Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Movement Now

As a follow up to my last blog on movements, I want to share a few thoughts on what I see as the most significant movement in North American Christianity at this time. 
First, you might be surprised to find that I do not think it is the “Emergent Church.”  I do think that the Emergent Church may be a part of it, or a spin off from the main, but largely, I think the Emergent business is way too small to call it a movement.
For the past 20 years, I believe the movement has been The Discipleship Movement.  I would describe the movement this way.  As Christendom continues to crash, and the Protestant consensus that dominated American Church life until the 60’s ebbs, many church leaders have discovered the need to return to disciple making.  I would further describe this as a movement away from Church membership and toward discipleship. 
Discipleship is more than bible study or small groups, but it incorporates these tools.  This movement is the realization that one of the reasons Christianity is failing here in the U.S. is because nominal Christianity is detrimental to the spread of Christianity and nominal Christianity is the inevitable outcome of Christendom and its implied membership. 
All of this was foreshadowed by Bonheoffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” and many of the leaders of this movement have been affected by his pivotal work.  The question behind the movement is “How can we help seekers and un-churched in our world move toward wholehearted following after Jesus as his disciples.  In addition, the Post-denominational moment in which we live, allows churches of many different traditions to contribute to discipleship formation across old divisions.
I would define a disciple as a person who has heard the good news of Jesus Christ and has accepted him as savior who has decided to follow him in a discipline way.  Of course, in Lutheran, Anglican and Roman circles, this is often described with the term “Christian Formation.” 
All of this recognizes the need for Christ’s people to go deeper and more fully live out a life of witness “by word and deed” that is counter-cultural to modern secular consumer driven society.
The key question for the local congregation is to think through how we help form people beyond mere membership questions into this deeper relationship.  I like to say that each congregation needs a clear path to discipleship. 
Not everyone who is seeking or even who is attracted to the church is ready for this deeper relationship, but we should continually invite them to it while living out the values of God’s kingdom. 
How will your congregation meet the challenge of moving beyond membership and toward discipleship?  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What is a Movement?

This was the challenging question put to me by the Reverend Clay Lein when he asked me to be the first guest preacher in a series of sermons asking his members to consider the challenge of being a “Movement not a Mega-church.”  Clay is the Rector of St. Philip’s, Frisco, one our largest and fastest growing Episcopal Churches.  In my sermon, I asked the congregation to consider the early church as The Jesus Movement and what that meant for them and means for each of us.

In addition, all this got me to thinking about various movements that have affected my life, and thinking about how these movements have both challenged the Church and brought new life at the same time.  My American Church History professor at Yale used to point out that we could not tell the history of the church in North America by denominational history, as you can in Germany, France and England, but rather you had to tell it by movements and people.  Historically, he could point to the several Great Awakenings, the Sunday School Movement, and The Social Gospel Movement for clear examples. 

Many of these Movements have had an impact on the way we do church, so I think this a fit topic for Kevin on Congregations, and I am asking you to consider this too, and to stimulate your thinking, I am listing the movements that came to my mind. 

The Oxford Movement: as an un-churched person who became a Christian in a new planted congregation of the Diocese of Dallas, I can start with this movement which has consequently changed the whole nature of The Episcopal Church.  I jokingly like to say that I had to go to seminary to discover that I was a high church person.

The Civil Rights Movement:  I was raised in Texas in a segregated school system.  As I came to adulthood in the 60s, I was profoundly touched by the struggle for equal rights. 

The Women’s Movement:  I can say the same regarding this too.  My seminary class at Berkeley/Yale was the first to have a women D.Min student.   

The Liturgical Movement:  By being in seminary during the era of the Prayer Book Studies, and the transition to a new Book of Common Prayer, my ministry has been framed by much of this movement.

The Holy Spirit or Charismatic Movement:  My “post-seminary” renewal through the Holy Spirit still marks my understanding of personal faith and ministry.  Of course, there were sub-Movements in this too such as Cursillo and Marriage Encounter, both of which were movements too.

The 12 Step and Recovery Movement:  I have been significantly touched by those in AA and my participation in Al-Anon and in Adult Children’s groups.  So have many others.

The Men’s Movement:  I’ve greatly appreciated the contribution of authors in this tradition.  The most outstanding aspect of this was Promise Keepers, but it was not the only expression.

The Small Group Movement:  No doubt, this one has deeply affected North American Christianity. 

The 2020 Movement:  Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to see me list this one especially if you have read my distinction between the 2020 Movement and the 2020 legislation of TEC.

In my next blog, I will list what I consider to be the singular most important movement in the North American Church for the past 20 years and discuss why I think this is so.