A local church and a global Discipline

Yesterday at General Conference we finally made it to our committee meetings. I’m working with the local church group, responsible for how local congregations operate. This is the section of the Book of Discipline that talks about Charge Conferences, committees, all that good stuff.

In our first introductory meeting we (and all of the other committees) considered some basic questions. One of them concerned the nature of a global Discipline and how it affects our work.

I got stuck on this one. I actually came out sounding like a bit of an anarchist. Because while I believe that one of the great strengths of our denomination is a central “rule book” that keeps us all heading down the same road, it’s tough to think of rules that really help all of our local churches given how diverse they are. I’ve been part of a new church where a dozen of us did everything, from serving on the Finance Committee to setting up chairs to making a gym into a sanctuary. But our current church worships 600 and has a suburban, professional population that brings a high level of professional skill to the ministry. Sitting at my table were folks from still-developing countries where the church may or may not have what we think of as walls and a roof. I thought of my time in Liberia and seeing churches that did amazing ministry but may or may not even have utilities.

So our challenge then is to make a rule that works for a big city cathedral and a rural church, one where the church is fairly homogenous and one that is richly diverse, one with significant financial resources and one that is not.

As I consider our work, first and foremost will be Reuben Job’s three simple rules: Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God. I think the best thing we can do for a local church is to provide some guidance and encouragement but then get as far out of the way as possible.

Where ever the Discipline is silent a local church is empowered to build a ministry in its own context. But it also allows a church to potentially wander off the path. So maybe we should act as a guard rail on a mountain road, clearly defining the road and, in case of hydroplaning, keep us from falling off the cliff. But we must allow a church to navigate the road as it sees fit, avoiding potholes, finding the path to fruitfulness.

Those are my thoughts early on, we’ll see how they evolve as General Conference continues.

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