Ministers Fellowship International has strong convictions regarding the autonomy of the local church. These underlying convictions affect everything that MFI does and they serve as a guide to every policy that MFI establishes. MFI’s philosophy is reflected in three phrases.
Ministers Touching Ministers
MFI is not first of all a fellowship of churches. It is primarily a fellowship of ministers, within that context, there exists a fellowship of churches, according to relationships built between the member ministers. This means that ministers of like vision and doctrine voluntarily associate themselves with other ministries for the purpose of fellowship, encouragement, vision expansion, equipping and strength.
This also means that the members of the fellowship themselves need to be aware that when they become a part of MFI, they are not only asking for resources and strength, but they are also indicating that they desire to be that for others within the fellowship.
MFI provides a structure and a context where these meaningful relationships can be cultivated, but it is up to each member along with the MFI leadership to sense a personal responsibility for one another as “our brother’s keeper”.
Affiliation Yet Autonomy
One of the strong doctrinal foundations of MFI is its conviction that every local church is an autonomous organisation. That means that each local church is to be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. It is because of this teaching that even forming such a fellowship was a sensitive task.
On the one hand, there was a desire to be a catalyst to bring pastors and church leaders together in affiliation for the purpose of fellowship, relationship and strength. But on the other hand, there was an equally strong desire to not violate the structural integrity and authority of the local assembly.
Many groups have begun as a fellowship, but soon became a denomination where the central headquarters began to exert a growing measure of control on the local scene. MFI has taken strong measures to avoid this pitfall. MFI has attempted to safeguard itself by organising the fellowship in such a way that the things that give denominations control cannot become a part of the fellowship. The four things that MFI cannot do are credential ministries, own local church properties, control local church missions and act as a denomination.
MFI Does Not Credential Ministries
The local church is to be the place where ministries are birthed, raised up, trained, equipped, licensed and ordained. If an organization has the power to commission (ordain) someone, it also has the power to decommission them and thus control that ministry. MFI holds the view that licensing and ordination are the specific functions of the local church and must be administered on that level.
MFI Cannot Own Local Church Properties
Often local churches do not own their church properties, but their properties are held by an outside organization. This can easily become another issue of control. Even though it has been the people’s money that built and established the church facility, an organization can easily impose its will on a congregation because its name is on the legal documents.
MFI Does Not Control Local Church Mission
Again, the local church is to be the sending body for missionaries. Certainly local churches may voluntarily cooperate with each other on missionaries and missions projects, but no outside organization should demand that the mission money of a local church are spent in a prescribed way. This again takes away authority and resources from the local church for the development of their own missions strategy. In spite of the fact that MFI does not subscribe to organizational control, it does recognize the need that ministers have for a sense of spiritual family and identity. There is a need to be a part of a vision greater than oneself. There is a need for committed relationships with like-minded ministries who can be a source of strength and a resource to them in time of need. MFI is just that for many pastors and leaders. When they come into MFI, they find new friends. They find spiritual brothers and sisters, and, at the same time, they find spiritual fathers and mothers who can provide wisdom and counsel in times of need. They enter into a relationship where they can watch over one another in a loving and caring way. They become part of a worldwide vision that continues to grow into the future.
MFI Does Not Act as a Denomination
MFI is not a denomination and MFI does not act as a higher authority imposed on local autonomous churches. In order to follow ministerial ethics, applications will not normally be entertained by ministers who are identified with and committed to their own denomination or like affiliation.
Offers Covering Without Control
MFI is a covering body only in so far as it provides a context for spiritual relationship and oversight in a balanced fashion without having any official or legal control over any minister or church.
As a fellowship of ministers, MFI provides a context for ministers to find strengthening and supportive relationships with other “peer” and “fatherly” ministries. However, these relationships are voluntary and unofficial and are not intended to replace the legal and official authority of the local church.
All ministries including the senior pastor should be under the legal authority of and accountable to their own church elder board. If a pastor has no elder board, then he should be submitted to the accountability of another “mother” church while that elder board is in the process of forming.
MFI does not seek to cover churches or their ministers in any direct or legal sense. However, the member of MFI, and the churches they minister to, may provide this more “official oversight” for each other. In doing so they would not be acting as official representatives of MFI, but they would be acting as representatives of their own local churches.
In the event that a member of MFI was to be disqualified from ministry it would not be the place of MFI to officially discipline that ministry. It would be the responsibility of that local church and/or its covering “mother” church to judge and administer discipline officially. The local church may, however, call upon MFI leaders or members to assist in these matters. In doing so, MFI leaders would not be acting on behalf of MFI as much as they would be acting as individuals at the request of the local elder board.
In the event that a church elder board was to call MFI for help in any such matter, their participation would be in a purely advisory role to the local elder board. MFI would not be involved directly in any pastoral discipline in the church setting. That is the function of the local church itself. MFI’s only official disciplinary action in such a case could be the removal of a disqualified minister from membership in MFI.