In 1968, a seismic shift happened within the Christian Church tradition.
I am a young, newcomer to the Stone-Campbell Movement, and I only know the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Restructure through the reading of history. As I understand it, the Restructure was adopted and implemented in 1969 with the first General Assembly taking place in Seattle, Washington. Prior to Restructure our denomination only existed as a convention of churches and agencies. Restructure represented as a maturation of denominational identity with formal General and Regional structures. The best way I can define our denomination, post-Restructure is as follows: In covenant with one another we are one church with many autonomous congregational expressions.
At the time of Restructure prophets of doom were dismissed and optimism prevailed. Yes, it formally and finally split the Christian Church tradition between those who were in covenant and those who remained independent, but it also it allowed those in covenant to organize on levels previously unknown. For a while Restructure was a signing success (literally that is – the Preamble to the Design was made into a song, #356 in the Chalice Hymnal).
We are now 46 years removed from Restructure, and it is my observation that some of what was feared has come to pass. In the words of former General Minister and President, Richard Hamm, “The human condition is such that structures have a tendency to become ends in themselves and to demand service rather than remaining servants.”
This is why I believe Mission First was rolled out with fanfare at the 2015 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. The General, many Regional, and yes even congregational expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have physical and organizational structures that have become ends unto themselves. Built for the middle of the 20th century and for membership twice as large, our denomination finds itself loaded down and unable to soar. In many respects, we think we’re dying because we’re stuck in the muck of our own creation, and somehow we know, we’ve got to stop struggling against the sinking sand; thereby, allowing our General, Regional, and local churches to be lifted out of institutional baggage by the Spirit of God. We must say, “Farewell,” to parts of the beautiful monument we’ve created, so we may once again function in our identity as a movement, not merely a denomination.
Mission First is a breath of fresh air. It could be another seismic shift.
Mission First is an intentional prioritizing effort for the General church to enhance the faithfulness and effectiveness of congregations. As well, I see Mission First undoing some of the negative institutionalizing celebrated in Restructure. You can read more and sign up to be part of the conversation at missionfirst.disciples.org.
I pray Mission First is effective. If it is not, then more drastic measures must be sought. Our message and our tradition of the open Table, centrality of Christ and wholeness in a fragmented world is too important to perish from mismanagement.
Further, in its success, I pray Mission First models for congregations like First Christian Church Des Moines how to hold sacred conversations aimed at stripping away 20th Century ideologies for the sake of 21st Century ministry. We have become too comfortable in the nests of our own creation, and it’s slowly killing us; now is the time to soar! Just as in the sky is where birds belong, so too in the streets, avenues and boulevards of everyday life is where the Church belongs. Therefore, let us soar!!
 The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. (Eerdmans, 2004) pg. 646.