November 7, 2016

Innovators and Mainline Traditions

I'm a networker. I enjoy connecting with folks with interesting ideas--no matter their background.

Because of this, I get to meet entrepenurial Christians leaders from a variety of traditions. Most outside of the Episcopal Church. Often, these are non-denominational leaders and there is always that point where I am awkwardly asked,

"Why would you want to be a part of a mainline tradition?"

It's true. From an innovator's perspective a mainline denomination moves at a painfully slow pace. It seems unable to be reflexive. The pace for change seems impossible to the person adapting and changing on a near daily basis. And then there's the cultural aloofness among many mainline folks. It's true. We're a socially awkward tribe with a creepy obsession with all things British.

All of that aside, for me there were 3 reasons that were strong enough desires to move me towards a tradition rather than away: relational, organizational and theological.

Here's the thing: Ministry start-up is lonely work. You need a tribe to call home, to hold you accountable, to keep the faith when you lose it, to pray for you. I needed a tribe because I needed a family. I needed to be reminded that I wasn't crazy.

There will be times that the nuances of a new faith community will lose it's charm on some people. As some people of faith develop, they will long for programs you can't offer. It's a plus to have sister congregations that share your convictions and traditions that you can send people to.

Additionally, church planters and ministry innovators do not tend to be strong administrators. They are starters. Not sustainers. Yet, starting a new community requires organizational and administrative skills that are often outside of the entrepreneur's skill set. Denominations tend to have folks with these skill sets. And, often, there are organizational steps that are eliminated simply by being a part of an established tradition. Therefore, it allows the innovator to do what they do best while the denominational office does the same.

Lastly, for me, it is for theological reasons. I longed to be part of a tradition that stood for certain things. I wanted to be able to say that, as a Christian there were things we organized our common life around. That these weren't constructed on our own but were representative of a broader Christian family and throughout generations.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with nondenominational "traditions." Many of the churches that I most admire would fall into this category. But these were my reasons for moving towards an ancient tribe called a mainline tradition.