Should I Stay or Go? Panel on the Problems Facing Mainline Denominations Today
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
September 27th, 2012
Five prominent leaders at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary gathered to discuss the problems facing mainline denominations in America today. In particular they joined together to share a bit of their own journey and their decision to either stay or go in their mainline denomination. The room was filled wall to wall with people eager to hear leaders they admire speak on such a pressing subject. Each leader spoke for about 10 minutes on their own situation facing the dilemma, “should I stay or go?” I share with you their wisdom on the topic. (disclaimer: my intention is not to misquote, and if I did please hold that against me and not the panel members).
The Panel Entertained Questions and Answered them:
What is the future of denominationalism?
Huffman: Denominations, sociologically, are on a major decline. But this doesn’t mean there won’t be denominations or places where God will be at work. Independent churches by their very nature however have a lack of accountability.
Singleton: Associations (such as The Gospel Coalition) are as important and essential as denominations once were. In the West, independent churches outnumber denominational churches. Denominations have the blessing of procedure when things blow up, independents have to figure this out without help. It can be brutal in an independent church.
What are the criteria for deciding which denomination to join, what factors?
Gibson: It has everything to do with ecclesiology. One of the issues in evangelicalism is a weak ecclesiology. Independent circles are often where ecclesiology is the weakest. The issue for us as seminarians is doing a good job of discerning where God is calling us by talking to fellow students and professors.
Davis: Some theological issues that help you clarify your denominational distinctives: reformed or arminian, infant baptism or believer baptism, what is the role of women in ordained ministry, how does the Holy Spirit manifest in worship and the church today. You have to know yourself, both temperamentally and theologically. Need is important too, small denominations might not have opportunities to be employed, versus a larger denomination. Needs should not be downplayed.
Borgman: We need to look at the 5 functions of the church: 1) teaching the world, 2) evangelism, 3) fellowship, 4) diaconate, service, 5) breaking of the bread. These are theological distinctives that would help you figure out which denomination fits you. Some churches hold some of these as more central and others hold others as central. What has God called you to be and hold as central to your call as a minister.
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