|Whimsical carving in an English church.|
Recently, I attended the church regional gathering with my mother and friend. The leader, one of a handful of men at the top of the denomination, preached on the ministry of his church in other countries. He had spent most of his adult life in other countries working as a local pastor and regional leader. During his message, he spoke a little about those instances when his wife dragged him along on a trip to the market. He mentioned how she always sought out the no-label or generic-label products, because they saved her money, and, she insisted, were just as good as those that carried a brand name.
In my childhood and adolescence, being a member of this denomination really meant something. Or at least, that was how it seemed. Unfortunately, in recent years, the denomination leaders refused to address the changing needs of its members. The denomination's publishing company lost sight of what local congregations really needed. Regional leaders opted for phone calls to pastors, rather than regular visits to every church in their territories.
Every organization occasionally loses its way. What has surprised me is how the denomination has not yet recaptured its distinctiveness. What does it mean to be a member of this institution today? Contemporary leaders seem incapable of addressing this question.
Henry Kingsley believed that the distinctions between Catholicism and Protestantism in 19th Century England were important and worth fighting for. In his novel Ravenshoe, Father Mackworth, Charles Ravenshoe, and other family members make important stands for their faith. They believed those distinctions not only affected themselves, but everyone else whom they oversaw or interacted with.
Today, what I hear repeatedly from pastors of this denomination is that their parishioners don't want to hear about what it means to be a member of the larger organization. These pastors claim that members of their local churches cannot see how the distinct theology that formed the denomination plays a useful role in their life of faith. Instead, they claim that their congregants just want to be as interdenominational as possible. You know: just like everyone else.
So pastors ignore such distinctions in their sermons, and organize their worship services, and all other church functions, according to what seems most popular. Some even remove the denomination's name from the sign outside the door, and bestow upon the church some generic title that could apply to any Christian church, such as New Hope, New Life, or (Place Your Own Made-up Title Here).
It seems an odd approach for a denomination, doesn't it?