Recently I had a conversation with a friend who held credentials in a large denomination for several years. After confessing to his denominational officials that he viewed pornography online, his credentials were suspended, and he was placed in a program of restoration for several years.
At a gathering of ministers in his denomination, my friend stood up and confessed his failure to his colleagues. After returning home, he received calls from friends in ministry who also viewed pornography online, but were terrified to confess their failure to denominational officials for fear of losing their livelihoods.
The incident reveals the challenge denominations face in providing authentic accountability to their entire constituencies. (One official actually warned my friend not to tell him if he fell again—but to confess his sins to someone who would not be obligated to report his failure to the denomination.)
While denominations are composed of people who hold the best of intentions and the highest of ideals, the entropic effects of institutionalism are unavoidable. History is littered with institutions that lost sight of their reason for existence and embraced the goal of self-preservation instead. In the process, they neglected the very people they intended to serve.
Some who have left denominations have done so out of rebellion, bent on escaping the oversight of what they perceive as narrow-minded institutions. But others have departed in search of deeper accountability—not independence. These reluctant pilgrims should be encouraged, not criticized.
As Ron Carpenter says in this issue's cover story, "My generation will not be loyal to a denomination, but they will die for a man." This passion is not birthed in rosy idealism, but in the realization that effective ministry cannot be accomplished unless we relinquish individualism and commit to God and one another with a loyalty that transcends institutional structure.
Ironically, this commitment to relationship is not a revolutionary concept. In fact, it's what gave birth to every denomination that has stood the test of time.
Thankfully, it would appear that a new wind is blowing through denominational structures, and leaders are rediscovering the importance of spiritual parenting, relational leadership and flexibility in the face of changing times—further evidence that God is very much at work in His church.