Set Our People Free!

That’s what many pastors and denominations are saying, at least to themselves. These Christian leaders recognize the need to liberate disciples from excessive church structure and activity so that they can actually love their neighbors.

While coaching a pastor recently, this pastor described the rigorous committee meeting schedule in their church. Many of these committees are mandated by their national denominational body. By stepping back and observing the schedule, both the pastor and myself recognized disciples serving on these committees would have little time/energy/capacity for anything but church structure work (in addition to daily duties). No wonder they do not seem to engage their community very much; too busy keeping the church machine running.

At the same time, we are working with two denominations who are engaged in visioning for the future. These are middle judicatories who do not have the freedom to totally revise their structure, yet do have the freedom to modify structures to support forward movement. One part of the visioning process included connecting with their constituents to determine what they value about their denomination. Spiritual enrichment events, learning experiences, cross-pollination sharing, and collaborative mission projects rise to the top of this list. What they least appreciate is gathering in meetings on weekends and evenings to conduct business. Looking at their meetings, the vast majority of their gatherings are for the purpose of conducting business….the least of what their constituents value. Now their declining participation levels in these gatherings is making sense.

Here in 2016, we are making the shift from Modernity with its emphasis on building organizations with elaborate structures to Postmodernity with its emphasis on action and experience. Christianity finds itself needing far less structure than before. Christianity finds itself with a need to set its people free for community engagement in the name of Jesus Christ.

The aforementioned pastor and I used coaching time to wrestle with what a more streamlined structure might look like in their setting. After some level of frustration, we decided the way forward was for the pastor to engage the disciples in that church in this discussion, trusting the church to identify what it needs to support its forward movement. Since we are called to be salt and light in this wild world, perhaps it’s time to liberate our people to be just that.

Structure is still necessary….just not as much as before. So let us lay aside every weight and bureaucratic tendency so that we can engage our neighbors with the beautiful love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA