Arguments over the structure of the church continues to be an issue in the church today. Indeed, should decision-making be made solely by the local congregation or is a hierarchical model more appropriate? Of course, each structure has its merits—a congregational model can be good for quick decision-making and dealing with local issues, and a hierarchical model can be good for oversight and dealing with the complexity of legal issues, etc. But which is the most appropriate model?

Both have their merits. However, there are disadvantages to both too. After all, in a local congregational model, who is there to make sure they don’t stray from the fold? And when the hierarchical model becomes a bit of a bureaucracy and is overly demanding of its churches, who is there to reign them in?

Now, of course, the reality is that there is an advantage in a combination of the two. But only if they work for the common good. And I think that is the real problem in the church today.

Because from personal experience, a Diocesan office can often be seen to be a hinderance to church growth, particularly in regard to decisions about churchmanship, property, and investments. Indeed, issues that are not that complicated can take a long time to resolve. As a consequence, even those churches that sit under a Diocesan banner can at times avoid involving the Diocese unless absolutely necessary. The flip side of that, however, is that not involving the Diocese, at times, can also work to a church’s detriment.

For combined model to be healthy, therefore, the Diocesan structure needs to exist for the welfare of the churches that come under its wing. It’s just that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

As a consequence, what I am suggesting is not that the idea of a Diocesan model is broken, but that it has tendency to not work as it should in practice. Dioceses tend to be demanding not encouraging, and they are often providers of obstacles not solvers of problems. And that is not good for the welfare and promotion of the local church.

Now despite claims to the contrary, no Diocese is short of resources. Short of money? Maybe. But short of resources, no. Indeed, they have (or should have), in theory, every member of every congregation on whom they could call. Unfortunately, Diocesan offices tend to be insular and unable to recognise—even unwilling to use—all the resources available. And that has meant that over the years they have encouraged an “us versus them” attitude among the people.

The Diocesan model should work in theory, but in practice it falls very short of the mark.

But does that mean that a combined congregational/hierarchical model should be thrown out? Not at all! But it does mean that congregations need to reign in the excesses of the Diocesan model as it is currently practiced. Congregations need to take more control of their overseeing body, and the Diocese needs to be re-modelled so that it actually meets the needs of the churches under its wing.

Because if a Diocese is operated in a more godly and co-operative manner, it would enable and enhance the work of the local church, rather than restrain it.

Posted: 25th June 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis