Being a denominational executive at any level has never been an easy job and it certainly has not improved in the early decades of the 21st century. In addition to dealing with financial and social issues, individual congregations even in denominations with a hierarchical polity are exerting their individuality.
Because of this, one wonders why a competent denominational leader would attempt to identify priorities for churches for the next ten years. In a recent article in a denominational publication, a well meaning state Baptist leader outlined goals for “bringing people to salvation,” “revitalizing churches,” and “planting new churches” among other things. These would seem to be things that churches do rather than denominations.
On a personal level, I cannot motivate another person to do something unless he or she wants to. In like manner, a church will only become “revitalized” or “bring people to salvation” if its members choose that path.
In the old mechanized, bureaucratic approach of the 20th century, denominations—even those with congregational polity-- set standards and challenged their individual congregations to meet them and many attempted to do so either out of denominational loyalty or a desire for more efficient ministry. This often worked well and when it didn’t, denominations just plowed ahead anyway, churning out new curriculum and programs for the churches.
In the 21st century, more congregations are aware of their unique calling from God to be part of the mission Dei—God’s mission. They realize that the Spirit of God can work in their midst calling forth their giftedness, and they recognize their role in reaching out to their communities and the world.
This is a bottom up rather than a top down approach. This is the world in which we live. Denominations that thrive in the 21st century will be those who support rather then dictate, empower rather than regulate, and serve rather than direct. But not everyone understands this yet.