I’ve discovered that a lot of people who believe in such groups were born and bred in one of them and consider their denominational loyalty to be sacred, right next to their loyalty to God and Scripture. I recently learned of an individual who took his fellow pastors to task for attending churches of the wrong denomination – in their retirement. This would be loyalty for loyalty’s sake, which has never made any sense to me.
But I do believe in the worth of church fellowships, and I came to this belief through the unusual portico of almost thirty years in militantly independent churches. It was cold, hard experience in the real world of church ministry that convinced me that these groups are not only acceptable on biblical grounds but helpful enough to be worth paying for.
So without delving into the question of whether such organizations are acceptable, mandatory or forbidden by the Bible, I’d like to share two decent reasons and the best reason to bring your church into a church fellowship:
- Church fellowships can help to stabilize both pastors and churches. Just as individual Christians need churches, I believe that individual churches need church fellowships. Pastors and churches which are on their own find it easier to get “seriously weird” than churches which are a part of an organization. As someone who spent decades in independent (not inter-dependent) churches, I’m afraid I’ve seen this first hand.
- Church fellowships provide a venue for mutual sharing of gifts, knowledge and wisdom. As a transitional pastor, I transition from pastor get-togethers (I call them “pastor pow wows”) faster than church hoppers can hop. I don’t leave them because I’m dissatisfied; I leave them because I move, and I always miss the guys from the group I’ve left behind. Whichever region of the country I find myself in, the larger gatherings of these groups are also thoroughly enjoyable. These are the people who share my job, with all its joys and all its sorrows.
- But here’s the best reason: Church fellowships are a means by which churches can be helped in times of trouble. For the most part, with all the means we have of connecting with each other nowadays, independent churches get along just fine ninety percent of the time. The one serious problem with being independent shows up when we get into some kind of church conflict, especially those conflicts that involve the board on one side and the pastor on the other. You’ve probably seen the scenarios:
- The pastor is burned out, depressed, out of touch with God or clinically depressed, doesn’t know it and won’t listen,
- The church is struggling, the pastor is floundering and the board has no clue as to what they should do about it,
- Untaught or immature board members tie the hands of and are ruining the ministry of the pastor,
- The pastor is talking about moving on, but has no idea how to do it well and the board knows even less about the subject than the pastor.
The independent church tends to handle these scenarios very badly. The church which belongs to an association/denomination isn’t guaranteed a happy outcome, but it has someone to turn to who can provide an experienced, knowledgeable, calm, objective listening ear and wise counsel. It’s the best reason to bring your church into a church fellowship.