© 2010 John Casimir O'Keefe

Mainline Church Renewal – or a Shell Game?

There is a movement afoot, while good in intentions, is destine to have more problems over the next few years.  What movement is that?  It is the movement called, “Answering the Call: New Life in the Mainline Church.”  Now, before I go too deep into this I need to share that one of the leaders in this movement is a friend, Bob Thompson.  Bob is the senior pastor at Corinth United Church of Christ in Hickory North Carolina.  I have known Bob for a few years and got to know him when I planted a church in Hickory.  Bob is a great guy, with a great heart for Christ and the church – but I am not sure this movement will go very far – and let me share why.

While there are some who desire to see this movement take root, the denominations themselves are not backing the push to bring people into the denominations from “outside traditions.”    Over the past few years I have been feeling the call to return to pastoral ministry and to bring my experiences to a mainline church.  What I have found is that while some talk a good game, their actions do not meet their words.

Recently I was in conversation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America about moving over to their denomination.  I had a great conversation with one of the Bishops and soon found myself hitting the bureaucracy of a very industrial church.  What I found out was amazing –

  • First, I needed to pay $1,000 to start the process and have a “Psych” interview.
  • Second, I needed to fill in more forms than I did for my taxes
  • Third, I needed to go through a series of interviews with different committees so they could determine what I needed to take to be a “good Lutheran.”  Seeing that my MDiv is from Drew and my DMin is coming from George Fox, there is a great many classes I would have to take to be “acceptable.”
  • Forth, I needed to be added to the “call roster” and see if any place would pick me up.  The funny thing is, I have been approved to plant and rejuvenate churches with the ELCA but I can’t serve in the church until I go through moving my Ordination over.
  • Fifth, I needed to go through all this (which could take up to a year or more) without any assurances that I would be “allowed” to pastor a church in the tradition.
  • Sixth, I would need to join a local ELCA church and become an active member – when I explained that my joining one of their churches would automatically cause my current denomination to cancel my ordination – making the process of “moving my ordination over” impossible.  It was explained that that was the process.  That move would cause me to have to go through a very different and longer process.

Before I imply that this is just something the Lutherans do, let me assure you it is not only them, they are just the ones I have had the most recent contact with.  Over the years I have had conversations with the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, The United Methodist Church and other denominations and all of them, without exception, make the process of moving to their denomination almost impossible for those who were not “raised” in their traditions.  Their rules, and bureaucracy, strangle any drive any person has concerning moving to their traditions.  Keep in mind; I am moving my ordination from one denomination to a mainline denomination.  Imagine what the process would be for a person coming from a tradition that does not have formal ordinations – like all non-denominational churches.

While the movement seems like a great idea, it has very little teeth unless it involves action (conversations and committees are well past the point of value) to actually make it easier for people to connect.  The movement will be holding a conference in Chicago in August 2010 and it desires to bring together “college and seminary students, pastors serving in or interested in mainline ministry, laity interested in mainline renewal” to talk about the possibilities.  Here is what I believe has to take place before any conference.

The mainline church needs to understand they are in trouble, and they need new blood to rejuvenate their dying churches.  They need to make the process easier and more welcoming.  With a graying clergy, they need new people and right brained conceptual people are not very willing to go through their left brain process.  But there is a problem built into their respective systems.  To change, and reach out, will take them a very long time – years – to form committees and restructure how they welcome new “outside” their tradition people.

So, while change is possible, it needs to have an honest and open process to see that change take place.  My prayer is that mainline denominational leaders – who can do something about it – see the need and take action.


  1. Posted 2010/05/20 at 2:53 pm | #

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  5. Posted 2010/05/31 at 3:18 pm | #

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  6. Posted 2010/06/01 at 4:18 am | #

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