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?  


  1. Howdy Kevin: Just had to jump in here because the concepts involved strike at the heart of my relationship with Jesus. First, I would argue that every authentic movement within the religion of Christianity has, at its core, a culturally relevant expression of the act of discipleship. Whether it be the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, the Great Awakening, the Charismatic Movement or the Emergent Movement; if it is not about being conformed according to the Mind of Christ,then it is not an authentic movement of the Church.
    So what is discipleship? At Resurrection our Vision is "Walking with Christ through the Stages of Life". For us, it is, as Eugene Peterson put it: "A long obedience in the same direction" it is about moving in the same direction as Jesus, and that direction is toward the Father. Being a Disciple is about walking through life as Jesus did.
    Given our post-modern, cosmopolitan context, I think the "emergent" label does represent the most influential movement in Christianity at present, namely, the de-institutionalization of the Christian Faith. The comfort with paradox and trajedy and the willingness to accept a hierarchy of truths given epistemological limitations is present in more churches than we might imagine - all reflect the emergent movement. I would encourage a reading of Tony Jones book "The New Christians". What he describes, the search for an authentic, life-changing encounter with Christ in the context of transformed community is discipleship at its finest. And, as a Gen X Christian who has been everything from Roman Catholic to Penetecostal, I find that the values of the "emergent movement" strike very close to the heart of Jesus - relationship over religion; authenticity over hierarchy; praxis over theory.
    What does this mean for me, a Priest in a hierarchical church? I try to keep it simple by keeping the focus on Jesus - becoming more like him - and allowing the Spirit to draw me, and the congregation that I serve, closer to Father....the rest is just details. And, in truly emergent fashion, I have no problem pledging obedience to a bishop and retaining my freedom in Christ.

  2. Phil, I very much like and appreciate your comments and I certainly honor them coming from one of your generation. I did not mean to denigrate "Emergent" by my comment. I like much in it. Like McClean, I think it too early to call a movement. But this doesn't mean that it is not significant.

  3. Thanks for this, Kevin. I resonate with this for many reasons, but primarily because my Episcopal Church in Nashville has been working on moving from a "chaplaincy" culture (where you go to a religious professional for a dose of religion when times are tough) to a discipling culture (where we help people become more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and then go forth to also make disciples in fulfillment of the Great Commission). This is not to denigrate the role of priests, but to equip and empower laypeople as the full Christians that they are. We have been working on this focus with 3dm ministries, which is led by Mike Breen, an Anglican priest from England, whose full-time ministry is now to work with churches in America. Their website is here: