Disclaimer: This is a post about the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC). If you don’t care about the IPHC, come back another day. But as a cradle PH person, and someone who really cares about the future of the movement, I feel compelled to write this.
The IPHC is at a crucial place. As we approach our centennial (in 2011, dating from the 1911 merger), I have to wonder, “What will the next century bring?” In darker moments, I wonder, “Will we have another century?”
Now, in case you think I’m talking about the impending rapture, think again. I’m asking if the IPHC as a movement will have another century. Will we be able to withstand the current crises that face our denomination, surmount obstacles, and emerge stronger and more committed than ever to the work of the gospel in our tradition? I’ve written about what I see as our unique contribution, with a foot in two important streams of Christianity. But fully realizing our place remains to be seen. And in some ways, we’ll have to wait until the next General Conference (in 2009) to find out how it will all play out.
Keep in mind, as I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, I’m a layman. But with history in this church on both sides of my family, and many more friends besides, I am deeply interested in where this movement goes. And I do hope it goes, doesn’t become more monument than movement. You might think my writing this is the height of arrogance; please recognize that I’m writing with deep affection and concern. I don’t pretend to know everything, and this is just my opinion. As I said before, I’m a layman.
What, you ask, What do we have to figure out? Here, as I see it, are some central challenges to our movement. (FYI, there are exceptions to each of these. I could lay them out here but have neither the space nor the time to do so.) Okay, challenges…
- Slowing growth. I know, we’re posting growth. We open a number of new churches every year, and our worldwide membership is growing. The seldom-told story is the impact of (a) affiliate growth and (b) church shrinkage and closures. We have affiliated with numbers of churches, probably hundreds. (Disclaimer: I have not yet done much hard research on this. I plan to. When I do, you can read it here.) Those affiliates might affiliate not only with our movement but with other likeminded movements. Their ‘membership’ does little more than pad our numbers, since they seldom contribute either money or intangible resources to the movement.
- Accountability. More and more churches are deciding to do whatever they like, with little or no regard for church doctrine or polity. We are thumbing our nose at a lot of stuff–including biblical submission–in the name of renewal. The word ‘independent’ has become a stench for us. That’s not to say that revival doesn’t sometimes require us to cut away some of the junk we’ve idolized, to strike out when others are dragging their feet; it certainly does. But we must take great care not to think that because something is new, exciting, and causes growth that it is of God.
- Attrition of the Young. Our movement is bleeding young people. Not just teenagers, though I think that’s probably true. But we are losing college students in droves, sometimes before they go to college, sometimes after. Take a look around the next time you go to church (if it’s a PH church, that is; chances are, if you’re between 18 and 35, it’s not). What is the median age of the congregation? How many young families–with children under 10–are there? How many “college and career” singles?
- Dearth of Young Leaders. This is related to the last item, and it’s a Catch-22. If you don’t have young people, you won’t have young leaders. If you don’t have young leaders, you won’t have young people. Our movement has pushed young leadership off into youth ministry. The youngest, “hippest” church (arguably) has a staff almost entirely under forty. That’s not to say they’re doing everything right, but they understand the need for young leaders. In addition, that church’s network (should I pretend you don’t know who I’m talking about?) is mentoring young leaders like nobody’s business: seeking them out, investing in them (after a fashion), and supporting them in ministry. Where is that initiative on the general (or conference) level? I know a number of bright young people who have ended up in other denominations for no other reason than a lack of connectedness to leadership.
- Doctrinal Concerns/Theological Flabbiness. We cannot ignore the present concerns about doctrine. In addition to the age-old debates about sanctification, glossalalia, and the role spiritual gifts in the local church, we now have a genuine crisis about the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Identified and encouraged by C. Peter Wagner above all, the influence of this movement on our own cannot be underestimated. Many of the principal figures have connections in our church, and Dr. Wagner’s associate, Chuck Pierce, has become a fixture at a number of quadrennial conferences and churches, as well as at workshops at General Conference, culminating in a keynote address at the most recent GC. The result has been a surge in the identification of apostolic and prophetic giftings and offices, and operation in those giftings, as well as some unusual pronouncements from various quarters. The denomination has appointed a committee to study this issue for the next GC. All that to say, our movement has devoted too little time to theological concerns since the demise of the King Memorial Lectures at Emmanuel College and the reinvention of the denomination’s magazines. The absence of a robust theological dialogue is wearing on us, I believe, fueled by the latent anti-intellectualism that has sometimes marked the Pentecostal movement as a whole and the independent charismatics in particular.
I feel certain there are other concerns I don’t know about; but this is my blog. 🙂 I believe that if we cannot address these issues in a satisfactory and timely manner, we risk our effectiveness (maybe our existence) as a movement. It won’t happen tomorrow, but we’ll gradually decrease in significance until our parts are swallowed by other, larger movements.
Does this matter? I think so. I still think the IPHC has work to do and things to say. But I think we have to recover some of what we were and jettison some of what we’ve become. By the same token, I think we have to jettison some of what we were and embrace some different paradigms.