Why Denominations Matter

Ed Stetzer is in the middle of a blog series on Cooperation.  His third blog in the series makes the case for why denominations matter.

What do denominations have to do to stay effective and viable?! According to Stetzer, a denomination must (in a nutshell):

  1. Focus on Scriptural Fidelity and Mission.
  2. Stay out of the headlines for the wrong things.
  3. Develop meaningful partnership with churches, networks, and parachurch organizations.
  4. Catch a vision for local churches and their apostolic ministries.

What say you?!

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20 Responses

  1. If you look at the first blog in the series on why cooperation matters, he states for training, support, accountability, and funding..

    I just finished reading his book Planting Missional Churches… Awesome read…

    When I tried to find out what the COG is offering in the above four areas, I found it lacking majorly.. At least in the area of church planting..

    I’m in the process of going through ELI, The Emerging Leadership Initiative… Just got word yesterday that so far, it’s a green light… So I’m really excited…

    For church planting, they provide training, support, accountability, and funding..

    While they are not a denomination, but a church planting network, it seems as if they provide the four areas you highlighted as well.

    The COG could adapt in a way that supports the initiatives that Stetzer mentions… ELI is doing it with only 5% coming from its partner churches.. Of that 5%, only 10% goes to overhead.. The rest of the 5% goes into church planting. Once a partnership covenant is agreed upon, planters get a minimum of $20-50K up to a max of $200k over 3 years..

    They do monthly webcast trainings. You can either intern at one of their churches and that church will mother your plant.. Or you can do their cultivate model if you are a little further along on the journey..

    Anyways, I’m getting off track. I don’t want to hijack the conversation! For more info on ELI, go to http://www.elichurchplanting.com

    There is no reason that the COG couldn’t do something similar.. Especially with the cuts and hopefully a refocus on mission, the COG has the potential to grow like crazy….. But the $175,000 that Orville Hagan raised at GA for 5-23 church planters isn’t going to cut it…

    For existing churches, they could still adapt a similar model that would help with replants and revitalizing churches… I’d like to see COG pastors and churches who are in maintenance mode go through some assessments and get some training to refocus them a bit…

    At the same time, if we were able to financially support some of those existing churches, it might help many of our bi-vocational pastors to foucs on the ministry a little more..

    I feel like I’m rambling, so I’m gonna stop now! 🙂

  2. Looking at those four points….and asking if I agree, and then if the COG is meeting those points…..

    1 – Focus on Scriptural Fidelity and Mission – From a denominational standpoint, I agree this is very important. I do believe that a denominational must have a scriptural platform and that with those basic beliefs, everyone should agree on them and have them in common. Also I believe that beyond each member of that denom agreeing together on that scriptural foundation and common belief, there must be a common shared mission for the denom…why are we all here, and why has God allowed us to be called together…other than just because we have some things in common.

    I’m not sure we as a church are doing either. I don’t expect us to have common culture or tradition..so don’t read that into this…but we have some basic tenants of our faith. For example, number 1, the verbal inspiration of the Bible….number 9, that tongues is the initial evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost…and then when you take our Doctrinal and Practical Commitments…..I know of ministers and churches in our denom that don’t agree with the church stand…to me that is not scriptural fidelity. So if we don’t even believe the same, and there’s no effort to maintain that fidelity, why would having a common mission be a priority?

    2 – Stay out of the headlines for the wrong things – I definately agree. As far as the national headlines, as I’m not in Cleveland, you never hear good or bad about our church. As a matter of fact, even here in Middle Tennessee…you can say that you are Church of God, and many don’t know who or what we are, or what we stand for….many have never heard of us…and think we are church of Christ….:-)

    3 – Develop meaningful partnership with churches, networks, and parachurch organizations – I have always believed networking is important, especially in community outreach and missional work. As long as the basic foundational beliefs are shared….why try and do mission works independantly? Why even try to do relief efforts, and disaster ministry separately? There are so many denoms and other organizations that look and believe just like us….why not work together?

    I don’t think we do this too well….look ar out youth camps resources, our disaster relief efforts…..I’m not sure any denom does well in regards to this networking.

    4 – Catch a vision for local churches and their apostolic ministries – Honestly? If it’s not about the local church…then the denom shouldn’t exist. Whether is be the new church, the old church, the struggling or vibrant church…..the whole emphasis of the denom should be the local church.

    Sometimes…even in our great denom, I wonder if it’s maybe a perception that the local church is there for the denom…..instead of the other way around….

    Just my two cents…may not mean much to others….but it’s my input.

    I think the greatest drive for a denom must be unity…..on all levels….and then many other things like trust, common goals, mission mindedness, etc are all taken care of…..and that, is something we are losing in our denom…..I see unity building in certain groups….but our denom is not a united church anymore.

  3. Perhaps another question to consider is; Do denominations still matter at the local level? When was the last time someone decided to join your church because it is CoG?

  4. A couple of months ago, I attended an Engineering Management talk entitled “Recruiting and Retaining the ‘Y’ Generation.” I documented that and some of my thoughts on it at

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/?p=1240

    One thing that was persented that I didn’t mention was that, since Generation Y has been advertised to from the start, they are very brand name conscious (not the first American generation to be that way, I might add.)

    That being the case, since a “brand name” goes with a church such as ours, denominations should be doing great. The fact that we’re not where we need to be is a sign of trouble. And we’re not alone.

    To start with, every denomination–or “movement” if that’s more to your taste–starts out in a certain millieu, socio-economic and ethnic context, or culture. In the first century the biggest challenge of the church was to break out of Judaism, and that was a “make or break” deal. Had that not taken place before the destruction of the Temple, Christianity would have ended almost before it started. But that transition was made.

    That leads to the next problem: cultures are changed and destroyed. If we develop our MO in one culture and that culture is altered or becomes irrelevant, then we either adapt or die. Unfortunately too often we see methodology and theology confused. We do not grasp that what we must be defined by what we know to be true rather than what we feel or how we manifest those feelings. If we are defined by and understand what we know to be true, then it’s easier to transfer what we’re all about in God to other cultures and settings.

    One of the things I’ve always liked about the Church of God is that it has had the feel of an extended family. And I think that’s potentially attractive to people. It’s a God-like quality. It is important that we not allow our institutional issues to get in the way of that. And it’s really important that we develop that in a multi-cultural way.

    Finally, we need to communicate in word and deed that we are not a “all take and no give” proposition. That goes for all levels. Unfortunately its too easy to get into the mode that “it’s for the Lord’s work, so they can make any sacrifice.” I’ve always been overwhelmed by the sacrificial giving and doing I’ve seen in the Church of God during my quarter century in it. Responding to that as a pastor and denominational leader without being exploitative is a key for long-term success. Our Lord demands all of us, but he also gave all of himself. That’s our model, and we’ll have a lot happier church when we adhere to that.

  5. Don Warrington,

    On brand names… You are correct that the Y generation is brand name conscious.

    But Jordache is also a brand name.. Remember when those jeans were cool??? It was the 80’s.. But they still make them.

    These days, people are getting jeans at places like Hollister, Old Navy, Gap, and a plethora of other places that are “cool.”

    Brand name recognition is great as long as it’s the cool brand…

    I just hope that the COG hasn’t become the Jordache of the church world.

  6. James L Alldredge said:
    Perhaps another question to consider is; Do denominations still matter at the local level? When was the last time someone decided to join your church because it is CoG?

    I’ve found that when you start ministering to immigrant groups then it actually matters a lot. We’ve had a lot of doors opened into immigrant communities because we are part of the Church of God and they’ve had positive experiences with the Church in Romania, Brazil, India, Belgium, Congo etc. This has helped us develop a truly multicultural ministry.

    Belonging to the Church of God has really helped us in Ireland, with financial help, and access to programs like CIMS. Now in our missions work in other countries we try, wherever possible, to work with those ministries that are part of COG. Where they are not we encourage them to join.

  7. In Mississippi, I’ve often had problems getting friends to come to church with me because of the name. They either confuse COG with other denominations, or they’ve had a bad experience with one church and expect all COG churches to be the same.

    Of course, this is deep deep in Southern Baptist territory.

    Any thoughts, advice?

  8. Try to be all things to all people that by all means we might win some to Christ. To denominationalist be a denominationalist, to independents be independent, to traditionalists be traditional, to cutting edgers be progressive…etc. Find out what doors are open in the minds of those you interact with in your community and present the gospel in such a way that they can relate.

    If someone has had a bad experience with the CoG then the best you can do is to try to emphasize that you’re church/pastor/worship is different. Of course you actually need to be different for that to work. I have found most people who say they won’t go to a CoG for whatever reason aren’t mad at the church, they’re mad at God. One line I’ve used with some success is that churches aren’t perfect otherwise there would be no place for me.

    NIck – I’m happy to hear of the success of the CoG brand in Ireland (God be praised), in my neck of the woods (how about that southern cultural reference) it is a mixed bag. It is more effective with those who came from the Carribbean than locals or Northern transplants. My experience here has been one where the CoG brand is virtually nonexistent in the community conversation regarding churches. Even culys like JW and LDS have higher name recognition in my area.

  9. Denominations, like the COG, are hurting because of the branding misperceptions. I loved the Jeans reference, but I think we are more like Food Lion. A few years ago a Food Lion butcher was videotaped doing his job in a very unsanitary way. That made it to the news and the company took a hit. The company fired the employ and asked America for forgiveness. Years later, we hardly remember the escapade. One bad employee made a nationwide chain of grocery stories look bad.
    The Modern person likes bold actions, without destruction of the person. It is problem control that seems to be our biggest issue. I think we can all admit that perhaps denominations going through troubles and do nothing more then watch the ocean of hate come crashing on their shores. We seem to hide until we are pushed out in to the public. Proactive seems to be the calling card of a well oiled machine. When Kobe Bryant was going threw his ordeal in Colorado when the first endorsement dropped people began asking why not the others. The others dropped him, but they were criticized for not acting faster.
    Publications and statements are great, but action speaks louder than words. If we have a minister that is in a head position that fails, morally or legally, action and a call for intolerance followed by a plan for quiet reinstatement.
    I think the COG is one of the best run Christian organizations, yet we sometimes are not as proactive as we should be.

  10. “I think the COG is one of the best run Christian organizations, yet we sometimes are not as proactive as we should be.”

    Jon, I would tweak the above to say instead:

    I love the COG family, which has great potential. I believe we have some wonderful people who are devoted to Jesus. But, we are not run well, we have confusing leadership development pipelines, we have taken our eye off of mission, and we are decades behind in organizational effectiveness. We can and must do better. The mission of Jesus necessitates organizational change and missional refocusing.

  11. Travis – your statement was most generous possible while still being honest.

  12. James Aldredge – here in the PNW we have had a large percentage of english speaking churches join the COG for covering purposes. Our AB has been very proactive in this area and has reached out to a large number of independent churches, with several more waiting in the wings. No slick salesmanship, just simple relationship. These churches own assets and have signed over their assets with the proper deeds. That is amazing to me!!! They have been given a year to align finances to begin to pay tithe of tithe and several have passed that year and begun to make TOT payments. They are grateful for the covering. While many in denominations are frustrated with the attachments that are part of the relationship, I am amazed at how grateful others are to join because of the benefits they feel they immediately receive.

    We had an independent church join the COG this last year. They then had to make a pastoral change. If they had been independent, they would have been hard pressed to find a new qualified pastor. We were able to make available several qualified COG ministers, one of which was appointed and now the church is doing great!

  13. Denominations are cooperative communities with some common threads, mostly doctrine, finance, etc.. I remember my father saying when I was a boy that you could go anywhere in the USA and the Church of God was the same! It’s not so anymore. The Church of God is more like a mosaic, many different and diverse parts joined together in a tapestry.

    Denominationalism as our fathers knew it will not work anymore and is a passing relic. Let it go. There is nothing holy or sacred about government within the COG. All things that are of God are fluid, moving, shifting, adjusting and re-creations to fit the moment and a need. The Church of God and other similar organizations are in that transition. Culture demands a different method of ministry organization and we will see a new style of leadership emerging, if we remain a unified group.

    I don’t share Travis’ rewrite of Jon Lowery (who would rewrite Jon anyway?)…the Church of God has problems and issues. We always have. Godly men always come forward to lead and in this season of time men and women from different walks of life both in Cleveland and throughout the world are calling the church back to strong fundamental principles which in time will help the COG be leaner, more effective and missional. I’m confident we will respond.

    Call me out, ridicule the post and let me have it but I still recall the CHurch of God gave me license to preach when I couldn’t…and because I’m a PK, it fed me, clothed me and cared for my family. Like all of you, I want to be part of helping the COG respond to the ministry mandate of this time and season of history.

    Anybody know the 2nd verse to “the church of God is right…”

  14. Bill,

    What would your rewrite be? Or, do you really believe that we are one of the best run Christian organizations that is simply not proactive enough?

  15. “Call me out, ridicule the post and let me have it but I still recall the CHurch of God gave me license to preach when I couldn’t…and because I’m a PK, it fed me, clothed me and cared for my family.”–Bill

    I wouldn’t ridicule you Bill. I have known Y. Z. as a real brother and friend and enjoyed working youth camps with him in ENC before my older son was born there in Goldsboro, NC in 1973. The two of us once threw the ENC EHM Director in the pool at Youth Camp–in his street clothes. Y.Z. is a great guy, a fine COG minister and it is not surprising you have a high opinion of the COG having been parented by him.

    However, I don’t think my experience is unique when I say that the COG didn’t give me as much as, or more than, I gave it. I, too, was a PK (Dad went on Home in 1996), but the COG didn’t provide us anything that wasn’t earned. I don’t think your dad pulled strings for you to get credentialed. I sure hope he didn’t. I was not allowed to get licensed until I had successfully conducted two revivals, a requirement for the most basic level of ministry at that time. Maybe things changed by the time you were credentialed.

    Every COG I pastored, I left it improved financially and hopefully spiritually. God be the Judge. I guess somebody would say that they were better BECAUSE I left, but hopefully that is not a factual representation of the real deal.

    My father and mother fed and clothed me, not the COG. If they had not done their job, does anyone really believe someone from the bureaucracy of the COG would have certainly done so? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    I love the COG and have tried to live the example before my two sons that would inspire them to love it, too. It is indeed gratifying to see them choosing to faithfully give their time, tithes and energies to the furtherance of the Grand and Glorious COG.

  16. “We had an independent church join the COG this last year. They then had to make a pastoral change. If they had been independent, they would have been hard pressed to find a new qualified pastor. We were able to make available several qualified COG ministers, one of which was appointed and now the church is doing great!”

    Steve, that is one of the good aspects of being affiliated with the COG. When people would tell my grandfather that he should take his church and go independent, he would always respond with “What would happen to the church if something happened to me?” Being in the COG, he at least knew that if something happened to him the church would be able to find a pastor with similar beliefs and convictions.

    John, that same grandfather also worked another job to support the family and, when the church was young, support the church. In fact, he never took any salary from the church until a couple of years before he retired.

  17. Denominational positives include things like accountability, shared resources, fellowship and leadership. Negatives would be stereotyping, rigidity, slow to react to cultural shifts, division from the rest of the body of Christ and a bureaucracy that exists to increase and perpetuate itself. (Example A: Those not reelected to the EC at the GA all landed in previously nonexistent positions in Cleveland)

    However you see it the bottom line is that denominations, including ours, aren’t going away. So the question becomes how do we limit the negatives and increase the positives in ours?

    My suggestions would include some of the things that are already in progress like; Tot cut, departmental reductions, redistricting, PCG’s and emphasis on planting. I like where we are going right now much more than I thought I would.

  18. This is an important season for the Church of God. We will learn whether we can align ourselves with the mission in light of what is happening around us. Rigidity is a problem with any large organization as Ronald Reagan found out when trying to realign the Federal Government. The challenge is our work is eternal and not earthly and requires spiritual sensitivity to the task.

    I’m convinced we have men of principle leading our church. Like you I pray for them every day that God will give them the courage to do what is needed. It will not be easy and anyone who thinks it is simply is naive.

    The meetings I have already attended since the ASsembly lead me to believe that while change is slow in coming to the Church of God, there is a serious attempt to respond to the mandate of the General Assembly. That should encourage all of us. Dr. Culpepper has a connection with the general ministry of this church. Given time, he can lead us to realignment.

  19. We will know we have started making progress in realignment toward the mission rather than the machine when local pastors are not ostracized, ignored, ridiculed, and criticized because: 1) they ‘do’ church in a different way; 2) they have left behind a ‘program-based’ plan; 3) they have failed to place ‘Church of God’ on signs and publications; 4) they believe that we are first Christians who have been empowered by the HS, NOT Pentecostals who want to tell others about Jesus; 5) they emphasize the need to ‘make disciples’ of Christ versus just experiencing the gifts; 6) they become more ‘community-minded’ rather than ‘church-minded’… I think this list could go on.

    When we understand that our denomination is not the Kingdom of God but is a tool to use for Kingdom purposes, our outlook might change. The denomination is a vehicle, a safety net, an umbrella, a source of fellowship and friendship. It can assist us in drawing in the net. Again….the denomination exists to assist us in doing the work of Christ in our communities…not the other way around.

  20. I have grown up the in the cog in the northeast. I have enjoyed this denomination l believe it is still a great organization. I have relatives in Assemblies of God, Foursquare and independent. And I can tell you they all have problems too. As long as men are involved everything will not always run right. And I agree with Nick that if you have worked in some multicultural areas you would know it does make a difference to be cog.

    Pray you all have a Happy and prosperous New Year.
    God Bless

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