Denominational Renewal in the 21st Century
Denominational renewal seems to be a point of great pain, stalling and infighting in the Christian world right now. I am saddened by the sight of good, godly men, who find themselves lost in the quagmire of organisational disagreement, having to waste valuable energy on difficult organisational renewal. This has led me to think about denominations (or “movements”), apostles, the Kingdom, prophecy and the future a lot lately – and at least a blog’s worth of thought has bubbled up, though I am no specialist on this subject. My thoughts here are from my own perspective of denominations birthed by pioneers like the Wesleys, the Jeffreys brothers, William Booth and their more contemporary equivalents, rather than Anglicanism or our Baptist friends.
Here’s my thoughts, I think there may be a little of heaven in here somewhere:
Can I first establish a foundational principle: In Genesis 1:24 God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds…each according to its kind.” If a thing is healthy, it will give birth to “its own kind”. Even God has children “in His own image”. Many of them. Living things give birth to multiple things that are just like themselves.
Principle: Movements Should birth new Movements
While we know leaders do birth leaders, and churches birth church plants, I have rarely seen historic denominations birth multiple new apostolic movements healthily. While we all know leadership and churches thrive by birthing “children” that will outlive them, historic denominations may take a different and more deathly tack – they seem to eventually fall into an unnatural, non-kingdom mind-set, living mainly to “grow, preserve and protect” what has been built.
Denominations aren’t supposed to just birth churches. If they are healthy, they will also birth new apostolic movements. And I believe we are living in such a day, when self-preserving denominations are becoming a thing of the past. Apostolic families and tribes that are deeply relational, highly fluid, very Kingdom minded and small enough to be truly relational, are the future.
How Movements are Birthed
The kind of denominations I am referring to in this article are often birthed by huge pioneering figures, bringing in new practices, innovations and ideas (Think of the Wesleys and Methodism, the Jeffreys brothers and Pentecostalism or William Booth and the Salvation Army). The original “first generation phase” is often the most exciting, and many who join the movement feel deeply connected and loyal to the person or team who are the apostolic pioneers.
I believe it is in moving to the 2nd and 3rd generation after the original founders, is where denominations have historically struggled and subtly floundered into error. Here’s why I think that might be:
Most often, pioneers that start with nothing, eventually find themselves with staff, buildings, budgets, thousands relating to the organisation and great influence. As the founders age, a hankering for stability, and to simply “preserve what has been built” begins to subtly take over, in part because the pioneer has now run their race, fought their fight, they might be a little tired. The influencers around the original leader may now feel the need to guard what has been built. (Excuse my generalizations here!)
It is at this point most denominations find a pair of “safe hands” for succession, instead of discovering the next generation of wild, dangerous apostolic pioneers, who could lead on to further and even greater “glories”! Kind leaders, pastors, administrators and managers usually take the lead in the “second generation season” and beyond, and here-in is the mistake: The very apostolic, pioneering, wild-eyed drive that birthed the movement in the first place begins to disappear,simply because most will think them too dangerous, too unstable. Left to a vote, most will vote themselves into a stable, “responsible” easy life, not the wild life of following new pioneering figures into uncharted territory! There is now too much to lose!
But when the Church loses her apostolic drive, she starts to lose impact. Perhaps, even to die a little.
Decline is classic!
The classic “bell shape line” of rising under the drive of a pioneer, followed by a decline under managers is all too common in all historic organisations – without true renewal, and apostolic ministry, atrophy sets in.
And so the denomination begins to die from the lack of true apostolic drive. It begins to preserve itself, argue over constitutions, and protectionism takes over from kingdom advancement. The church that was made to be “built on the foundation of apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20), instead relaxes into the hands of pastors, teachers, administrators and organizers. While we need managers, pastors, administrators, and they are godly and right, when they become the sole senior leaders, rather than taking supporting leadership roles, most movements slowly stall in their hands. Few ever become bold enough to re-vote dangerous pioneers back to their helm. (Biblically, should we vote? Or should apostolic leaders appoint apostolic leaders? Mmmmm)
True “Fathers”, long to be outshone by their kids
So denominations should not simply birth churches. If they are of God, then they should also birth mini versions of themselves – new movements. Apostolic movements, should birth apostolic movements. Apostles should birth multiple young apostles, who all lead families, tribes, movements themselves.
This divine “parenting” is utterly selfless (like all true parenting!), as we are allowing all we have built until now, to be potentially overshadowed by the brightness of our own “children”! But isn’t that what parenthood is about? If apostolic movements and denominations are truly divine, they will long to be outshone by “the next generations” that they birth – the complete opposite of denominational protectionism and self preservation.
Instead of making new generations preserve the original denomination, the Kingdom principles of giving, going, release, increase and multiplication means they should be released to take new ground, gather new people, influence new spheres, supported and cheered on by the original founding movement! Could we ever get this selfless?!
Some are already doing this
*I was recently with one part of a British denomination who, at the desire of the original founder to prepare for succession, chose not to find a single successor. Instead they chose to release a number of younger apostles who had been raised up by the original apostle. The denomination moved from a single movement, to about 8 apostolic families, or tribes, almost a decade ago. Since that time, the churches connected and birthed by these apostolic families have moved from the hundreds into the thousands, with great growing influence and many lives transformed! Ten years on, the apostolic families have now gone from 8 to 20! A radical readjustment from “single denomination” to multiple new apostolic movements, has required immense bravery, but it sounds like God’s ever expanding, ever birthing, ever multiplying and moving, utterly selfless, glory to glory Kingdom to me! How about you?
The denomination no longer meet “all as one” for annual conferences, but each apostolic family has its own leadership development, conferences, events and gatherings, each bringing their own flavour, emphasis and style. They have now truly birthed 20 movements, from one. As far as I can see, only the 20 lead apostles meet annually.
The result has been exponential growth and influence. Fluidity, health, excitement, local ownership, and the ability for different church leaders wanting support, to relate to the different apostles they resonate with. It is more than an organisation. Instead true, relevant, apostolic friendships are forming and allowed. This is very hard to do in a classic, large, historic denomination – but becomes natural when multiple apostolic families are formed, and church leaders have the freedom to relate to whoever they feel an affinity with.
We are entering a new apostolic era. One that will result in a new maturity in the Body of Christ (Eph 4:11-13) and the fullness of God in the Church. True, functional apostolic relationships are vital to this happening. May God give our leaders wisdom, strategy, boldness and innovation in these coming days – because I believe God is doing something new, better, fresh.
May we be found in His slipstream, bravely running into the future, that God’s glory would cover the earth!
*This illustration is anecdotal, and the figures won’t be exact, but comes from my casual conversations with leaders in this denomination, rather than hard statistical analysis. The descriptive language is also my own, not their terminology.