Give Me Doctrine or Give Me Death!

My last blog post got me thinking. And as my last blog post implies, I have not earned the credibility to teach anyone about leadership. But I can write out my thoughts in a blog that no one reads. Enjoy.

I grew up going to a Christian Reformed Church. The CRC is a denomination with roots going back straight to the reformation. What is the glue that has kept this organization together for all these years? From what I see, it’s its theology, doctrines, creeds, and leaders who hold true to these things. If some leaders are taken out, the theology and doctrine are still there for new leaders to take up.

Some people cringe at the thought of having strong theology or doctrine. They don’t want to be tied to some “dead” doctrine, they want to be led by the Spirit! You’ll notice that organizations who hold to this kind of thinking place a lot of emphases on the personalities of their charismatic leaders along with the leader’s vision*. But what happens to these organizations when their leaders are taken out?

*And often what will be quoted is Prov. 29:18, or at least the first half: “Where there is no vision, the people perish…(enter relevant vision here)”, we don’t want to mention the second half because then the verse would no longer mean what we want it to.

As I study Church history I see that after the book of Acts, the early church began to seriously define, through creeds and doctrine (which just means “a teaching”), what it was that they truly believed–doctrines about the Trintiy, doctrines about Jesus’s divinity and humanity, doctrines about the authority of scripture. And they didn’t write these creeds and doctrines because they had control issues, they wrote them because they were necessary to protect the future of the Church. There were a lot of guys at the time teaching all sorts of incorrect things about the Gospel. We call them heretics. The teachers of truth (aka: the leaders) upheld the truths of the doctrine and protected the Church. If some leaders were taken out, there were others to pick up the doctrine and move ahead. When the Church became corrupt it was not because of the doctrine, it was because they strayed from the doctrine (as inspired from the Bible, not the man made stuff).

Fast forward to the present and we can start adding some other words to the mix: vision**, strategy, and policy, and we can sum up these words into one: method. If a church organization does not have a clear over-arching method, which is determined by theology and doctrine, nor the leaders to uphold these things, then the organization will just be centered around a small team of charismatic (and, by default, arbitrary) leaders. And what happens when they’re gone? The organization will probably just break up. Having nothing to adhere to, the strong, up-and-coming, potential leaders of the organization will go on to follow their own personal agendas.

**I put vision here with a small v: the small day to day ideas we get excited about; the big V vision is the theology and doctrine or Prov 29:18b.

While theological principles are unchanging, method is not. We need to treat our methods like the main character in a good Cormac McCarthy novel. We need to find new and creative ways to torment and kill our policies. If the story is getting stale, we throw our procedures into a Mexican prison, or pit them in a knife fight with a crazy hit man. If they survive, they are worth keeping. If they die, then forget about them. That which survives is what the organization can cling to and run with. Methods are not meant to control or hinder the workers, methods are there to free up the workers and allow the workers to function at their full capacity. I build a fence around my yard, not so that I can imprison my children, but so that they can play to the very edges of the property without getting killed.

Methods which promote freedom for the workers are written by informed leaders. Does the leader even know what’s going on? When the method is written and the worker says it won’t work, does the leader listen? Are the methods designed so that the organization can grow into the future, or are they designed to assuage the mulish elite leadership?

The future of a Christian organization is written in its theology, doctrine, and method–that is the glue which keeps it together. The organization’s existence is kept safe in these things. Leaders are temporary. When they go, what will the next generation of leaders be able to take hold of to keep the organization alive? If there is nothing, then the oranization will die. And maybe that is a good thing. Maybe an organization without clear theology, strong doctrine, or wise methods doesn’t deserve to exist.

“The plans and visions of the leader will be outdated soon after his burial…

…convictions came before us and will last when we are gone.” ~Albert Mohler

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