For decades we have known that persons who smoke multiple packs of cigarettes per day are slowly committing suicide. Many of these people did not want to commit suicide. Some claim they did not know they were committing suicide.
At some point in their life they started smoking because it was cool, to deal with stress, in response to peer pressure, as a rebellion against their parents, because cigarettes were denied to them, or because cigarettes were available to them.
Later they became hooked and even if they wanted to quit many could not or were in denial. Even when they began showing signs of illness they could not stop. Even when they were told they were committing suicide they could not stop. Even when they were hospitalized due to their illness and had surgery to remove diseased parts of their body they could not stop. Even when constantly on oxygen some could not quit.
In What Ways Is This Like Your Denomination?
Many denominations are slowly committing suicide. Suicide is not an intentional destination. It is, however, the unintended consequence of their collective actions over multiple years.
Denominational movements reach a point that they institutionalize. They do this because it is fashionable, to create organizations that will guarantee their survival, in response to requests from parts of the constituency that they provide more programs and management, to complete their rebellion against other Christian groups they do not want to emulate, because focusing on institutional things keep them busy and gains them greater status and notoriety, and because the opportunity was available to them.
Eventually they become hooked and even if they wanted to quit, many cannot or are in denial they are killing themselves. Here are seven ways their suicide is becoming increasingly inevitable. These are not the only ways, but they are effective ways of committing suicide.
First, they lose their first love which is congregations. They focus time, energy, and resources on social and political issues as well as supporting auxiliary institutions rather than congregations. They focus their efforts directly rather than in ways that cooperate with congregations. Rather than building up congregations who can impact issues and institutions, they strive to build up their own role in impacting issues and institutions.
Second, they fail to create and sustain a congregational multiplication movement that launches a number of new congregations each year equal to three percent of the number of congregations they have at the beginning of each new year. The three percent figure is minimal to sustain the denomination when a certain percentage of congregations are dying each year, and a majority of existing congregations are plateaued and declining.
Third, culturally, if not officially, denominations formalize education requirements. All ministers are expected to have a master’s degree from a seminary or divinity school and true leaders are expected to have some type of doctoral degree. This empowers the upward socioeconomic mobility of the denomination and leaves behind masses of demographics who need to be engaged missionally.
Fourth, officially they formalize and perhaps centralize the ordination of ministers. At least it is no longer a local congregational issue—if it ever was. Attempts are made to create and sustain a higher quality of clergy through the ordination process. Too often the excellence in character and competency sought for is a target missed.
Fifth, understanding and hearing the voice of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is misplaced. When denominations believe the voice of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is greater in denominational headquarters than it is at the grassroots, they lessen the power and impact of the Triune God throughout their movement.
Sixth, when denominational headquarters does not understand the difference between a strategic framework and a strategy it may be committing suicide. A strategic framework is what is needed at denominational headquarters, and even in many middle judicatories. Specific contextual strategies are what emerge at the grassroots through individual congregations and networks of congregations.
Seventh, when denominations regularly restructure, their focus is usually on rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. The primary outcome of denominational restructuring is often setting that denomination up to restructure again within five years. Even when there are attempts at broad-based ownership among congregational leaders for restructuring efforts the focus is still on managing the past rather than leading into the future.
It is suicide. It is slow. It is sure. Many denominations seem unable to stop themselves and it is devastating.