Is centralized control the enemy of missionality?

Ministry can prove phenomenally difficult to control.

I've spent part of the day today scripting some of our strategic moves for next year. But "the wind blows wherever it pleases" and so does "everyone born of the Spirit." Ministry is unpredictable. People grow and change at variable rates. Ministry can prove phenomenally difficult to control.

I'm still reading The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter. In the current chapter, he observes this control-struggle spinning around the Celtic/Irish missional church.

Remember, we're pre-Reformation here. All of the church looks to Rome for guidance, leadership and counsel. And Rome controls.

The Roman Way is seen as the Right Way. Buildings should be of roman design. Music should be in the roman style. Even (and yes, even back then) hair should be cut in the roman fashion.

This was seen as a preventative against heresy and drift. If we standardize everything (even the things that we know probably aren't that important), we'll protect the Core. The Core is what is really important, what we cling to and hope to pass along. Standardize to protect.

That philosophy is true as long as the Core is actually protected by the standardization. But what if standardization threatens the Core? What if doing ministry the Roman Way stifles what's most important to us? What if control kills the ministry? What if control stifles missionality?

I think Paul must have really struggled with this. The more I read his epistles, the more I see this tension in him: on the one hand, I think he wanted to focus on the Core (to preach Christ crucified and to pass along as of first importance what he himself received: Christ died, was buried, was raised and appeared and all this according to Scripture and to free us from sin) and on the other, I see him getting pulled into the minute dealings of church life (precise theological spats, church discipline, structure and practice).

I feel this tension so deeply in my own ministry. We've been given a part to play in God's huge story and we testify to this, but someone has to deliver the Care Packages and fundraise and buy the ice cream and set leadership guidelines and equip leaders and deal with all the mess of ministry. I love both hands of this tension.

But I struggle with an overdeveloped and overfed desire for control.

According to Hunter, this struggle has been echoed and repeated throughout the life and history of God's church: "The Protestant Reformation left the Control-from-Rome paradigm essentially unchallenged. For Protestants, the locus of control merely shifted from Rome to Wittenberg or Geneva or Canterbury, and then to New York or Chicago or Nashville" (p. 45). I know this flies in the face of the Solas, but I think he might be on to something (in his observations of our practice).

Centralized control can provide stability and protection. But it moves the initiative away from the front lines, from the people who actually know the cultures that are currently being reached out to. And, in doing so, centralized control makes risk more difficult, change more infrequent and missionality much more rare. Our missionality comes from our connection to our missional God. And he refuses to submit to our contol.

What would it look like to develop truly indigenous ministries?
What would it look like to ride the tension between grandeur and minutiae?

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