Franchises, Denominations, and the Missional Church

Missional church is completely tied to local context. Craig Van Gelder reports that one of that one of the phases of denominational history (1920-1970) could be called the Corporate Denomination. During this phase, the church adopted corporate structures and expectations. One of the values in corporate culture of the time was uniformity (Van Gelder 38). McDonald’s mastered the idea that a burger would taste and be presented the same in Flagstaff, Arizona and Brundidge, Alabama. Within denominationalism, a similar expectation was set. No matter where you are, the Methodist franchise will be structured in this way, will worship in this way, will do ministry in this way, will have pastors trained in this way. In modernity, this worked fairly well. We knew what to expect, and that was valued.
The disunity of postmodernity has called uniformity into question and has devalued predictability. During his political life, Tip O’Neill often said, “All politics is local.” Today, all things are local. Everything is gauged by local cultures and values. Interestingly, when O’Neill used the phrase, he was referring to a physical location. A particular geographic area has specific political needs. With the information age, physical location has been replaced by cultural, or even technological, location. Therefore, where the parish mentality previously seemed appropriate for geographic locations, the missional church appeals to the church to target specific cultures and microcultures.

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The Connection & Mission

Throughout the history of Methodism, there has been an emphasis on connection. Every church is connected to every other church. Every pastor is connected to every other pastor. We hold many things in common, including church discipline, fiduciary responsibility of money and land, theology, mission, etc. This interdependency and trust has been so important that the denomination has made up a word to describe the emphasis:  connectionalism. When we speak of connectionalism, we speak of a state of being in connection with others. It is ingrained in our very understanding of who we are.

Occasionally, this connection is challenged in the way that the great hymn speaks, “By schisms rent asunder/By heresies distressed.” Schisms dealing with slavery, urbanization, racism, and influence of wealth have led to other Wesleyan (followers of John Wesley’s theology) movements. Theology was a major sticking point when revival broke out on Azusa Street, beginning the pentecostal movement in America. Though it was birthed from the Holiness roots of Methodism, Methodism was unable to fit the movement into what had become a very modernist theology.

Today, there are two things that seem to threaten the connection of the church:  theology and mission. The former is tied up in biblical interpretation, authority of Scripture, and the history of the church. There are a few specific issues that become the poster children of this debate, namely salvation and homosexual relationships. While these are crucial issues, I don’t believe that these present the most pressing and immediate problem for the church.

The greatest threat to the connection of the United Methodist Church is a lack of focused mission. On the one hand, there is the general mission of the church to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Further, there are key elements that set some structure to that. The denominational website says that the church’s mission could be broken down into welcoming-worshiping-nurturing-sending.

Over the next few days, we will look at the each of those four areas. While they appear to be acceptable and appropriate ways of approaching mission, they lack real insight and motivation.