|RE: A look at the (no longer new) Form of Government|
|Written by Little Rock and Clarksville, AR|
|Tuesday, 26 June 2012 09:25|
I read with interest Ed Koster's article about the nFOG (cFOG as he calls it). While Ed's comments would be well taken a few years down the road, I fear that he has gotten ahead of the church in his critique. To criticize the movement of the church into this new governmental philosophy as too slow after just 11 months is unreasonable and dangerous. There has not been sufficient time for councils to absorb what these changes might mean. And there has certainly not been enough time for generations of regulatory thinking to be supplanted by a new vocabulary for church governance. To criticize the church for not making more progress in 11 months under this change is like criticizing a child learning to read for not moving from Green Eggs and Ham directly into Proust!
Consider just the new requirements on congregations. These policy and practical issues are not any fun to deal with, but we must do them now to prevent having to waste time fixing things down the road. Changing the way we do church will also require that we change the way we think about church. That is far easier said than done. The old patterns and perspectives had generations to get entrenched in the church. Many of us have never known a church council structure that was not administrative and regulatory.
Another point raised in the article is the use/misuse of the term "missional" to describe the church. That this term is overused and often misused is a point well taken. In truth it has become used to a degree that it feels as though the word itself no longer has meaning. I think, in his critique, that Rev. Koster misses part of the point for using the term regarding a new vision for congregations. He is correct that there are misunderstandings about the power and authority presbyteries ever had. However, what Rev. Koster fails to acknowledge is that the idea of missional, as a way of understanding church polity, has less to do with the specific duties and actions of councils and far more to do with understanding the broad vision of the church.
In the regulatory church, structure was a first principle. This meant that the congregation was the most basic form of the church in the world because it was the most basic formal structure in the denomination. Non-congregational groups may exist in "partnership" but they were not part of the formal understanding of what makes "church." In the missional church, community is a first principle. The relationship between councils and church bodies is no longer fixed on the four tiered congregation-presbytery-synod-GA model. Instead, the church is the gathering of many varied forms of communities. (Consider the 1001 new worshiping communities initiative- notice it is not 1001 new CONGREGATIONS). Nontraditional and emerging communities along with formal councils and congregations form those communities and inform our understanding of relationship as living in community rather than regulating structures.
Will the nFOG cause congregations or presbyteries or anyone to be more missional? No. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. What the nFOG does is shift our polity away from a futile attempt to harness and direct the work of God through familiar and comfortable channels. Instead, the work of the church becomes our faithful response to the direction of the Spirit in whatever form it may take.
Rev. Koster is correct that we need to embrace a change of "attitudes, expectations and heart." Perhaps, though, we need to have a bit more pastoral patience for one another and give such a monumental change in church culture a bit more time to work its way into our ecclesiastical vocabulary.
Little Rock and Clarksville, AR