Monday, August 24, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: Church Structure

When I first left Catholicism in 1982, I took the emancipation from church structure in stages. I first joined a Presbyterian church, which had its own governing structure. Then I joined the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which was, as far as I could tell, free from governing structure. It was all about "being led by the Spirit."

I remember feeling free during those days, as though I had been unfairly shackled by a tight and shriveled posse of clerics who were bent on making sure I wouldn't have any fun in my faith. Joyless and stingy, they were. Or so I thought.

Now, over twenty years later, I see a few things I hadn't noticed before. Do you realize how much time is devoted to "raising church leadership?" I'm not talking about the seminaries, but internal church training programs. There are some churches that have a formal Bible School program, others have leadership training that can last anywhere from one to three years. (I attended one myself.)

What is the fruit of this training? Some become small group leaders, some may leave and start a church plant. But it always seems to be planning, ad infinitum. There is an incredible amount of energy spent on church growth approaches and concepts. Visit any Christian bookstore and you will see quite a few books devoted to "growing" your church and various church models. Within the non-denominational churches, few governing bodies exist. As a result, many churches are in constant flux, forever spinning in the experimental mode.

Although I've come full circle regarding women's role in church government, (I can't see a Biblical justification for women pastors.) I've always been fascinated by it. Now it has taken me to a closer examination of the Roman Catholic Church and some unexpected bonuses of having a centralized governing body through the Vatican.

When a governing body does its job, it means there is a process that can be depended upon. On a national level, I'm for limited government. But on a religious level, I am appreciating our Catholic Church government in greater measure. When the priests are concerned with such things (and Canon lawyers), it frees the laity to focus on what we're really supposed to be doing - sharing the Gospel with our neighbors.

I think back on all the time I used to study church models and prepare myself for leadership. I realize not all of it was wasted, but yet if I had kept it simple what could I have done with the time saved? Non-Catholic churches seem to find an endless fascination with "experimenting" with different church models. This one is "seeker-sensitive," that one is an "emerging church" model.

There is such a relief I feel, now that I attend Mass. The liturgy is secure. (For the most part, aside from goofy weirdness such as priests dressed as Barney the Dinosaur and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion dressed up as witches and vampires for a Halloween Mass.) There is an ancient rhythm to the service that is precious, and many times, can provide the temptation to take it for granted. But there are few "experiments"with church models. And it would seem more people are finding that tradition has its blessings, after all.

I know there is a group of Catholics who see all this experimentation as "modern." They see it as a way to connect to the world and allow newcomers to feel engaged. All I can say is that constant change never makes anyone feel secure. Consider children and their upbringing. What is better for them - constant upheaval with different approaches toward life or instilling rituals and patterns so they may learn? (And perhaps more importantly, learn to stick with something instead of giving up so easily.)

The monasteries that have stood the test of time have endured for a reason. Study any one of them and I suspect you won't find a community that tries every new thing that comes down the pike. Yes, change can help streamline a process, but to me, it is the tried and true that builds inner strength. One of the many reasons I love the Catholic Church.

1 comment:

Shirley said...

Good post, Mary Rose. I agree that constant change never makes anyone feel secure, and that we need structure, both in our lives and in our faith. Perhaps that is why youth are being drawn to the Tridentine Mass.