Connecting Corporately for the Sake of Vision: Part 1
In his landmark Crossroads series, Dr. Gilbert W. Stafford helped the people of the Church of God to see their movement from a unique perspective. This post begins a three-part series excerpted from chapter 10 of his second book, Vision for the Church of God at the Crossroads. It is particularly applicable to the work of the Project Imagine roundtable. I share it with you that you may read for yourself some material that I’ve asked the members of the roundtable to read.
As always, we solicit your prayers for the roundtable. Our second meeting is scheduled for February 27–March 1 in Florida.
From the earliest days of the Church of God reformation movement, a strong sense of being connected with each other has existed. We were in ministry together. We belonged to each other. We cared about what went on throughout the length and breadth of the movement. We were family. And to a great extent this still exists, but that historic sense of connectedness is eroding rapidly. I call it to our attention so that we can be intentional about what takes place next. Do we find it acceptable to lose this sense of connectedness? Are we comfortable with that loss?
The nature of our connectedness is different than in most church groups. Their connectedness is preserved by an organizational structure. When denominations are formed, working groups meet to decide on how they will be organized, how they will make decisions as a denomination, and how each congregation fits into the whole. These and many other decisions are made regarding belief, mission, polity, governance, and procedures. Once these matters are in place, those who are in agreement with the decisions give consent and the denomination is born. Younger denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene and the Assemblies of God can show pictures of the historic gatherings when their denominations officially came into existence. Although both of these denominations have seen lots of changes since their birth dates, they nevertheless have been connected by organizational structures that provide orderly ways for dealing with theological, doctrinal, polity, social, and other changes.
Ours is a very different kind of story. We came into existence as a doctrinal movement. No gathering was called co work out an organizational structure or to decide on polity and governance procedures. No pictures were taken of the founding of the movement. No denomination was formed. As a genuine movement, we simply found our way as we faced practical challenges. In the course of time, issues having to do with holding property, doing church work, good order in ordination procedure, organizing congregations for legal purposes, dealing with conflict, pooling our resources to do things local congregations could not do well on their own, and pursuing new challenges—all of these necessitated decisions about how we should go about doing the work of God, and accomplishing what we believe we are called to do. So our organizational structures have all emerged little by little. They have been developed in response to practical necessity. They did not appear as a result of a grand plan. That is why when one surveys the state and provincial section of the Yearbook of the Church of God one finds a broad array of [dissimilar] organizational names.
The [use of many unique names] reminds us that we came into existence as a movement and not as a denomination. If we had come into existence as a denomination, all of the state and provincial assemblies would be called the same thing. That would have been decided at the beginning. But not so with us. Our nomenclature has developed in piecemeal fashion in the course of our history, and even at this point in our history resistance still exists to standardized terminology, reminding us of the spirit of independence among us—and fragmentation. But more importantly, it points to the fact we have not had a unified organizational structure over the years to provide us with a sense of ongoing connectedness.