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A number of people have asked me what my thoughts are about the current ICOC 3.0 discussions taking place among leaders in our family of churches. It perhaps goes without saying that ICOC 1.0 would be a moniker for our earlier days as a movement; 2.0 would have begun after our unsettled days starting in 2003, and 3.0 would describe where we would like to go in the near future. I had an opportunity to participate in one of the earliest discussions of ICOC 3.0 in Dallas when three of the Service Teams met. The sessions were lively, as each began with a presentation and was followed by small group discussions. Evangelists, elders and teachers were mixed in each of the groups, to gain perspectives from those in each role in all groups.

Discussions and Tentative Conclusions

Since those meetings, leaders (staff and non-staff) have been discussing specific questions in each of our geographic families of churches. Roger Lamb of Disciples Today recently posted a second update on the progress of these discussions, which included the following:

The results are pouring in and a clear picture is coming into focus. We have overwhelming agreement on a wide range of topics including:

  • We are, and want to be, a global brotherhood
  • We want to be organized globally
  • We long to see more souls saved by the grace of God
  • We are willing to share our financial resources to meet “brotherhood” needs

This brief segment from the update gives essentially what the topics of discussion include. Bottom line, the specific assigned questions address how people feel about having more of a global organization to accomplish a greater global impact in evangelism. Of course, this organization would also include the sharing of resources to accomplish these goals.

My Thoughts

My thoughts about the matter are pretty simple. How can any organization have a global impact without a global structure and how can you have a global structure without sharing the financial needs in a defined, understood and accepted way? So yes, I am quite in favor of what the majority of other leaders evidently are feeling, based on the update report. This is hardly rocket science, is it? I doubt seriously that any example exists of a global organization of any type making a high impact on a worldwide basis without the components of structure and shared finances. Of course, the organizational aspects have to be developed and implemented to fit the resources available and the goals of the group. That part must become the primary focus of the discussion much sooner than later.

Not All Will Agree

However simple this whole matter seems to me, it is not to others. While those others are evidently in the minority, they should be (and are) a part of the discussions. Unity is not unanimity, but it should include a broad consensus. Disciples, especially younger ones, also ask me why those who have issues with cooperation on a global basis have such issues in the first place. It seems odd to them. Understanding history helps us grasp the reasons behind the reluctance, and I think two aspects of history are most fundamental in explaining this phenomenon.

One, our movement history had for some years a much more organized approach to evangelizing the world. The organizational structure aided in planting churches in over 150 countries. The downside of that organization was in how it functioned. A few people at the “top” made decisions for everyone else, with little inclusion sought or accepted. It was a combination of military and corporate models, the former of which I discussed in chapter 4 of my book, Dynamic Leadership.

But was the problem with the structure itself, or with the implementation of said structure? We seem to have a difficult time ascertaining the difference between something wrong in and of itself, and something good but implemented wrongly. I personally had no issue with the structure of the past, but definitely had issues with how it functioned. Can we not have a global structure while avoiding the mistakes of the past? Surely we can! If we cannot learn from the past and change as a movement, we cannot learn from our past as individuals and repent. Resistance to moving forward when we are stuck (and we are) is scary business. Failing to build is just as bad as tearing something down once it is built, according to Proverbs 18:9: “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.”

Two, based on my experience, the majority of those who have difficulty accepting cooperation on a broad scale (which includes structure and money) share a common spiritual heritage – the Mainline Church of Christ. That also was the case when we were discussing the Unity Proposal some years back. I too share that religious heritage, which helps me understand those with whom I share it. One of the foundational tenets of that particular movement is congregational autonomy. It is in the DNA of those with a Mainline background, especially those who were raised in it from youth.

Saying that is in the DNA of that group is another way of saying that it is systemic, like nationalism or racism in the United States. You can have it whether you realize it or not, and it can drive your thinking without your being aware of it. The exception would be those like me who rebelled against it, believing that church autonomy as we saw it practiced was a guarantee of failure in evangelizing the world. Just be prepared to expend much patience in dealing with all of us from that background – the typical “heel draggers” and the atypical “toe pushers” (me being among the latter)! But it is a fact that the Mainline congregations are dying and have been for decades now. A well-known minister among them was on a panel back in 2004 and made the statement several times that they were in the last days of a dying movement. His fellow panelists from the Mainline didn’t like what he said, but he said it and he was right. Their statistics clearly prove it.

Statistics Don’t Lie

Our statistics in the ICOC show that we are starting to follow a similar path, in that our growth is slowing down and unless it reverses, we too will soon enter decline. It is that phenomenon that prompted the introduction of ICOC 3.0 in the first place. I have followed our statistics for years. When I first became an elder in our then flagship church, Boston, in 1989, my fellow elder Al Baird showed me a graph that hit me like a kick in the gut. It showed one line for the baptisms and one line for those leaving the church. The latter was moving in an upward direction faster than the former, meaning that when the walkaway rate (by whatever term you prefer) intersected the baptism rate, the overall membership decline would begin.

As a movement, we are now in a similar place. I mentioned some statistics last year in my book, My Three Lives. The overall growth for our movement of churches in 2015 was 1.9% and that of the US and Canadian churches was 1.3%. Our movement growth dropped from 1.9% in 2015 to 1.2% in 2016. Do you think we need an updated version of our IOS (operating system) in the ICOC? The answer seems obvious.

Not unexpectedly, the younger generations among us loved the honesty and the urgency with which I wrote in my book, while some older leaders had quite the opposite reaction. I suppose they didn’t like me making our statistics public, but we have to remember that the church is first of all the church of God and then the church of the people. It is decidedly not just the church of the leaders. Our members have a right and a need to know where we are as a movement. They are a part of the problem and must be a part of the solution.

An Introduction and Commendation!

That statement provides us with the ideal segue into the article I am introducing, written by a dear friend of mine, Jim McCartney. Jim is a member of the Boston church and one of the most reasoned and reasonable brothers I know. Jim understands that being a disciple means by definition that you must be a learner, and that being a learner means you must be a listener. He listens to those in all segments of the church, especially those of the younger generations. He is one of the most in-tune older brothers I know. His article is entitled “ICOC 3.00,” described by him in this way: “my thoughts are ancillary to ICOC 3.0, not a recommended revision or next version.”

To me, ICOC 3.0 is quite an obvious need, while the details of designing and implementing it are not yet so obvious. Having said that, I agree with the thrust of Jim’s insightful article, that deeper needs must be met if any organizational structure is to help in the long run. In a word, spiritual issues are far more important than organizational issues. I don’t think it is an either/or situation, but a both/and need, and an urgent one at that. Please read what Jim wrote, carefully and prayerfully – and keep your seat belts buckled tightly! Enjoy!

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