Right in the centre - Are we doing what we should be doing?


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

As we approach Christmas, it is often a time for reflection. Many thoughts go through my mind about the season and the core Christian message. Christmas and Easter are the two biggest events in any Christian church calendar. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Saviour. At Easter, we pause with a mixture of sadness and gratitude that Jesus died on the cross so we could be saved. These two annual events have instructed and intrigued the world for a long time.

I have been part of a Christian church since I was born. Although we didn’t attend church a lot when I was very young, I can safely say I have been in church a lot more Sundays than not for 65 or more years. I have attended United, Anglican, Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, almost all of them in rural Manitoba. Believe me, there have been many changes, but the biggest change is in how few people actually attend or participate in a local church any longer.

So why is church participation and church attendance so much lower than it was 30, 40 or 50 years ago? The answer is complex, but I think a lot of the blame, if that isn’t too harsh a word, lies within the churches’ insistence on a centralized organizational structure. Local churches tend to turn over what should be local decisions to a presbytery, a diocese, a head office in Winnipeg or Saskatoon or some place in the United States. Over the years, that has proven to be mistake number one. The far-away (and it may only be 100 miles) head office lays out the rules. The head offices get a huge say in the choice of pastor, minister, or priest. The required committees, credentials and all the inner workings of the church are laid out by committees and conferences. While many church organizations “say” they welcome local input, they don’t really. The annual conferences are almost entirely run by the clergy and rarely do the conferences have actual input from members. Members are called “lay people”, which is a somewhat antiquated and odd term, but whatever it used to mean in the past, it now really means lower class, with no real authority.

If a local congregation wants to build a building, add on or renovate, they are usually welcome to do so. However, should the local congregation want to sell or shut down an unused building, whatever money or local use might be made of the facility is often opposed. Sometimes, it is opposed for so long that the building rots before a logical decision is made. And, often, the money that might be generated from a sale goes to the central office, when it should go to a local charity or cause in the community where it was raised.

Perhaps this flaw in church organizations stems from not really hearing Jesus’ words and intentions. There is little evidence that Jesus ever wanted his church (his people) to build buildings. Obviously, large groups of people couldn’t successfully gather for fellowship, teaching and ministry without a building, so naturally churches were built. But Jesus wanted us to build “His” church, not buildings and bureaucracies. To some extent, that has been successful for 2000 years but there have been thousands of bad decisions along the way.

Back to rural Manitoba. Why are there so few people attending church and why are there so few pastors, ministers or priests? I think it is because the centralized, top down church organizations become remote and out of touch with the local reality, the local needs and, most of all, local ministry. The organization becomes the purpose, the rules and bureaucracy become God. The people, cast-offs to be ignored.

In short, we need to remember that Jesus didn’t come to save buildings or business models. He came to save people.

My point is that maybe our churches are a lot emptier than they used to be because we haven’t adequately followed Christ’s teaching in the way we organize ourselves.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.