Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Denoms, NonDenoms, and Disagreement

One of the favorite themes among nondenominational folks of all stripes is the essential failure of the denominational systems of church governance.  The Oldline churches are trapped in endless political squabbling, bickering about sexuality and ordination and the authority of the Bible.  Independent churches are free of all such nonsense, and can thus better grow into the vast sprawling parking lot Jesus MegaCenters that are the clear sign of God's favor on earth.  For as the Apostle Paul once wrote:  "How can they know if they have not heard?  And how can they hear if they cannot park?" (Romans 1:14-15, The Church Shopper's Bible)

Much of the success of the nondenoms, I think, comes from their ability to be in sync with the corporate/consumer ethos of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.   If the ethos is growth, then you're more likely to grow if you have a clear and definable brand.  Denominations, which are structured like governments, well, they're more prone to manifesting politics and bureaucracy.  If you're trying to be a self-governing community of communities, there are always going to be tensions and disagreements.

But if you're structured like a business, with an iconic founder/CEO/Senior Pastor, then there is less potential for disagreement.  The board?  They'll support the person who's the reason they're there.  The flock?  They'll follow the shepherd, whose face beams down upon them from the Jumbotron every Sunday like the great and powerful Oz.  And so the brand is clear and unsullied by difference, the message is clear, and the laserlike clarity of brand identity stands as a beacon in a world that yearns for neatly packaged certainty.

Until the pastor dies or retires or is caught in a motel room with three strippers and an array of assorted livestock.  Then?  Well, then things get a bit trickier.

The process by which big independent nondenominational churches do leadership transition often has all the grace of the choosing of a new patriarch for the Borgia family.  Or, to be more biblical about it, the process by which Judah often selected her kings.  Things can get ugly and political, because all of that politics we denoms do on the front end just sits, repressed and unexpressed, under the iron thumb of the Brand, until BLLLANG!   It's a bit like Yugoslavia after Tito.   You remember, right?  Tito?  That whole mess with Bosnia and Serbia in the 1990s?  Sigh.

Take the recent ugliness at Jericho City of Praise, a big sprawling nondenom in my area.  Once the iconic founding pastor and his pastor wife passed, suddenly the board and the son were fighting it out in court over control of this huge 19,000 member Jeeza-hemoth.   Court, mind you, because if you're an island in and of yourself, when disagreement strikes, there's nothing left to do but take things to the law.  Settling things in-house becomes impossible, and as there's no authoritative external connection outside of the brand, the only recourse is the government and the services of highly paid counsel.

Strange irony, that.

Advantage:  Denominations.