Throughout my seminary career, I’ve heard professors being openly critical of other churches, especially those that practice different methodologies in ministry. Both mainstream evangelical and confessional mainline churches are continually criticizing one another’s methodologies, and even, critiquing one another’s motives in ministry. I have had a foot in both camps for a while now so I can totally understand where the two are coming from, and also feel torn between the two.
In our mainline confessional churches (e.g., Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic), we seek to maintain the confessions of the historic church in order to preserve the truths. This explains why the growth in or historic confessional churches tend to be stagnant. However, the upside is that historic positions of the Christian church are maintained and preserved.
In our evangelical churches, we are constantly trying to change in order to be missional. This explains why our growing evangelical/charismatic churches tend to re-invent ourselves all the time (e.g., new forms of worship). The upside is that there is growth in evangelical churches (especially worldwide Pentecostalism and charismatic churches).
On the missional church, Craig van Gelder describes the church as: always forming (missional), and always reforming (confessional).
He says that in this polarity lies a healthy and dynamic tension between change and continuity, and between mission and confession. This forces us to be challenged by a need to recontexualize a congregation’s ministry while maintaining the truths of the historic Christian faith.
Can there be a “Third Way”? I have come to position that in order to survive and even thrive as a Church, the ministry of the Church must begin to practice what I call the “Third Way”. In my pastoral ministry, I have been trying to implement and meld some of the accepted methodologies of mainstream evangelical and historic confessional churches because that is the only way to be dynamic and growing, while maintaining the established Christian truths. I believe that we need to be challenged by one another. Those who do not submit to learning one another’s differences will never understand the advantages of the other methodologies of ministry. I do hope that we can all, one day, come to a more common understanding of ministry.