In the final session of the Mainline Emergent/s gathering, Brian McLaren responded to a question about the purpose of middle level judicatories – for example, district superintendents and districts in the United Methodist Church. Some of his response:
If we destroyed the denominational structure today, we would start rebuilding it tomorrow, but it might look differently. The problem may not be the institution, but instead the portions of the denominational institution that functions in a colonial mindset. The colonial mindset could be understood as the understanding that what comes from the denominational level can be effectively applied to all settings – regardless of the local culture.
Assume that the structures are there and work within them. Each denomination will need to decide whether to follow the example of the founder or the policies of the generations that followed. For example, within the United Methodist Church following the example of John Wesley could lead to greater vitality within the denomination.
As a member of a mainline denomination, I found this to be an excellent understanding of the future of denominations. I think that the United Methodist Church began to lose its way when it became more concerned about being a force within the politics of the nation than with making disciples of Jesus Christ. I think that the organization of conferences, districts and local churches is an effective model for making disciples. Understanding these organizations as forms of Christian conferencing (a community of support, dialogue and common mission) is an essential part of them being effective.