Occasionally, I get questions about a variety of issues not only from students but from colleagues inside and outside my denomination. Here is an inquiry from a pastor friend that will remain anonymous. I will add that this pastor serves in a geographic area that is still considered largely Christian and fairly strong in terms of Nazarene presence. Even still, there is always a challenge when church folks forget who they are.
Because of your takes on other aspects of our tribe and constant cultural engagement/study, I thought maybe you could help or point me in the right direction.
We contribute as a mission giving church through the World Evangelism Fund (WEF). It’s not a tax or tithe imposed on each church but it is a way of showing tangible connection to other churches. There was a time when our local church needed help getting started, and every local church provide for others to get up and running through WEF funds.
Connectionalism is the term used to describe the kind of church we became and is derived from our Methodist heritage. Nazarenes are not just independent churches vaguely connected by name or theological tradition. Many of the early Nazarene congregations were Congregationalist, and so we retained a sense of local church freedom to participate without making it a requirement. There some early Nazarene churches that came from an Episcopal system in which a bishop could tell pastors and thus churches how much they were to contribute and excise offerings from local churches.
The Church of the Nazarene is a Connectional church, that is one that is directly connected to every other Nazarene church. We are a global family. The Board of General Superintendents emphasized this point at the last General Assembly. We are a Christian, Holiness, MIssional, and connectional church. We are not left to our own devices (solely independent) or imposed upon by an outside hierarchy (solely dependence). We choose to be a church that is interdependent and interconnected, much like a family.
Think of paying to the World Evangelism Fund as a family plan for cell phones. One plan covers all of us, but we all contribute to it once we have matured. Not all brand new churches and new districts are expected to contribute until they have matured spiritually and organized itself well. Soon they will mature and they will contribute toward the propagation of the Church next door and worldwide.
In Benin-Togo, I worked with a budget of $1500 per month that helped me work with a district in which we started with 19 churches and ended up with 250 in four years. Our budget from WEF never increased but God provided in other ways, and the local church learned to support its growth. God gave us what we needed to start through the generosity of a global church family. Within another few years, this district grew to over 1000 churches, divided into five districts. The original district has sent multiple missionaries to other parts of west Africa and its churches pay into WEF just as churches that helped them when it was young. Today these churches now help other churches and districts around the world.
I used to tell village leaders as we sought permission to start a church in their village that the local church would not one that is planted by an outside missionary or a “big man” pastor. It is a church that is connected to a global family. When a Church of the Nazarene is started in a new place, it is connected to every other Nazarene church in the world. Every church would pray for and give to all of the other ones. I remember one time, the chief and the elders applauded and hooted when we said these words: "We are a global family, and your village will now be a part of it." I’ll never forget it.
The resurrected Jesus promised, "Remember, I am with you always, even until the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20 NRSV). We promise by our presence as a local church--the Body of Christ locally expressed-- that we will never be alone and always be remembered by every local church in our global family.