Old rule: The centre of influence is the denomination and the bible college
New rule: The centre of influence is the large church and seminars/conferences
This is a change of emphasis rather than a reversal, but it is so profound that denominational leaders who don’t see this risk total malfunction in their leadership roles.
Newcomers to an area always used to select a church by denomination. Such loyalty empowered the denomination – denominational officials looked on local churches as ‘branch offices’ of their church. The ‘central’ organisation probably controlled the appointment of clergy, selected missionaries, owned buildings, confirmed clergy credentials, set rules and took a percentage of the offerings. Budgets were set centrally and often an adversarial relationship developed between church and denomination. Seminary training and socialisation was also in their hands. For 3 or 4 years future ministers were educated by academics rather than practitioners who often majored on scholarship rather than pastoral skills. Pastors needing advice contacted their college lecturers or read books written by the college faculty.
The assumption now is that denominations exist to serve the local church rather than the other way around. Church leaders today are more likely to look to large churches – sometimes within their own denomination and sometimes beyond. These churches are well known, frequently studied and have become pace-setters for many areas of church life, including preaching, worship and church structure and organisation. These large churches often offer seminars where other churches can ‘dip in’ and receiving training and direction. They are accessible, affordable, practical and enormously influential.
Who is shaping the Christian landscape? Is it theological colleges or denominations, or even networks or streams of churches? In the last 10 years in the UK, I believe large churches have become the pace-setters. Time will tell if this trend will bear lasting fruit.
One word of warning. In a desire to grow, we should work hard to maintain strong theological roots. It’s relatively easy to get a lot a people to attend a popular event such as a high energy church meeting (or even a rock concert or sporting fixture) - it's an entirely different challenge to shape peoples’ lives in a biblical way, establishing godly values and commitment.
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