Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Opinions On This One?

This was posted by Keith Drury about a denomination reinventing itself. Read the original post and the comments and let me know what you think.

Is this a good trend or a bad one?

OK, full disclosure now. The denomination being discussed is the one I belong to. I'm always interested in other's opinions on this because the opinions among us UB's have been so mixed. Even reading through the comments of that post, I saw the same cast of characters -- especially that "anonymous" commenter who could only offer speculation and the "Huntington Watcher" who must be watching from a distant galaxy.

If you've been too lazy to actually click the links and read, here's the synopsis. The United Brethren in Christ (UB) is a small denomination with a critical mass problem. We're not big enough to do much of what we would like. The financial situation is a strain as well. We currently collect around 10 percent of tithes and offerings (minus missions and building fund) and use that to fund the district and national offices. The major complaint is that the local church doesn't see any real benefit from that 10 percent.

So with all these issues running hot and heavy, the leadership sought out a drastic solution. They decided to pursue a merger with another denomination, but that group didn't want the baggage of a true merger. So the next idea was that the UB would simply join the other denomination. The UB name, which dates back 200 years, was to be lost. This was likely the major factor in the overall membership voting down this option.

The next suggestion came from a grassroots group which I had talked to a great deal. Essentially it is to dissolve the district level of bureaucracy and instead allow the local churches to form "clusters" of five to seven to work as accountability groups and as coaching tools to improve the local ministries. After the merger and the joining ideas failed, this cluster system idea was brought forward as the next idea. The former bishop (the highest church authority postition) stepped aside and a new bishop was elected along with a director of the cluster system. It actually kicks into gear in January, although it's certainly going to be a work in progress.

The other distinctives in this plan are (1) the local church ownership of property ( property until now has been held "in trust" for the denomination) and (2) the local church covenant. The first opens the door to a church bolting the denomination and the UB's losing "their" property. The second is a convenant which must be signed and renewed every two years. The covenant is basically the local church agreeing to be a part of the UB and to be governed by it's Discipline. If at any time, a church decides not to accept the covenant they decide in essence to leave the denomination. And if a church refuses to live up to the covenant, the denomination can reject that church and remove it from the denomination.

Pretty simple, right? No, of course not. Nobody -- not the leadership, the grassroots or the folks who thought this up -- knows exactly how it's going to work. We're basically making it up as we go along. That's the scary part.

The major objection I had was the lack of accountability for the local church. I saw the formation of renegade "clusters" who did as they wished regardless of what headquarters wanted. That fear was alleviated somewhat by having a cluster leader reporting to the cluster director and the bishop, but I'm still not sure that will be enough.

But pray for us poor UBs. It's going to be an interesting and scary time for a while.


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