Why denominationalism ain’t cutting it (anymore).

By Christopher Breen, MDiv.

Raise your hand if you’ve read an article that scapegoats millennials for the demise of Christian churches and/or denominations.

Okay, so I can’t actually see your hands — but I’m pretty sure a large percentage of you have their hands in the air.

I grew up attached to the Holy Roman Catholic Church, was baptized as an infant and grew up with a family that was at the very least, Catholic by upbringing. As I grew up and went off to college I discovered a longing for the church, and for God. I landed at a congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ, and fell in love.

I was in a space where I felt the embrace of a Christian community, and allowed it to form and shape me in new and fascinating ways. It was during my time in the UCC that I came to terms with my Call to Ministry.

When I landed for the first time in Denver and made my way to the Iliff School of Theology, where I would work my way towards my MDiv, I was down-right terrified.

Little did I know, I should have been afraid for an altogether different reason.

I’ve read a lot about our church’s history — we’ve done a lot since Jesus left us. Some of it good, some of it horrible, and lots of it just catering to our basic human needs. The last part is what I want to focus on today however.

In theory the idea of a denominational structure makes sense. It satisfies our primal need to commit order to chaos and exercise control over our surroundings (even if that control is a fantasy).

For hundreds of years that structure has served us well. Churches became gathering places for communities, and entire generations forged their faith traditions around the human-construct of denominations.

However times have changed. We have computers, and the internet, and iPhones now. The secular world has moved on, and moved quickly.

Everything from groceries, to paper-clips are just a tap, swipe, and touch away. And yet, our denominational communities are complaining that no one is playing by the ancient rules.

Pew Research Center — Generational Cohort http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/generational-cohort/

The old ways of doing church are fading away — and that is not a bad thing. Churches and communities that need that format, that need denominational presence will continue to have it, until The Spirit moves and delivers the new church to them as well.

Denominations, old church walls, and being restricted to Sunday morning are all fading away — and that is not a bad thing.

Our ways of Worship are changing, we’re exploring new and exciting ways of being connected as a Christian community — and that is not a bad thing.

We must remember that The Holy Spirit moves within each of us, individually, collectively, slowly and sometimes quickly. We are members of The Church which is not that building on the corner, but a community of faith bound together by Jesus and blessed by God Herself.

What has worked to get us here, won’t get us there. And perhaps it is not the unfaithfulness, or sinfulness, or “none-ness” of this new generation of people that drives them away from traditional denominational expressions of the church. Perhaps rather, it is a willingness to listen to The Spirit and to bring us closer to The Kingdom through action — not with formalities, traditions, or tribal behavior.

My fear now is not about how the church will survive in this new generation, for I learned quickly in seminary that there are many still Called by God to serve the church.

My fear now is how long it will take us to embrace The Spirit moving within us. My fear is that we will cling to the human invention of denominations, buildings, budgets, and tradition and miss the opportunity Christ has placed before us.

My fear is that Jesus may come over for dinner, and we may critique the way He does church. My fear is that in that moment, He will answer our thoughts and say, “I have something to say to you”.

My prayer is that we are not the Pharisee in this moment, but are Mary.

(Luke 7:36–50)

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