Structure to Deal with Global Denomination

1993 Church of the Brethren Statement


The concern leading to this study arose out of the recognition that denominational polity does not adequately address the possibility of Church of the Brethren congregations outside the US and Puerto Rico. In light of the adoption by the 1989 Annual Conference of the statement, “Mission theology and Guidelines,” which authorized the establishment of Church of the Brethren congregations in other countries, and the action by the 1990 Annual Conference to call specifically for congregations in the Dominican Republic and Korea, it became clear that denominational polity needed to be revised to facilitate these actions. Standing Committee action in 1991 confirmed this direction by calling for comprehensive planning for church planting in other countries.

The concern that current polity was inadequate to deal with a global denomination was brought to the 1991 Standing Committee which adopted interim procedures and authorized this study to develop recommendations for appropriate changes in polity to enable the denomination to become a global “church.”

The interim arrangement adopted by Standing Committee upon the joint recommendation of the General Board and the Annual Conference officers, provided for a new congregation to be assigned to an appropriate district by the Annual Conference officers and General Board in consultation with the director of District Ministries. The moderator, Board chair and the executive of the assigned district were empowered to carry out ordination. The Annual Conference officers in consultation with the General Board were authorized to implement any other needed procedures on an interim basis.

This committee was appointed pursuant to Standing Committee action to recommend appropriate long-term policies as to how congregations outside the US and Puerto Rico should relate to the Annual Conference and the denomination. In this paper those congregations are referred to as “new congregations” and any resulting districts as “new districts.” The members of new congregations are called “new brethren.” The use of the terms “new Brethren,” “new congregations,” and “new districts” is done for editorial clarity, not to suggest any separate status.


The most recent general statement of the denomination on mission philosophy is the 1989 Annual Conference paper, “Mission Theology and Guideline.” It altered denominational practice of several decades of not establishing Brethren congregations in other countries. The 1989 paper stated: “WE are called to plant the church and proclaim the full gospel, preaching teaching, healing, baptizing, evangelizing wherever we are able to go,” and “the gospel of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries.” The 1989 statement reaffirmed, however, the denomination’s established mission principles of “indigenization, mutuality, and interdependence,” the intention to nurture ecumenical relationships, to continue activities to promote peace, justice and equality, and to live out our faith in acts of love and service. The church was urged to recruit persons from other cultural groups to be leaders in church planting both here and in other nations.

The Committee interprets the 1989 Annual Conference’s allocation of responsibility for church planting as follows: Annual Conference is to define relationships in other countries while districts are to be responsible for relations with congregations in the US and Puerto Rico. Thus, Annual Conference has sole authority to authorize and define relationships with congregations, districts and other Christian bodies in other countries. This report recommends polity and structures related to that authority of Annual Conference.

In recognition of existing polity and Annual Conference actions relating to church planting in other nations, the following assumptions form a basis for the Committee’s recommendations:

  1. The Church of the brethren believes that each member is a minister of Christ. We are all to be involved in evangelism and missions, Some will be singled out for special responsibilities in particular contexts.
  2. The Church of the Brethren is to be a global denomination.” By that term, the Committee means that in addition to the denomination’s traditional international interests and activities in the future the denomination will include members and congregations (and potentially, districts) outside the US and Puerto Rico.
  3. New Brethren and new congregations are to be Brethren. The planting of congregations in other lands is not intended to establish only ecumenical or non-denominational groups. It should enable those individuals and congregations to be Brethren who wish to understand and practice the Christian faith as interpreted by the Church of the Brethren.
  4. New Brethren should be encouraged and enabled to participate fully in all aspects of denominational life. To facilitate their effective participation, it will be desirable to implement appropriate interpretation, mentor programs, and direct personal encouragement.
  5. Principles of indigenization, empowerment, and mutuality are to be emphasized in all aspects of participation by new congregations and new Brethren. The cultures and traditions of the communities of the new congregations should be respected and affirmed. The language of their communities should be employed in ever way practicable. This is especially true in ordination interviews and services.
  6. Denominational polity should be flexible enough to permit adjustments to accommodate other cultural traditions, social values, languages and geographical location.
  7. There will be a variety of patterns by which new congregations will become part of the Church of the Brethren and polity changes ought to be flexible enough to accommodate those various patterns. Some new congregations will result from initiatives of individuals or groups who suggest new opportunities for church planting. There may be some already existing congregations who associate with the Church of the Brethren as new Brethren. Larger Christian bodies or groups of congregations may seek to affiliate.
  8. There are special issues and concerns relating to denominational church planting in countries in which the Church of the Brethren has previously had a significant presence or has entered into covenants with other church bodies. Extension into those countries should be considered and handled on a case-by-case basis, being faithful to existing agreements and mindful of established relationships.
  9. Through conversations with new Brethren, structures and polity sh0ould continue to be monitored, evaluated and, when appropriate, revised to permit more effective and complete participation by new Brethren.
  10. Beyond the recommendations of this report, polity for regional conferences should not be developed until new Brethren are active participants in the denomination and can be part of the discussions, A regional conference is likely to have a balance of autonomy and fraternal associations. It can be best structured after the denomination has experiences as a global church and the counsel of new brethren. It is recognized that there is great value in having all Brethren be part of one Annual Conference, but distances, cultural differences and organizational difficulties may make this impracticable.
  11. Some governments may not permit a denomination from outside that country to establish congregations. This may require adjustments in these procedures.
  12. Nothing in these recommendations is intended to impose a requirement on new Brethren not applicable to other Brethren. It is intended that appropriate procedures will make it possible for new Brethren to be full participants in the denomination and to have polity sufficiently flexible to respond to new circumstances.
  13. The General Board will carry primary responsibility for discovering, evaluating, recommending, putting into effect and monitoring projects outside the US and Puerto Rico. IT will promulgate a comprehensive statement and work plan as to how it expects to carry out the polity being recommended.


The Committee recommends that the following new section be added to the Polity Manual, styled “Chapter VII: Congregation, Districts, and Conferences Outside the United States and Puerto Rico.”

  1. Preamble and Definitions
    1. The polity found in this section is intended to enable the development of the Church of the Brethren as a global denomination. It assumes meaningful consultations and conversations among church bodies and individuals affected by the proposed relationships and structures. The polity is intended to permit a high degree of flexibility to accommodate cultural and social patterns, special needs and problems not yet identified. It is also intended that there should be active participation buy the new Brethren, new congregations and new districts. Covenantal relationships with other church bodies and principles of indigenization, empowerment and mutuality are to be honored especially in countries in which the Church of the Brethren has previously had a significant presence.
    2. As used in this document, these terms are defined as follows:
      1. “new brethren”- persons residing outside the US and Puerto Rico who wish to be members of the Church of the Brethren. It is not intended to imply a different status or classification of membership but to identify persons by geographical location for purposes of applying the polity of this section.
      2. “new congregations”- a congregation of new Brethren residing outside the US and Puerto Rico. It is not intended to imply a different status or classification of congregation.
      3. “new districts”- districts formed by congregations of new Brethren under the polity outlined in this section. It is not intended to imply a different status or classification of district.
      4. “regional conference”- as new congregations and/or new districts expand their membership and activities, they might wish to achieve a greater degree of autonomy from Annual Conference. The term “regional conference” is not intended to require that particular name but is a possible title for the emerging structure. A regional conference might be formed by such an association of new congregations and new districts located in a geographical region, such as a “Caribbean regional Conference” or in a particular country, such as one of the sites of current evangelization. It might also be formed by the association of another Christian body with the Church of the Brethren. A regional conference may organize a yearly meeting and relate to Annual Conference in ways to be defined later.
    1. When there is a proposal to plant a new congregation or to evangelize outside the US and Puerto Rico, it should be directed to the General Board.
      1. If the Board accepts the proposal, it shall proceed to implement it and report its action to the General Board.
      2. If the Board decides not to go forward with the proposed opportunity it shall report its decision and reasons to Standing at its next meeting. Standing Committee or the Annual Conference may direct the General Board to undertake the proposal and designate the method of implementation.
      3. Whether upon recommendation of the General Board or upon its own initiative, if the proposed new congregation affirms that it will conscientiously endeavor to adhere to the teachings, practices, beliefs, and polity of the Church of the Brethren as determined by Annual Conference and to commit itself to support and actively participate in the Church of the Brethren, Standing Committee may extend recognition to the new congregation.
    2. In consultation with the new congregation the director of district Ministries, and with the approval of the district by the Annual Conference moderator and the General Board Chair (or their designees). Consideration will be given to the wishes of the new congregation, resource needs, geography, and how the new congregation can best develop or other new congregations can be established in that region.
    3. With the concurrence of the Annual Conference officers and in consultation with the General Board and the new Brethren, the district board is authorized to
      1. make appropriate adjustments in polity to accommodate special concerns,
      2. establish the process for licensing and ordination of ministers, and
      3. establish the process for recognizing additional new congregations.
    4. Administrative direction, orientation to the Church of the Brethren, training of leadership, and the coordination of all funding from various partners shall be the responsibility of the General Board.
    5. Issues of accountability, discipleship and reconciliation shall be handled in a manner prescribed by the General Board in consultation with the appropriate personnel from the designated district.
    6. This chapter makes provision for variations and exceptions from denominational polity to accommodate special social, cultural and other concerns. However, it is intended that even when exceptions and variations occur, denominational polity should be followed as closely as is practicable.
    1. A congregation or group of congregations, whether or not located in the same country may petition Standing Committee to be recognized as a new district. If the Standing Committee concludes that the proposed district is viable (giving appropriate attention to current polity criteria) and in the best interest of the petitioning congregations, it shall determine whether or not to recognize the new district and make any necessary adjustments in polity relating to districts. In all other respects the districts shall follow denominational polity.
    2. After recognition by the Standing Committee, the new district shall be entitled to all the rights and authority of any other district, including the right to ordain ministers, recognize new congregations within the new district and send delegates to Standing Committee.
    3. Standing Committee shall have continuing authority to adjudicate request of the district for adjustments in polity to meet special concerns of the district.
    When a new district, new districts, or other Christian body concludes that additional structures such as regional conference (or separate yearly meeting) are appropriate, it may request approval for such structures from Annual Conference. In consultation with the new districts Annual Conference shall have the authority to establish and recognize regional conferences or other such structures and to designate the terms and conditions of such establishment and recognition, including how a regional conference, or other structure will relate to Standing Committee and other Brethren bodies.


During the course of its work the Committee became aware of or discussed matters relating to the concept of the global denomination which did not appear to be appropriate subjects for further study by the committee. IT was felt that these observations should be shared as part of this report so that the items could be considered by the General Board or other appropriate body.

  1. As new congregations are planted in different countries and cultures, the concern continues to be raised as to whether Annual Conference needs to address the question of what it needs to be Brethren
  2. Consideration should be given to making available in the language of the users position statements and resources which describe and interpret the fundamental beliefs, teachings and practices of the Church of the Brethren.
  3. Consideration should be given to the establishment of a Global Missions Opportunity Fund to enable global evangelism. Guidelines could restrict the use of funds primarily for training staff, preparing and distributing literature and developing educational programs.
  4. A manual for the implementation of the 1989 Annual Conference statement, “Mission Theology and Guidelines,” should be developed and distributed.
  5. Information about resource materials on evangelism and missiology should be provided such as the following: Charles Van Engen, God’s Missionary People, Baker; Charles H. Kraft, Christianity and Culture, and Communication theory for Christian Witness, Maryknoll Press; Paul Heibert, Anthropological Tools for Missionaries, Baker, among others.
  6. The Committee has concluded that it is premature to attempt to describe how a regional conference or other such church body might be designed; however, it would urge that if regional conferences are autonomous or nearly autonomous, the eventual relationships among the regional conferences or between a regional conference and Annual Conferences should include the following
    1. Maintaining close fraternal relationships with other regional conferences and Annual Conference;
    2. Seeking to be of one mind with other regional conferences and Annual Conference as to matters of faith and belief;
    3. Participating in periodic world assemblies of the Church of the Brethren;
    4. Participating in the selection of a moderator or chairperson and other appropriate officers of the world assembly;
    5. Authorizing the general secretary (or equivalent) and the moderator (or equivalent) of each Brethren regional conference and Annual Conference to attend the annual meeting of the regional conference;
    6. When practicable, combining and coordinating with other regional conferences and Annual Conference for activities and programs such as disaster relief, leadership training, church planting and ecumenical activities.

David Waas, Chairman
Susan Stern Boyer
Robert Ketterling
Mary Jo Flory Steury
C. Wayne Zunkel
Donald Miller (ex-officio)
Phillip C. Stone (ex-officio)

Action of the 1992 Annual Conference: Don Shank a Standing Committee delegate from the Atlantic Southeast district, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the Global Church Structure Committee Report be received as a study. In light of church polity guidelines adopted by the 1982 Annual Conference, this report will be received by the 1992 Annual Conference delegate body, studied throughout the year with final action to be taken at the 1993 Annual Conference (2/3reds majority required for action). The delegate body adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee.

Secretary’s note: The Global Church Structure Report presented in this booklet as an item of business contains revisions made by the Committee after further study and input from the denomination.

Action of the 1993 Annual Conference: The report from the Standing Committee study committee Structure to deal with Global Denomination was presented by David Waas, chair, with other members of the committee present. The report was adopted by the required two-thirds majority with four (4) changes made by the Standing Committee study committee and an editorial change from the term “global church” to the term “global denomination.” These changes have been incorporated in the wording of the preceding text.