The Pastoral Referral Network
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Sep 24, 2007 at 09:37:06 AM EST
One of the easiest ways to soften a church up to be steeplejacked is to place a pastor in the church who stands in direct opposition to the teachings, practices, principles, and theology of the denomination. And in denominations where the local church has control over the call of the pastor, there have been and will continue to be attempts by outside agents to circumvent the calling procedures of a judicatory office in an effort to place a pastor with both conservative a theology and an activist bent.

The Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF), a long established renewal group within the United Church of Christ (UCC), and Faithful and Welcoming (F&W)- a more recent manifestation of a band of renewalists within the UCC - both advertise on their website an organization called The Pastoral Referral Network(PRN).

What is the PRN? Read on to find out more.

The PRN is a collection of names that, we are told, represent `Godly Pastors.'

Mark Friz, a former UCC pastor who successfully steepljacked two churches out of the UCC, and who has spoken at MANY other UCC churches telling them why they should remove themselves from the denomination,  is now credentialed as an Evangelical Free pastor. Mark authored a long time ago a schlocky piece of propaganda entitled `Shopping for a Godly Pastor,' which outlines for a search committee the characteristics of a, ahem, `Godly Pastor.' It will come as no surprise to anyone that the characteristics reflect a very, very conservative theology, a self-righteous moral turpitude, and an understanding of scripture that is, shall we say, less than gracious.

And what more would you, or could you, expect from a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary? And that is the point, and it is made very clearly by David Runion-Bareford in an interview he did on a Radio Program called "Issues, Etc." on June 21, 2004. In that interview, in which he is being asked to talk about the decline in membership in the UCC (and in mainline churches across the country), he reveals his plan to save us from our demise. That plan essentially includes recruiting junkets he takes to `evangelical seminaries' across the country inviting seminary graduates to consider becoming a part of the Pastoral Referral Network.

This particular IRD trained activist and ally (David Runnion-Bareford) maintains a hidden collection of names that he refuses to reveal to the broader public; that he recruits from seminaries with not only no training in UCC history, theology, and polity, but from seminaries that often teach that liberal denominations like the UCC are an abomination, heretical, and anathema to the teachings of the gospel; and then shepherds those names with no accountability to the denomination to churches who think that calling a `Godly Pastor' is what they should be doing.

Churches need to be very careful here. The primary motivations of organizations like the BWF and F&W, who openly advertise and advocate for the PRN, are never fully disclosed. Masked behind the more noble goal of helping a church call a pastor more suitable to their liking ( A `Godly Pastor) and their collective theology are the more nefarious intentions of bringing in a pastor who is trained to do one of two things: remove the church from the denomination, or build a cadre of renewal activists whose relationship to the wider church is dismantled and who themselves are coerced to join a crusade to `renew' the wayward and apostate denomination.

In recent years, we have begun to talk about setting the standard for authorizing ministers with this simple question: is this the church of your heart?

That is not a theological litmus test - and I am proud to say that in my denomination (the UCC), we are very proud of our free church tradition, of the freedom of the pulpit, of the very loose boundaries and  barriers that are put up regarding matters of faith - save a fundamental belief that, as the preamble to our constitution states so clearly, Jesus is the head of the church.

But the document entitled `Calling a Godly Pastor' sets restrictive boundaries on faith, on belief, on the full expression of one's biblical understandings, on theology, and on the right of the believer to explore matters of faith beyond rigid strictures imposed by others.

This is made clear on the website of F&W, in what I believe to be a scandalous article and a serious breech of covenant responsibility. The article is cloaked in what appears to be an innocent invitation: if you are a conservative church, looking for a conservative pastor, and the UCC is preventing the pastor you want from coming to your church, then here are some resources for you.

But it is not so innocent; and it cannot be for any organization that invites local churches to call pastors by means other than those which their denomination has set up for them. Committees on Ministry are charged with authorizing pastors to serve in their churches. In our judicatory realm, we test for a very few things: can you articulate and defend a comprehensible theology; can you articulate rational, thoughtful biblical understandings in a manner that all folk can hear and understand; are there any reasons why this committee should not consider you as a candidate based on ethical or legal considerations; and, is this the church of your heart?

It has been my consistent experience that one's theological perspective - be it predominantly liberal, conservative, or moderate - has never served as a predisposition creating an inability to respond affirmatively to any of the committee's questions.

And the last question is an important one: is this the church of your heart. It is hard to say this is true of pastors afraid to come through the front door. It is hard to say that of pastors trained at seminaries not only opposed to our fundamental right to exist, but openly speaking about our teachings as apostate. It is hard to say that of pastors willing to conduct their search discretely by cooperating with co-conspirators who will not share information (like the name of the candidate, the process the candidate went through to get ordained, the pastor's feelings about and experience in and with the denomination, the pastor's work history and criminal background history) openly.

Churches should be aware of organizations like the PRN. Church leaders, especially in congregations in pastoral transition, should become fully aware of the materials they circulate outside of the standard practices and procedures of their respective judicatory offices (practices established solely for the protection of the congregation and NOT, as one would assume reading the material of trained activists and renewalists, for the preservation and enhancement of liberal theology), and of the concerted effort to entice their congregation to call one of their pastors.

Do you think it at all possible that the UCC will become a more connectional Church in order to strengthen protective structures?  Does fierce independence and suspicion of hierarchy leave congregations vulnerable to this sort of church by church erosion?

As you mentioned in a previous diary, it seems as though many people in these steeplejacked churches don't realize how connectional they already are, how enriched their lives are by regional resources -- like youth events and women's events -- until after their churches have been wooed away by deceivers.

by Rusty Pipes on Mon Sep 24, 2007 at 08:10:09 PM EST


I do think that one of the results of these sustained attacks will be a more concerted effort to reconnect covenant relationships that we have both taken for granted and allowed to erode over the years. And it is truly sad how many churches lose that precious autonomy AND covenant when they leave for what they believe to be greener pastures.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 07:46:59 AM EST

And the last question is an important one: is this the church of your heart.

I would be leery of the effectiveness of this question.  Whether or not the prospective pastors have any qualms about the way in which they became candidates for the job, it would seem that if they saw it as their calling to "save" that church from the UCC denomination, they would be able to answer your suggested question in the affirmative quite honestly (at least in their own eyes).

I think your suggestion of education seems to be the best approach.  I can't really comment beyond that since my only denominational experience is with the British Methodist Church which, I believe, allows for much less local autonomy in such matters.

by tacitus on Tue Sep 25, 2007 at 01:52:31 PM EST

Pastoral Referral Network URL:

by Browsercat on Mon Sep 24, 2007 at 11:57:10 AM EST

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