"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins." -- Mark 2:22 What is this book about? First of all, it is about the need for initiating and responsible leadership.
In a recent book review Warren Bennis declared that "Around the globe, humanity currently faces three extraordinary threats: the threat of annihilation as a result of nuclear accident or war, the threat of a worldwide plague or ecological catastrophe, and a deepening leadership crisis in most of our institutions."
Among the institutions threatened by this leadership crisis is the Christian church in North America.
Second, it is about the normal, natural, and predictable tendency for aging institutions to become self-centered, obsolete, and irrelevant to the needs and expectations of new generations. In other words, this book is about the need for new wineskins to carry the gospel into the new millennium to new generations of American-born residents and to recent immigrants.
Third, it is about living with the consequences of earlier decisions. Nineteenth-century Protestantism was marked by dozens of schisms and splits as dissidents left to create new denominations. From 1917 through 1988 the twentieth century was marked by a series of denominational reunions and mergers.
One example was the creation of the United Church of Canada in 1925. South of the border life was more complicated and produced a series of mergers. Lutherans can look back to 1917, 1918, 1930, 1960, 1962, 1963, and 1987 as significant merger dates. The United Methodist Church is a product of mergers and reunions dated 1922, 1939, 1946, and 1968. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a product of the mergers and reunions of 1906, 1920, 1958, and 1983. The United Church of Christ is a product of mergers of 1931, 1934, and 1957. The Wesleyan Church is the product of a 1968 merger. The Evangelical Methodist Church is the product of mergers in 1960 and 1962. It would be easy to list another two dozen denominational mergers of the twentieth century.
This book is about the stresses and strains created when efforts are made to blend several different strands of culture, polity, doctrine, and practices into one new religious tradition called a denomination.
This book is about a concept detested by many in the ecumenical movement. One thread in this narrative is based on the conviction that the competition among the churches for new members is at an all-time high. Competition does produce "winners and losers in our religious economy," to quote the subtitle of a provocative interpretation of American church history. Competition also can provide useful lessons for those who are open to learning from the competitors.
This book also is about a widely discussed quality in American culture called "trust." Should denominational structures for the twenty-first century be built on a foundation of trust? Or of distrust?
This book also is about the earthquakes that are flattening hierarchical structures all across our society.
This book is about money. What will be the sources for financing denominational systems in the new millennium?
This book is about the consequences of death. One consequence of death is that most of today's church members and leaders will be dead before the end of the first century of the new millennium. What are the most effective ways to reach younger generations and recent immigrants with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Most of all, however, this book is about creating denominational systems that will be supportive of the life, ministry, and outreach of worshiping communities, both existing and those yet to be founded.
This book was written with the conviction that the old ways of doing church will not be adequate for ministry in the new millennium. The first chapter discusses a few of the consequences and victims of the earthquakes that have been shaking denominational and congregational foundations.
One victim could be the traditional denominational systems. The second chapter begins by describing a few of the consequences of this earthquake for congregations and goes on to suggest why congregational leaders should be concerned about the health, vitality, and future of their denominational system. In other words, this book is written by a denominationalist who is convinced regional and national denominational structures are legitimate orders of God's creation.
The third chapter elaborates on the conviction that we can learn from how competitors do church, and several of those lessons are described.
The future of your denominational system will be shaped by several fork-in-the-road decisions that are being made now and will be implemented in the years ahead. Ten of these fork-in-the-road choices are identified in the fourth chapter.
Those designing ministries and structures for the future need to pause once in a while and ask, "What's it all about?" A brief fifth chapter responds to that question from this observer's perspective.
Should the denominational structure determine the strategies that will be designed to reach younger generations and new immigrants? Or should the strategies be a product of the structure? The sixth chapter describes a dozen widely used strategies.
No good deed goes unpunished and every dream has a price tag on it. The seventh chapter reviews a few of the trade-offs that go with the dream of creating multigenerational, multicultural, and theological inclusive denominations.
How do you get there from here? That requires (1)a definition of "there," (2)agreement on where "here" is, and (3)the choice of the path that runs from here to there. The eighth chapter offers a case study in the use of trends to describe a piece of contemporary reality in one denomination. The tables in the appendix are included for those who want to collect comparable data for their denomination.
This observer has long been convinced that a key to shaping the future is asking the right questions. The ninth chapter offers two dozen questions that may be of value for the task force charged with redesigning your denominational system.
Finally, a useful congregational planning model is to identify five to fifteen different scenarios for the future. This can stimulate members' creativity as they plan for the future. Instead of asking the blank sheet of paper question, "What do you believe God is asking of this congregation in the years ahead?" this approach asks, "Which of these scenarios for the future do you believe is most consistent with what you believe God is calling this congregation to be and to be doing?" An adaptation of that model is the theme of the last chapter. What can be done to jump-start a denomination that currently is immobilized by a dysfunctional system? Seven alternative scenarios constitute the case study that closes this book.
Every author is indebted to many other people for what goes into, or is left out of, a book. That is especially true with this book. Three-fourths of the first two drafts has been deleted. An incomplete list includes Bob Buford, John P. Casey, Carol Childress, Ruth Cleghorn, James H. Conner, B. Carlisle Driggers, Peter Drucker, Maxie Dunnam, Scott Field, Thomas Handy, James A. Harnish, Daniel A. Nielson, Barbara Oden, a computer named "Ornery," Agnes P. Schaller, Norman Shawchuck, W. Fred Smith, Glen J. Stewart, Jack Stubbs, J. V. Thomas, Dave Travis, William H. Willimon, and Charles Yrigoyen, Jr.
The only additional favor I ask of them is that they be forgiving of errors of fact and interpretation.
Copyright © 1996 by Abingdon Press