriage between two women, in Washington, D.C., where that kind of thing is legal.

And now the Episcopalians have begun their meetings, and they’re arguing about the way that they come up with the budget. The same sex issues are on the agenda for later in the week. Steve Pankey has a valuable post on the generational divide that vexes his denomination, and I think the rest as well.

I’m watching all of this from afar, via the tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts of many dear friends — friends who are committed to these bureaucracies in spite of their sins. I don’t begrudge my friends their loyalties, and I take no joy in the inevitable in-fighting that these denominational meetings engender.

Honestly, I think it’s all pretty sad, and I know it really hurts many people involved. It also costs millions of dollars to have these meetings — money given by earnest church members. Money that could be spent on the mission of the gospel.