From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

General Synod Resolutions

The UCC General Synod is coming up June 26-30 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A list of the resolutions coming before the Synod can be found here. Number 18 of the 25 resolutions (In Support Of Physician Assistance In Dying) may be the most controversial. Six of the resolutions have to do with re-structuring.

I’d be very curious about a poll of people sitting in UCC pews, asking questions such as:

  • Can you name 3 resolutions coming before Synod this year?
  • Do you know where Synod is being held this year?
  • Or when?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how much do you care what Synod says and does?

I’m not being sarcastic here – I’m truly curious about the honest response of the folks in our pews. If it’s what I’d guess it to be (A: no, no, no, nearly zip) I wonder why that is. Why the gap between Joe pew-sitter and the hierarchy of the denomination?

In part I think it’s due to the increasing size and bureacracy of our society. Goverment, schools, health care institutions, etc. are becoming so big and bureacratic that’s it’s very difficult to maintain human relationships. We substitute forms, regulations, and procedures. It’s what’s going on around us and the church apparently is not immune from that influence.

But that’s only part of what’s going on. As a pastor, I feel like I’ve spent the last 24 years trying to persuade the folks in the congregation to support the hierarchy, the structure, the denomination, the causes, the issues. If the denomination is us, why do we have to keep persuading us to support us?

Alban Institute published a book years ago by Loren Mead, entitled The Once And Future Church. It changed my thinking and I recommend it to you. It posits a change in paradigms for the church. To make it short (I really do recommend you read the whole book; it’s not long): since Constantine the church has been modeled after the Empire. Citizens and church members were expected to:

  1. Support the apparatus
  2. Pay taxes
  3. Be subject to the draft

Real ministry was “over there” in Africa or China somewhere, to be done by specialists called evangelists or missionaries. The job of folks in the pew was to support the structure that supported the missionaries.

According to Mead, the model worked extremely well from the 4th thru the 19th centures. Then things changed (see William Willimon’s book Resident Aliens on this); now we can no longer assume that our fellow citizens are Christians; nor can we assume our kids will grow up Christians because they were born. The mission field has moved from “over there” to across the street. There are many other changes too, but the point is that the model that worked then does not work now. The people in the “front lines” aren’t the people up in the hierarchy – they’re the people in the pews. It’s the people in the pews who need to be trained and supported in doing evangelism, proclaiming the gospel, knowing the faith.

The upshot is, instead of the folks supporting the hierarchy in doing the hierarchy’s work, the hierarchy needs to be supporting the folks in doing the folks’ work. I mean the actual folks in the pews, not a few select folks of a particular political persuasion.

I think until we get that, denominations will continue to make pronouncement after pronouncement, pass resolution after resolution, with fewer and fewer people listening or even caring.


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