Let us just suppose there is a denominational apparatus supportive of various ministries in the harvest field. Let us imagine that denominational apparatus faces declining financial support and waning influence. Let us idealize some proposals for that declining denominational apparatus.
Decide what is important. Let us conceive of the denominational apparatus in a very awkward stage; not strong enough to really matter but not yet ready to surrender its prerogatives. All of us go through these awkward phases. John Kennedy, before his murder in Dallas, said he was at an awkward age at 46, too old to get a real job and too young to write his memoirs.
Let us think of our imagined denomination not as a gawky teenager, all knees and elbows and braces, bursting with potential. No, that will not do. We will have to conceive of our denominational apparatus as what it is now; seasoned, sagging, spry.
The denominational apparatus is not the crazy uncle in the attic, not yet, but it is nearer to senility than puberty. You get the idea.
This seasoned, sagging, spry atavistic reliquary is like the Pharaoh's tomb, full of treasures better used for the greater good but dominated by the well-preserved corpse in the middle of the room.
We must insist on the right to make decisions from outside the tomb. The sarcophagus has made his decision. He will make no more. The living must make choices now.
What are our priorities? When we send our tribute money, we really intend to nourish our institutions, do we not? We can buy evangelism and Bible Study materials. We are too far away from HQ to be staffed by indifferent bureaucrats. The denominational apparatus cannot be our banker or our worship leader or our lawyer. There is no mentor there.
We do not look for the denomination for those things, anyway. By the time they saddle up the stampede is run out. What do we want?
Well, we want to support our colleges and seminaries, our schools for the young and the retraining not-so-young. We want to help fledgling congregations gain a foot hold in the world. We understand our priorities. Why is it so few of the dreams from pew and pulpit find their way through the paper-shufflers?
If we look just ahead, a mile or so, and then another mile, we see the decisions about to leave our control. The new generation, the one that feels entitled and so wishes to skip dues paying and just be empowered now, is not so keen on shuffling dollars from its fountain, so then to irrigate another field.
The institutions themselves face a future of declining funds from a declining central body. My prediction, not so much based on clairvoyance as to a careful reading of history, is this: groups accustomed to receiving that amount of support will not feel so keenly obligated to the central authority that starts to send this lesser amount.
The decision making is about to leave the conference table at the denominational headquarters. Already they are remindful of the HQ bunker of the all-time losers, who move around phantom regiments (n this case, phantom churches), able to bluster and preen, but unable to alter terrestrial reality.
Invent a better mouse trap, we are told, and the world will beat a path to your door. The religious world is different. Invent a better mouse trap in the religious world and the religious will beat you at your door step.
We would prefer to pretend all is well. The priestly carpenters in the temple continued to work on the back porch as the Romans came in the front door. There is something gallantly profane about their commitment but they might have been better used with their hammers at the front door.
We are in need of someone(s) able to look just ahead. The institutions you love will need support (and need it now) in a mile or two of time just ahead.