Written by Daron Brown
From his column Pressing On
“Can you help get me to Africa?”
My friend was pastoring a non-denominational church when God called him to be a missionary to Africa. Supported by his congregation, and only his congregation, he did not have the means to make it happen. He did not have a denominational structure or a process for training. He did not have a funding mechanism or prior connections in the host country. He did not have mentors or a language school. He hardly had a plan. All he had was the call of God. On his own to fund his mission, he approached me asking for a financial donation. His question indicated more than a lack of funding; it revealed a void of connection. I was humbled by his obedience, saddened by his lack of a support system, and grateful for the Church of the Nazarene.
I was leading a Nazarene Missions Team (NMT) on an overseas trip. On a layover in a busy airport, our group circled up for a devotion. Competing with surrounding noise, I raised my voice so team members could hear. At one point, a stranger poked his head into our circle. He had been walking through the airport when he heard familiar terminology, like Work and Witness and Alabaster project. He heard abbreviations, like NMI and NCM, that only make sense to Nazarene ears. He informed us he was a Nazarene pastor. He heard a common language, so he stopped and asked us where we were from and where we were going. Although no one in our group had ever met this man, we sensed an instant connection to our new friend.
The 1980s ushered in a wave of non-denominational Christianity in the United States, which made sense in a culture of cowboys and entrepreneurs. The rise of and attraction to nondenominational Christianity has been multifaceted. People seem to be drawn to religious movements that are untethered from cumbersome structures, unpleasant baggage, perceived theological bias, and financial obligation.
Of course, the shift toward congregational autonomy is not without weaknesses. A demonstrated lack of accountability is evident as independent churches are likely to be driven by the personality of a pastor, who may be difficult to discipline if problems occur.
My intent is not to disparage independent ministry. We should honor all efforts that seek to authentically embody and share the message and mission of Jesus. My intent is to express gratitude and support for the connectionalism we enjoy within the Church of the Nazarene.
By connectionalism, I am not speaking of a formal structure. Connectionalism, as I understand it, is the deep sense of community we share because we belong to the Church of the Nazarene and, together, seek to support the same message and mission. Connectionalism is the unseen stuff between us that cannot be neatly defined or understood, but can be felt. Our connectionalism binds us across continents, languages, cultures, and generations. Connectionalism means we belong to one another, regardless of whether we personally know one another. Connectionalism is realized in the prayers, songs, and fellowship at General Assembly. Connectionalism warms us when we visit a country and see the familiar Church of the Nazarene seal in a different language. Connectionalism keeps us together in a wide tent, and, in part, keeps the tent wide. Connectionalism in itself is not inherently healthy, but when coupled with our stated core values as Christian, Holiness, Missional people, it leads us toward greater health. In fact, connectionalism is even embedded in our core values in the people part as we seek to encourage one another in our faith through worship, preaching, and service.
Of course, connectionalism does not mean we don’t have our differences or problems, but it does provide a framework for addressing them. Doing so strengthens us to face the future God has in store for us.
Finally, we should take seriously our responsibility as servants in the Church of the Nazarene to be good stewards of our connectionalism. We should not take this characteristic of our heritage for granted, but embrace it as an important part of our DNA that is passed on for generations to come.
Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.