Christian Church (Disicples of Christ)

Getting Depressed By Yearbooks, Again (Sort of)

By Jeff Gill

Being a bit of a history geek, I was tracing developments a century ago in the congregation I serve. This had me reading through old Yearbooks, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1923 (they’re all easy to find on Google Books, just look for Christian Church, American Home Missionary, and Yearbook as search terms).

It was kind of, well . . . depressing, in an unexpected way.

Perhaps you remember Derek last year talking about getting his new Disciples Yearbook:

He was, at least at first, a little bummed out. The numbers (with the help of a stats geek friend of his) are cratering for the objective measures, at least, for our institutional life. We’ve gotten a newer Yearbook in the last few weeks, most of us, and the rate of descent is still, in Tom Wolfe’s description of the Mercury astronauts returning to earth, that of a ring of car keys flung onto a parking lot pavement. Anyhow.

Statistically, things 100 years ago were quite different. “Men and Millions” is the big thing back then (yeah, yeah, we’ll come back to that in a moment), and the relatively anonymous writers of most of the content, speaking quite self-consciously as the voice of our Brotherhood (okay, okay, I’m getting to that), are optimistic about being able to mark those millions in almost every category, if not now, then by the end of the decade or so. Remember, this is when a) “The Christian Century” was mainly our sandbox as a publication, and b) we were quite sure we were IN a Christian century. That theme’s been done, but it’s worth noting again.

Today, we have a million of just about nothing. A quarter mil in worship on an average Sunday, maybe realistically half a million members, but that’s probably not true today and won’t be tomorrow. Say 450,000 tops.

As “Men and Millions” was firing up to bring together the multitudinous, various, fractious programs of missions and education and “church extension” (as we called our building campaign and church planting program back then), there is clearly excitement in those long-deceased voices speaking from the page.

“Chief among the benefits accruing to the Society from the Men and Millions Movement is the wide and sympathetic hearing its work was given. Never have the great claims of the American Christian Missionary Society been presented to such multitudes as from the platform of the movement… The Joint Apportionment Committee was devised by the General Convention to mollify evils of competition growing out of multiplied missionary agencies. The Society has from the first championed the work with enthusiasm and its representative has served the committee this year with devotion. The present apportionment plan has failed to correct both the missionary myopia and the ‘lopsidedness’ in our churches. It begins to appear that if the churches are to be apportioned at all, the work should be done by a committee close enough to the local churches to be conversant with their ability… The remarkable results of the ‘Emergency Drive’ of the Men and Millions Movement not only revealed the large financial ability of the Disciples but points the way to better methods of calling it forth. Here again appears the wisdom of the county unit policy in our organizational scheme. The Joint Apportionment Committee is recommending through the Men and Millions Movement, The World-wide Every-Member Canvass, for an all inclusive budget for all the missionary, educational and benevolent agencies, to which the Society gives hearty approval.”

It goes on like that, pages and pages of it, in between the charts and lists and tables.

Sure, it’s dated language. Very Roaring Twenties, the religious side of The Great Gatsby, the not-so-creepy side of Elmer Gantry. But allowing for all that, the thing is: it’s so hopeful. So optimistic. And so certain that things will go a certain way.

And it’s not that they’re just affirming a status quo or a social quietism, either. Recommended reading lists for Sunday school teachers include Jacob Riis, author of “How the Other Half Lives,” and social gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch. The wording is most emphatically dated, but the passion is present to minister in minority communities of a wide variety of settings, from Bohemians in Cleveland (no, not those Bohemians) to Philippinos in California.

What the authors of this material don’t know, or are averting their eyes from, is the looming shadow of World War (the book “Preachers Present Arms” came to mind repeatedly); the racism and slavery behind what is called “Negro poverty” is unmentioned, although lynching is decried and economic opportunity is called for; and the eruption in 1920 of the “Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy” may have begun in Presbyterian circles, but it was clearly visible to Disciples leaders of the day: not so in these pages.

In the authorial tone of the century old Yearbooks, even though self-evidently written by many different hands and with an assortment of styles, the Stone-Campbell churches are one. The Restoration Movement, even though by 1906 clearly divided already between the “a capella” and instrumental branches, is spoken of as a single unified force whose drive and capacity will only flourish as that unity of purpose and action is focused.

The fracturing, of course, was already going on, between cooperatives and independents, progressives and traditionalists, northern and southern ways of being church and doing missions. The role of most minority groups was still, even with the best of intentions, that of being the object of mission efforts, not as autonomous subjects themselves; the role of women was . . . well, it’s complicated, but the Yearbook’s narrative still seems to have much in common with Matthew 14:21, telling us about great things, “not counting women and children.”

Really, it’s amazing how much unity we had for how long, given the depth of the divisions that soon would be revealed. And it’s also got to be the case, I believe, that the shock of what the institutions of our “Fellowship” (or Brotherhood) realized they had supported through the war-fervor against “the Huns” (oh yes they go there, and they go there hard, “threat to civilization” and all that, “enlist now, young men”…), all of which had to have made many if not most of our leaders say “we have to stop pretending.”

Because the tone does start to change in the late Twenties. You can blame it on the Depression, but it starts well before October of 1929. There’s plenty to praise and congratulate one another about in those years, but the relentless boosterism, the almost-manic sunny optimism, recedes. We lose some optimism, but get a bit more realism in our outlook. Sharing good news into America, across the world, is going to be hard, and we probably won’t figure it all out by 1999. The Disciples are starting to come to grips with just how fractured the world is, and that as a movement for wholeness, it’s going to take more than just a plea for unity based on the New Testament model that, frankly, we ourselves didn’t all agree on in detail.

Like Derek, I got depressed, but this time it was from reading those warm, cheery, happy, sunny, not just hopeful but utterly certain Yearbook reports from 1915 and vicinity. Then I had to think about it a while. And as he ultimately realized last year, in the end, we are as Christians, as Disciples of Christ, given a very particular gift, and that is to preach the Gospel to our particular context, in this specific era. (He said it with seven points and different language, but that’s how I took it.)

Who knows how our reports and Mission First! plans will look in 2115. It’s actually kind of helpful to ask that question of my own calling, this congregation’s mission, our denominational issues today. After smiling at the insouciance of 1915’s vision of the future, what will my take on where we’re going right now sound like in a hundred years? And does that tell me anything about what’s really moving towards wholeness in my plans if I ask it from that point of view?

That’s not exactly taking God’s perspective, but it’s getting closer.

Professing Hope: 5 Ways to Strengthen our Life Together

By Beau Underwood

In a previous post I offered a few opinions - perhaps even got a bit "preachy" - on the state of congregational life within Mainline Protestantism generally and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) specifically. The impetus was the struggle of congregations within a denomination seeking and needing to discern anew God's call within a rapidly changing American religious landscape. You would not need to apologize for reading those words and curtly responding with an answer along the lines of:

Okay, so now what? All this idealistic language means very little given the realities of our congregational and denominational life. How is any of this relevant? What can any of us actually DO? You do realize that simply announcing a refuseal to acquiesce to the status quo does not actually change anything, right?

Hence the need for this second post, focusing far less on theological exhortations and ecclesiastical admonishments. 

These are my provisional thoughts on how we might join God in the continued transformation and needed revitalization of our churches. Assuming present realities will not change overnight, this is an attempt to offer ways that you, me, and the guy down the street can contribute to solutions. Nothing here will be new or profound, but if this serves as a reminder of the basics or helps someone think about old things in new ways then my goal will have been achieved. Above all, this reflection is rooted in the conviction that our individual lives and our life together as Church should reflect the hope we profess (Hebrews 10:23).

1. Tame the Tongue - Our language needs to change. Cries of despair often dominate discussions. Many congregations sound like the liberated Israelites wandering in the wilderness who, fearing for their safety and facing starvation, long for returning to enslavement in Egypt. Nostalgia for an idealized past is rarely helpful in imagining the future. 

Perhaps the only thing worse is when business parlance is injected into the narrative of decline. Then the conversation is all about "the bottom line," "declining revenues from fewer giving units," and the need to "change our business model." The last assertion usually implies a belief that a new, young, and energetic pastor/CEO can turn the company/congregation around.

This language is neither faithful nor compelling. It betrays the absence of hope and a lack of trust in the God who provides the manna from heaven when we find ourselves in the wilderness. When bad news of seemingly greater proportions dominates daily headlines and cynicism towards religion, government, and anything that has existed for more than five minutes abounds within the broader culture, the Church cannot afford conformity. 

Our actual words and conversations must reflect our belief in a God who makes all things possible. Transforming congregations has to begin with rediscovering the neglected language of faith. Our words should point towards the God who liberates from bondage and rescues from death. Speaking life is essential to congregational vitality.

2. Commit to a Community - American Christianity has long been described as a religious marketplace (that darn business language is so hard to avoid!). When one church stops meeting our needs or when we get angry at a leader or conflict erupts the faithful quickly depart and show up at the church down the street. Oftentimes people stop attending church altogether - despite claiming they still "belong" to the congregation - or worship infrequently because it involves "too much work" or is "too demanding." 

Now I'm the first one to say it is okay to sit in the pew in the back of the church and just take in worship, if that's what your spirit needs right now. But my larger point is that bring part of a community involves commitment. Caring for each other and supporting others through the ups and downs of life requires the investment of energy and time. Congregations can be unwieldy, messy, and even ugly organizations. If churches excluded sinners then all the pews would be empty. 

I'm always deeply saddened to talk with leaders who are no longer connected and accountable to communities of faith. Especially in a denomination like the Disciples that claims to prioritize the mission and witness of local churches, making a commitment to participating in the life of a community - in the good times and the bad - is absolutely imperative. 

When leaders fear an exodus of members at the smallest hint of unhappiness, the incentive is to avoid hard conversations and play everything safe. Risks are not taken and creativity disappears. This is a recipe for decline and death. But when leaders know they have the trust and commitment of the group then a wide range of possibilities will emerge. New ideas can be discerned and tried. Failures become learning experiences instead of opportunities to assign blame. Successes lead to robust ministries that allow congregations to serve neighborhoods and communities in new and needed ways. It all starts with a group of people committed to the Gospel and to each other.

3. Put your Money where your Mouth is - I have a confession to make that is unknown to even most members of the church where I serve: last year my wife and I fell short of our financial pledge. It was entirely inadvertent. We made a commitment at the beginning of the year, dropped checks in the offering plate when we remembered to grab one out of the drawer before leaving for church, and got a letter at year's end showing our giving and realized we had not fulfilled our promise. 

Major oops.

Like many other millennials most of our financial transactions our handled electronically. We rarely carry cash or write checks but church was one of the few places we kept up the "old traditions." While our paychecks were deposited directly into our bank accounts and the mortgage payment automatically withdrawn, the church offering still required intentional action on our part. This was mostly done to help the church avoid losing money to a credit card processing fee, but it ended up costing the church anyways! 

After discovering our error, we immediately rectified the situation by signing up for online giving. Now a monthly gift is made directly to the church with no action required on our part, providing greater cash flow predictability for everyone.

Why do I bother to share all this? Because ministry requires resources and stewardship is essential to discipleship. One of the most common laments in our congregational and denominational life is necessity of "doing more with less." This is the reality at least in the short-term, but it should not lead to resignation. Every member of the community should be encouraged to support the ministry in whatever ways are possible, including through regular financial gifts.

This also applies to our membership within a denomination. If we value the witness and work of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) then it deserves our financial support. After setting up our monthly gift to the congregation, I immediately arranged for a monthly gift to also be made to the Disciples Mission Fund. You can do the same by clicking here

4. Explore the Bible - Biblical literacy in many churches is shockingly low. As Christians we don't know the stories that have guided our ancestors in the faith. How can our beliefs orient and shape our lives when the basics remain a mystery? The result is a shallow spirituality that quickly breaks down in moments of challenge or crisis. 

Not only is understanding the Bible fundamental to Christian life, but in and through Scripture we find critiques to the conventional wisdom of our day and reminders that God's priorities are rarely the same as ours. Scripture casts down our 21st Century idols through ancient, enduring wisdom that forces humility upon us.

If we want to tell our story in ways that bring new life to our communities, we must first locate ourselves within the overarching story of what God is doing in the world. It is impossible to understand ourselves as Christians without understanding the narrative(s) of the Bible. There are numerous ways, new and old, to accomplish this but this core aspect of our life together cannot be ignored. In a time of religious ignorance, teaching the faith through the comprehension of our sacred texts is a non-negotiable. 

5. Share the Good News - Evangelism is a dirty word in many Mainline Protestant churches. This is a sad indictment of our convictions and a major contributor to the decline of our congregations. There are some terrible, offensive, and overbearing ways of sharing faith. Many of these have been and continued to be practiced by far too many Christians. But we cannot throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. 

Christian faith is the best lens I've discovered for understanding and living within a complex world. It has been a source of profound truth, beauty, wisdom, and peace. I have seen the ways that God has redeemed and changed the lives of people who discovered Jesus and made the choice to pick up their crosses and follow (Matthew 16:24).

We have so much to share with the world. Claiming to be Disciples of Christ means nothing if we aren't offering good news to the poor, release to the captive, healing to the hurting, and wholeness to the broken (Luke 4:16-19).

St. Francis of Assisi famously said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." In a hurting world that is drowning in despair our churches must be beacons of hope. As scary as this sounds to so many of us that requires letting others know about the new life we've found in Jesus Christ and inviting them to into it. Any serious attempt at being "a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world" necessarily involves showing and telling a fragmented world that wholeness is possible and helping people find it.

What other ideas do you have professing our hope? Let's get the church talking. 

Finding Resurrection: A Response to the Latest Yearbook and Directory Numbers

By Beau Underwood

There’s a new book out by my friend and yours, Derek Penwell, that every mainline pastor, leader, and member needs to read (note: Derek did not ask me to say this). If our denominations and churches aren’t willing to dream new dreams, think in creative ways, and take a leap of faith in living out the Gospel in today’s context then the handwriting is on the wall regarding our fate. 

His analysis and exhortations come at a particularly relevant time, given the release of the Disciples’ 2014 Yearbook and Directory and its report of substantial decline in membership and participation. It is hard to find a silver lining in these troubling trends. I agree with much of Derek’s own commentary about how we should approach this news but let allow me to make one important addition (as Derek clearly does, since this is the blog he edits that I’m writing on):

We might just be close enough to death to witness resurrection

This is the paraphrase of a statement I heard Rev. Bonnie Perry, an Episcopal priest in Chicago, make to a gathering of students during my days at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The idea – in case it isn’t obvious – is that confronting existential crises can often lead to new life. By trying to save or life and protect ourselves we will inevitably die, but by sacrificing ourselves for the sake of something greater we tap into a life far greater than our own (Matthew 16:25). 

This is the reality facing the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). If our focus is on stopping the bleeding in terms of attendance numbers and financial giving then we are destiny is sealed. Narcissism, pessimism, and anxiety are not compelling virtues for churches. Being consumed with ourselves only guarantees more of the same. But if we can shift our eyes away from the mess and devastation that is the current reality and imagine a different, more faithful future then our hope for resurrection can begin to replace our fear of institutional death.  Specifically that requires:

Casting a vision and telling our story – Congregations unable to articulate their mission or offer a clear identity within a community are doomed. If you cannot express who you are and where you’re going, it is impossible to get others to join you on the journey. Like so many confused teenagers, we have an identity crisis. Modeling faithful discipleship in our contemporary context is an incredible challenge that many of our congregations have simply failed to do well.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Polls looking at spirituality in the United States consistently reveal people hungry for connecting with transcendent realities. People know there is a truth beyond what they create themselves or what shape their individual lives take but finding requires the existence of a viable alternative to existentialism. 

Simply put, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) needs to find a story that invites people to discover where they fit within The Story. There are so many people dying to find a different way of life. If we belief Jesus transforms lives then we’ve got to re-commit ourselves to sharing this vision of how the world should be with a world desperate for something other than what is. 

Embodying what we profess – If the only problem was helping the spiritual but not religious connect with a community then telling our story and opening our doors would solve all our issues. However, the greater problem is what people find when they walk into our sanctuaries. We’ve often over-promised and under-delivered. People get excited to hear what we profess to be but then discover our actions fail to match our lofty words. 

If we dare claim to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” and a denomination offering true community, deep spirituality, and a commitment to justice then we better be ready to back up our words. Concerns about congregational decline has resulted in an emphasis on church growth with little attention to the community we’re asking people to join. Christian formation – helping people understand that faith is a way of life – are words rarely heard in many of our congregations today. We need a better understanding of what it means to be “Disciples of Christ” and a commitment to embodying that understanding in thought, word and deed.

Recognizing change will not “come from the top” – For the Disciples the whole concept of “the top” is an idea that lacks meaning. We intentionally vested power within congregations, which has been both a blessing and detriment. In theory, this hands off approach should spur innovation and allow for congregations to learn and share with each other in ways that allow all to thrive. Sadly in practice congregational autonomy is often an excuse for ignoring the sage advice of others, unfaithfully refusing to change, and insisting on doing things “our way” even if it means sapping the life of a congregation’s witness. There are many struggling congregations whose plights were entirely avoidable, but they invited their own death by ignoring the changing realities of their contexts and refusing to seek out or listen to the wisdom of others.

We certainly need leadership from the General and Regional Church because this church is strongest when every manifestation is working together. But given the challenges we face, any time those leaders spend on projects or initiatives that are not directly or indirectly related to revitalizing struggling congregations, supporting thriving churches, and starting new communities of worship is a waste we cannot afford. There are luxuries we should no longer indulge because they represent little more than re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship when our leaders need to be bailing water, patching holes, and guiding us to safe harbor.

But blaming denominational leaders for our struggles is an exercise in avoidance. It is far too simple an answer that denies any responsibility we have for changing our behaviors and contributing to solutions. The bottom line is that change has to start in our churches. We need pastors and lay leaders focused on strengthening their communities, preaching the Gospel, and serving God’s people in our contemporary context. There is no panacea that will be emanating from Indianapolis and to expect one is foolish. 

In a conversation with a denominational leader whom I greatly respect, I once made the theological mistake of saying “God needs our church.” He quickly corrected me and stated, “God doesn’t need this church. God will have always have a Church wherever the Gospel is preached, compassion is offered, and justice is pursued. But if our church remains faithful to that call then God might not be through with us yet.” 

I remain committed The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) because we have a distinctive witness that the world desperately needs to hear. The challenges facing us our immense but if we can move past our laments, remember who we are, and embody the faith we profess then I believe the God of Hope still has more ways to use our work than we can possible imagine. 

We’re closer to death than we’d care to admit, but I believe in the power of resurrection.

On nights and weekends, Rev. Beau Underwood is the Assistant Pastor at National City Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Washington, DC. During the week he directs the communications and advocacy at Sojourners

7 Things to Remember after Reading the Latest Crappy Membership Numbers in the Yearbook

By Derek Penwell

Holy Crap! It’s All Falling Apart!

I received my copy of the Disciples’ 2014 Yearbook and Directory yesterday morning. After lunch I picked it up, as I always do upon first receiving it, to look at Douglass Blvd. Christian Church’s entry—just to make sure, you know, that they got everything right. It’s not like the folks who put the Yearbook together have ever gotten it wrong (at least with regard to the congregation’s I’ve been involved in). But it’s a habit. So I looked.

Sure enough, our information had landed in this big fat book just the way we’d sent it. But after taking a look at DBCC’s entry, I glanced around at the other churches in Louisville. Then, I looked for my friends’ congregations. I looked for congregations I used to serve. Habit.

Then I started noticing something that hadn’t really ever caught my attention. I realized that I was looking at, what at least struck me as an inordinately high number of ellipses where numbers are supposed to be. Total Membership: … ; Participating Membership: … ; Average Worship Attendance: … ; Local Operating Receipts: … —well, you get the picture. Nothing. No report.

So, I started going through region by region, just glancing. Same thing; which is to say, an awful lot of nothing. And I felt the dark edges of panic curling at the edges of my consciousness.

Then I started focusing on Local Operating Receipts (i.e., the amount of money a congregation has received to pay for things like salaries, programming, maintenance, utilities, insurance—that sort of thing). And in the places where there were actual numbers, and not just dots, I realized how many congregations are getting by on relatively little money, given all those financial responsibilities I just named.

Then the panic really started to crowd my mind. What about all those young ministers—seminarians and recent graduates? Where are they going to go?

What about my friends who are looking to move to another church, most of them because they have to for one reason or another? Where are they going to go?

And then I thought, “What if DBCC gets really ticked at me, or just gets tired of my sarcasm and flippancy, figures they’ve heard enough of my dog and pony show? Where would I go?”

A sudden cloudburst outside my office window put an exclamation point on—what had already become—a grim afternoon.

A Conspicuously Creepy Coincidence

Just then—in what I would never presume to attribute to God’s providence, but which seemed at least like a conspicuously creepy coincidence—a good friend of mine sent me an email, saying that he’d just gotten done poring over the same new 2014 Yearbook and Directory. Unlike me, he did more than an anecdotal survey; he started crunching numbers. He sent me the accompanying spreadsheet. (By the way, if you ever get a “conspicuously creepy” and coincidental email from me, you will never be able to type the sentence in reference to that email: “He sent me the accompanying spreadsheet.” Just so you know.)

He noted that, year-over-year, our loss of Total and Participating Membership sits close to 20%, but that our Average Worship Attendance is only a little over 4%. That is a shocking loss to absorb in a single year!

He then went on to point out that over the past ten years the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has declined by 35% in Total Membership, 38% in Participating Membership, and 28% in Average Worship Attendance (it’s on the spreadsheet). Obviously, you don’t get to have many more decades like that and expect to survive.

We had some email discussion about what might be at the heart of the this precipitous decline, but that’s a topic for another day. The upshot of the conversation, though, was something like: “So, Mr. Post-Denominational, with the book being released on Friday, maybe you ought to have something to say about this.”

See, this is the “conspicuously creepy” part: The whole time I was looking through the Yearbook, getting a little freaked out, I kept thinking to myself, “So, Mr. Post-Denominational, you wrote a book on this, about how just this kind of information shouldn’t freak the church out. And here you are kind of freaking out, doing the same thing you tell other people to quit doing.”

So What?

Duly chastised about my own hypocrisy, after I said I’d write about the latest distressing news, I quieted my mind for a moment and composed myself. Here’s what I think:

1. Responding in fear is fine. Saying “Fear not! God can bring life out of death” isn’t saying that you shouldn’t ever be afraid. Fear is an instinctual reaction to stimuli in the environment. You can’t stop the initial irresistible urge to respond in fear any more than you can force your salivary glands not to start cranking out spit when you walk past a Krispy Kreme, and you get a whiff of that fresh batch of deep fried goodness that’s just come out, with all the gooey (What is that stuff? It’s not really frosting, is it? Icing?) slathered all over … Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, fear.

2. Living with fear is an affront to the gospel. Saying “Fear not! God can bring life out of death” is calling for a more permanent orientation to your environment. It says that while I can’t resist the instinctual fear of the moment, I will not live there. I will not let the fear define my embrace of the present or my hope for the future.

3. Some of this is on God. This is God’s church … all of it. It’s not my congregation, not my denomination, not my Protestant mainline. As such, God gets to take the credit and the responsibility for what ultimately becomes of it. When it goes well, Christians are prone to saying things like, “God has blessed us,” or “We give God the glory.” But when things go in the toilet, very rarely do I hear Christians say anything so honest as, “We worked our butts off, but God saw fit to curse us,” or “It sucks being us right now, we’re happy to give God the blame on this one.” I suspect I’ll get nasty emails about this, but if we’ve done the best we know how to do and the whole thing caves in over the next ten years, that’s on God. I know that sounds kind of harsh, but you don’t get to have it both ways: Good = God; Bad = our screw up.

4. The church is a tool of ministry. The church is not the gospel. The gospel is the gospel. For good and for ill, the church is the current framework through which the gospel is embodied (or is not embodied) in the world. Whereas the good news of the reign of God is necessary, the church is not. The church is a delivery system for the gospel. Whatever happens to mainline Protestant denominations in general, or individual congregations in particular, God’s determination to reign over a just and peaceful world is inexorable. In the end, God will get what God wants.

5. There are different kinds of growth. The kind of growth that makes the work congregations do interesting often eludes the people doing the evaluation because those kinds of growth defy quantification. That is to say, there any number of areas of growth that are qualitative, which—because evaluating them is impossible to reduce to statistical representation—means they get overlooked as meaningful indicators of health. By what algorithm, for instance, do we judge whether our people are being better parents? Children? Partners? Spouses? Friends? Bosses? Employees? Students? Just because the numbers aren’t what they used to be doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing some amazingly cool things through us right now.

6. There are different kinds of decline. In the same way that not all growth is good, not all decline is bad. Sometimes having people move on in order to find a place that better meets their spiritual needs is healthy. Nobody should be in favor of running people off just because they disagree. However, there are issues of justice about which a failure to compromise is a faithful response. Again, if we’re living out our commitments as faithfully as we know how, then we’ll have to believe that God is there leading us in the midst of it all, and that God’s present in the fallout as well as in the success.

7. If these numbers actually do signal some kind of death, so what? We’re followers of Jesus, so death is what we do best. We know what those laboring under a perpetual cloud of fear cannot know: God’s favorite artistic medium is corpses. Resurrection is nothing but the cosmic joke of ripping life from the cold, firm grasp of death. How can a people who gather every week around a table that reminds us of the ultimate nature of our commitment, that institutionalizes our embrace of powerlessness, be afraid of death? How can we Disciples of Christ, who were founded upon the revolutionary claim that our highest desire is “that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large,” have our sphincters clench up at the thought that we might cease to exist?

So, the numbers look bad.

If you want to be afraid, be afraid. Believe me, I completely understand.

But if you somehow think that living with that persistent hand-wringing fear is going to help you through the next ten years, and wind up on the other side with everything you care about still intact, then I don’t know how to help you.

It’s an exciting, if sometimes harrowing, time to be the church. But when has that ever been anything other than the case?

On Being a Disciple/disciple Today

By Mark Poindexter

The 4,034 people who attended the recent General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, Florida composed a group that was more than 60% smaller than the 10,492 that attended the first General Assembly in 1968.  It was less than half the size of the first assembly after I was ordained, the 1991 Assembly in Oklahoma City which had 8,774 registrants.  The attendance at the General Assembly reflects the decline that has happened within the life of the Disciples of Christ and the majority of our congregations over the past several decades.

In the Indian region, where I have been in ministry for the past 22 years, our regional staff has been reduced during this time from a Regional Minister and four full- time associates along with several full-time support staff to one full-time Regional Minister, several part time ministry partners and three part time support staff with the regional office being closed on Fridays.  And honestly, with 13 congregations leaving the denomination since Indiana’s most recent regional assembly where the decisions to remove the language that prohibited folks who are gay and lesbian from being ordained, more cuts to staff are very possible.  Another place where the reality of the decline has been experienced in Indiana is in the camping program which over the past 20 years has seen a decline of about 50% in the number participating in this program.  That decline, of course, involves the loss of financial resources which are used for the maintenance of the camping facilities.  And some of our facilities are in need of great repair.

The reality of this situation has been with us for quite some time.  It has been part of the landscape of doing ministry the entire time I have been involved in congregational leadership.  When I first started as a full-time pastor back in 1989, there was a lot finger pointing and blaming going on about the decline.  Some claimed it was because we were too liberal.  Others claimed it was the price we paid for being a church that tried to speak and act prophetically.  Some pointed to the fact that we tried to create a structure for our denomination just like other denominations, instead of being true to our roots of local congregational autonomy.  The Church Growth movement became big in some circles of clergy and a lot of us became immersed in the culture of church marketing.  I did my fair share of finger-pointing and blaming – for which I am deeply sorry.  I also worried a lot about what I needed to do to help stop this decline and “get the church headed in the right direction.” 

Well, I have come to understand that the numerical decline of our denomination and much of the church in America is a much more complex matter than I originally thought.  Though the matter of our faithfulness or unfaithfulness may well be a part of the decline, so are societal factors such as the American consumeristic mentality.  Thus, our devotion to “church marketing.”  

I don’t intend to list all the reasons that I think this decline has happened.  For this piece it is simply enough to say, I have come to the realization that the decline has many causes that are complex and multi-layered.  

What I want to say here is that I no longer worry about the decline.  And I no longer look for someone, or some attitude, to blame. The truth is, I see this time in the history of the church (and since I am writing as a Disciple – the Disciple Church) as an opportunity, even a gift to us, for us to do some deep reflection about what it means to be the church today.  Maybe this gift has even come to us from God.

Over the past couple of decades of my congregational leadership, I have seen myself move toward a simpler, but I believe a more authentic expression of Christian faith.  It is not rooted in creed or doctrine, or Designs or Preambles either.  It is rooted simply in Jesus – his life and the life he calls us to.  I no longer find myself looking for programs or strategies about how to turn things around.  Studies about target audiences or demographics don’t get a whole lot of my time.  My time instead is given to trying to understand the life of Jesus the best that I can – the fullness of it, his teachings, his death, his resurrection, his living presence throughout history, his impact on the structures of the world.  And then to live as fully as possible the life he calls me too – a life of unconditional love, grace and forgiveness; a life which cares for all but especially the people on the fringes of society; a life which is willing to speak truth to the powers of the world.  This simpler, but for me much more authentic way of understanding our faith, has played a very important role in my congregational leading.  At the church I presently serve our vision statement is “To be a church that thoughtfully and faithfully follows Jesus.”  It has been a blessing to hear that phrase used in elder’s prayers at the Table, in Moments for Mission during worship, in Sunday School discussions, and in the conversations that we are presently having about how to the church in this day and time.  

I believe the life of Jesus and the life he calls should be the central focus of the church in this time.  Communities of faith in which we center our life together in  love for God and all whom God loves, which includes neighbor, stranger and enemy, is our most important, and to me only authentic, evangelistic tool.  

So the decline for me, though it has been painful in many ways and has brought consequences that have to be dealt with, has also been a gift.  It has brought me closer to Jesus and for that I can be nothing but grateful.  None of us can know what the future holds in regard to the denominational life of the Disciples of Christ – but the present journey of being a Disciple has resulted in me focusing more on being a disciple, a follower of Jesus.  Maybe that’s what (who) we should have always been focused on.

                       

 

Preaching in the Wake of GA-1327

By Rich Voelz

Last week, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) passed a historic resolution calling upon the church to embody “grace and welcome to all to all God’s children though differing in sexual orientation or gender identity, affirming that neither are grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, and calling upon all expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a people of grace and welcome, to acknowledge their support for the welcome of and hospitality to all.”[1]

 The collective energy in the business meeting was powerful and it seemed that there was, for many, a quiet emotional release that I have trouble describing for a group of this size. A woman I did not know stood silently beside me with tears of joy streaming down her face. In the days since the vote, there has been a flurry of writing that has tried to make sense of the passing of the resolution, about what it does and doesn’t mean, and about how we need to respond to each other, especially where there are areas of disagreement.

My mind immediately went to impending Sunday morning worship services. I thought, “What will we say on these following Sundays? How will so many of these people who gathered to vote, many of them preachers and pastors, go home and preach in the wake created by the passing of GA-1327?” With this question in mind, I want to offer four areas of reflection that I think might be helpful to those faced with the joyous burden of preaching in the days and weeks after this year’s General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Preaching as Contextual, Strategic Communication

GA-1327 will be received differently in each and every congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And as others have noted, just because GA-1327 passed, that does not mean everything has changed, as if it were a marriage proclamation in a wedding. Some pastors have returned to congregations that have joyfully received this news. Others have returned wondering how they will hold their congregations together and in covenant with wider expressions of the church. Pastors will likely find every place in between these two extremes and the pulpit can be a powerful tool for navigating a congregation through these waters.

I’d like to think this goes without saying, but it is paramount for preachers to be sensitive to the contextual realities of the times and places they will preach in response to GA-1327. David Schnasa Jacobsen calls context, “the enduring social, cultural, and political features that color the ways in which we who live in the North American context hear the gospel.”[2]

 As simplistic as this seems to point this out, it is entirely another thing to thoughtfully consider how contextual realities affect the preaching situation particular to each pulpit. Preaching does not occur in a social, cultural, and political vacuum. There are forces shaping us and our people in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Preachers need to ask themselves what “cultural frames” exist within congregations: race/ethnicity, class, experiences of displacement,[3] and experiences of privilege. Close attention to the ways that congregants are shaped by contextual realities (as well as our own) give us reference for understanding the varying places of contextual sameness and difference that shape our listeners.

Embedded theological worldviews (or operative theologies) that exist within congregations are also worthy of attention in preparing to preach. Theological worldviews do not form in a day, nor will they be transformed in a day. These are complex stories, lived into over time. Operative theologies order a theological world or tell the story of what is really real, theologically speaking, and provide theological stability in uncertain times. So preachers need to ask, “What are the operative theologies in my congregation and the correlating narratives, symbols, and artifacts that empower those theologies? What shifts in those narratives/symbols/artifacts have been forced to the limits, need adjustment, or require celebration in my preaching that responds to GA-1327?”[4]

Related to this, it is important to view preaching as strategic communication. Over time, as pastors do the hard work of preaching, theological worldviews shift and change. We might like to think that there is that one magical sermon that, if we can find some way to preach it, will change everything in our congregations. But it is the continual practice of preaching week-after-week, attending to the contextual realities and theological worldviews in our congregations that really makes a difference. We need not back away from the idea of strategic communication. This is not manipulative or underhanded; rather it is a loving approach to preaching in light of the covenant we make with congregations over time. 

GA-1327 presents an opportunity to name some long-term, strategic communicative goals for preaching. What is it you would like to name, shape, shift, or affirm/celebrate in relation to God, Jesus, Spirit, scripture, community, sin/evil, salvation, hospitality, identity, humanity, etc., remembering that these issues as they relate to GA-1327 are of “ultimate concern” for the people in the pews? What relationships will need attention and cultivation through the process of strategic preaching? What assumptions do you have that are similar or different from those in the congregation? Remember that these will be a part of the larger conversations in the congregation. What preaching conventions already exist in the congregation that will help gain a hearing among listeners or introduced that will help/prevent a hearing?[5]  Take some time to write these out, write the date on them, and place them in a place you come back to weekly, so that you can reference them over the course of a year (or longer).

Prophet, Priest, and Sage

This might be going back a step, but what are we doing as preachers as it relates to GA-1327? There are a number of well-worn images for thinking of what we do in preaching: witness, herald, storyteller, poet, interpreter, and the list goes on. Each image of the preacher sponsors an implicit theological understanding of what preaching is and does. While many of those just mentioned have merit, Kenyatta R. Gilbert proposes preaching as a confluence of three voices that make for “trivocal” preaching: prophet, priest, and sage.[6]  I believe these three voices set the agenda for preaching in relation to GA-1327, even as each function of this “trivocal” understanding of preaching will come to the foreground of our preaching at different times and in response to the contextual and theological realities that exist in each unique congregational situation.

First, the prophetic voice. Prophetic preaching is not throwing the justice bomb into an unwitting congregation and walking away self-satisfied that we have told the truth. The prophetic voice of preaching “expresses unrelenting hope about God’s activity to transform the church and society in a present-future sense based on the principle of justice.”[7]  Prophetic preaching is the hard work of proclaiming God’s justice in the face of the unknown and the seemingly impossible. Some of us will be called to foreground this voice, preaching hope and transformation for the church in light of GA-1327 with heightened pastoral sensibilities. 

Second, the priestly voice. Gilbert says this voice “help[s] congregations negotiate faithful possibilities for creatively synthesizing their historical and ritual identities – while consciously reforming and affirming their charter in modern time.”[8]  The preacher preaches the presence of God amid the congregation’s varied experiences of joy, pain, confusion, etc. The preacher explains and affirms the covenant between God and the church, the churches’ covenant with one another (and its history), and of congregant to congregant. We can sense here that there is (gasp!) doctrinal preaching to be done as preachers seek to explain and reform foundational theologies and ecclesiology. This is also an appropriate place to trace relevant features of Disciples’ history and polity for congregants. 

Finally, the sagely voice. According to Gilbert, the sagely preaching voice announces the congregation’s and preacher’s wisdom for living together in community. “Daringly,” he says, “[this voice] speaks within the context of radical social and ecclesial change for the purpose of keeping vital the congregation’s vision and mission.” [9]  This is, perhaps, the most important function for many of us after the passing of GA-1327. It has been interesting to see the written responses move from prophetic calls for welcome and priestly explanation of doctrinal reasons for why “all means ALL” to now sagely advice for how we live together as church. This voice cannot be ignored. This is the voice that calls us all to continued conversation and to moving onto one another’s ground to listen before we speak.

Again, any one of these voices might move to the forefront of a preacher’s sermon or moment in a sermon. One might be more necessary than another, depending on where a congregation is relative to their understanding and appreciation of GA-1327.

Embodying Grace and Welcome

The voices described above are not mere metaphor. Whether we have been intentional about it or not before, our tone of voice and use of body communicate the message we seek to underscore each week. Marguerite Shuster calls reflection on voice, body, and performance in preaching attending to a preacher’s “truthful presence.”[10]  The preacher ignores the body and issues of performance in preaching as it relates to sermons on GA-1327 at his/her peril. Intentional and reflective thought about our movement, posture, tone of voice, and gesture can be the difference between a sermon perceived to be truth preached in love and humility and a sermon perceived as arrogant and “agenda-driven.” Preaching is, after all, an incarnational act and not simply the non-corporeal transfer of ideas. Consider for a moment the following possibility: A preacher proclaims within the sermon, “God welcomes ALL of us! All means ALL!” Is it better for the preacher to proclaim this with (1) her arms outstretched, palms of the hands open or (2) with her arms held inside the boundaries of the shoulders at 90 degree angles, fists clenched? Intention in gesture, posture, and movement can make all the difference in how this statement is received. 

In our post-GA-1327 sermons, let’s all be careful about finger-wagging and pulpit-pounding (as a general rule!) and domineering, authoritarian uses of the voice and body. Ask yourself, “How do I need to use my body to communicate faithful witness to the gospel contained in GA-1327 (while thinking even more broadly about leadership in other parts of the service of worship as well)?”

Preaching the Resolution(s)

There is a kind of preaching that preaches in the wake of the resolution. That is largely what I have suggested to this point. Many of us need to preach in response to GA-1327. But I would like to also suggest that preachers could preach the resolution itself. The text of the resolution is written in such a way that it could be preached through a type of verse-by-verse exposition, following each step of the resolution and what it means for the congregational contexts in which it is preached. 

A sermon could also trace the resolution by the following movements: Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Resolution. Footnotes one through five of the resolution contain scriptural basis for the resolution. Plenty of foundational Stone-Campbell Movement history could be told with the resolution’s appeal to tradition. Experiences of what “grace and welcome” means, how it has been denied, and how it has been extended abound and can be told with relative ease. A final movement exploring the resolution’s calls to action could be the piece that brings the preceding three movements into focus, as the natural expressions of Scripture, Tradition, and Experience within the context of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Or consider a sermon that, rather than using GA-1327 as a kind of “ought-to” statement or doctrinal reinforcement, instead uses the idea of grace and welcome of ALL and language from GA-1327 as the “joyful and ecstatic reinforcement of the truth already taught and delivered in the main body of the sermon.”[11]  I know what you’re thinking: “Joyful and ecstatic are not the two qualities I’d normally assign to Disciples preaching.” But if there is any room for celebration in your preaching and any inclination for celebration in your congregation, it is certainly in response to God’s gracious welcome of all humanity for fellowship and service in the church and that God has created us to be “part of God’s good creation.”[12]  A solid sermon design can lead you and your people into this kind of celebration.[13]

Furthermore, and more creatively, a preacher could create a preaching mini-series out of several of the General Assembly resolutions. As much energy as many of us invested into the vote on GA-1327, there are several resolutions of significance. At several points, I was personally moved by how meaningful the resolutions were to those who were the first presenters during discussion. How helpful would it be for our churches to hear sermons on many of these? For instance:

  • GA-1325 and GA-1330. A sermon on the changing nature of church in our culture, visible/invisible unity, and how congregations have responded through discernment, changing the physical boundaries of their regions to work smarter and with the reality of fewer resources.
  • GA-1331. A sermon on the resolution of responding to drone warfare. I had a wonderful conversation with a person who labeled himself “moderate” and who had difficulty voting on this resolution as a resolution. Sermons that acknowledge the difficulties many face when trying to make ethical decisions go a long way toward gaining a hearing on other important issues.
  • GA-1337 and GA-1338. A sermon on the emergency resolutions regarding Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman and the Voting Rights Act decision. In the discussion on 1338, someone raised a question regarding the church’s public witness and our response as church to contextual crises through resolutions. The preacher might preach these resolutions as a way to examine how we as church engage in public witness in difficult situations.
  • GA1332. A sermon on the resolution encouraging a fuller experience in Israel/Palestine. We often think of ourselves as hosts (particularly those of us with privilege and means), but how do we respond to invitations offering hospitality, particularly from people who are engaged in a real struggle for “home”?

This is a generative, rather than exhaustive list of the types of sermons that could be preached from the resolutions of this year’s General Assembly. Each of these might be paired with appropriate guiding scripture(s), creating meaningful juxtapositions between sacred text and resolution.

As preachers, and to borrow the ancient image of the church as ship, we are all now riding on the ripples of GA-1327. Our preaching responses are vital to charting the course of a church charged with providing grace and welcome to ALL. I have tried to provide some options for how preachers can do the homiletic work of GA-1327. Please feel free to use the comments section to brainstorm, interact on what you see here, and share what you are doing.

Rich is the Senior Minister at Johns Creek Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Johns Creek, GA.  He holds the PhD in Homiletics and Liturgics from Vanderbilt University.  His dissertation, A Youthful Homiletic, explores the relationship of preaching and adolescents, and he is currently working on a book entitled Tending the Tree of Life: Preaching and Worship through Reproductive Loss and Adoption, under contract with Shook Foil Books. He can be reached at richvoelz@gmail.com or on Twitter @RevDrVoelz. 

____________________

 

1 http://www.disciples.org/GeneralAssembly/Business/tabid/511/Default.aspx

2 David Schnasa Jacobsen and Robert Allen Kelly, Kairos Preaching : Speaking Gospel to the Situation  (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009). 9.

3 I take these categories from James R. Nieman and Thomas G. Rogers, Preaching to Every Pew : Cross-Cultural Strategies  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001). See also James R. Nieman, Knowing the Context : Frames, Tools, and Signs for Preaching  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).

4 For more depth, I encourage preachers to explore the following: John S. McClure, The Four Codes of Preaching : Rhetorical Strategies  (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003); Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art, Fortress Resources for Preaching (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997); James F. Hopewell, Congregation : Stories and Structures  (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987); Robert J. Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies  (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985).

5 The preceding items are paraphrased from "Strategic Preaching" in John S. McClure, Preaching Words : 144 Key Terms in Homiletics, 1st ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007). 126-28.

6 Kenyatta R. Gilbert, The Journey and Promise of African American Preaching  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011).

7 Ibid., 81.

8 Ibid., 61.

9 Ibid., 81.

10 Marguerite Shuster, "The Truth and Truthfulness in Preaching: Theological Reflections on Preaching and Performance" in Jana Childers and Clayton J. Schmit, Performance in Preaching : Bringing the Sermon to Life  (Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Academic, 2008). 28. I recommend the essays in this volume to anyone thinking about their own use of voice and body in preaching.

11 Frank A. Thomas, They Like to Never Quit Praisin' God : The Role of Celebration in Preaching  (Cleveland, Ohio: United Church Press, 1997). 85.

12 Note, this is celebration of what God has done and is doing (God’s presence and action), not what we have done and are doing. 

13 For advice on this, see the section on “celebrative design” in Thomas, They Like to Never Quit Praisin' God : The Role of Celebration in Preaching.

Disciples Don't Have Bishops. We Have Bloggers!

“Disciples don't have bishops. We have editors.” So it has been said of us throughout the more than two centuries of our journey to faithfully follow in the way of Jesus, the Christ. While recognizing the need for structural leadership in the church, Disciples have always been more focused on the ability of words to inspire, challenge, educate, and equip those who bear the name of Christ than in the power of bureaucratic structures to affect change in this world.

When Alexander Campbell began The Christian Baptist in the early 19th century, it was a small, monthly print publication that enjoyed a limited circulation on what was then the Western American frontier. Gradually, though, Campbell's writing gained a wider audience as the Disciple plea for unity and simplicity through a return to the traditions of the early church grabbed the attention of a religiously weary populace. Campbell soon changed the name of the publication to The Millennial Harbinger to reflect his belief in the Church's progress toward reclaiming its unity and furthering its mission. Barton W. Stone, Campbell's colleague in the struggle for unity and simplicity, also published a monthly journal, The Christian Messenger, offer his unique perspective along with Campbell's to the emerging movement that would become the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Throughout the 19th century, Campbell's words and those of their successors at The Christian Evangelist, The Christian Standard, and The Christian Oracle (now The Christian Century) challenged and inspired Disciples in their journey of faith. By the mid 20th century, The Christian Evangelist had dropped Evangelist from its banner and had become the central voice for Disciples. As the process of restructuring the congregations, ministries, and institutions of the Disciples into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) progressed, it was championed by those who edited The Christian, which soon became known as The Disciple, the official organ of the newly restructured denomination.

Members of our tradition have long valued an educated clergy and laity, encouraging a parity between those in the pews and those lead us in our common life together. Central to this parity has been the idea that dialog, both in person and in print, is key to bridging the gap between ministers and those with whom they serve. Disciples have had a long history of supporting print publications through subscriptions, advertising, and dedicated readership, but as times have changed, so too have Disciples.

Rumblings of trouble began at The Disciple in the early 1990s, and though several attempts at redesign, refocusing, and reducing costs were made, the publication folded in 2001. The demise of The Disciple left a hole in the church's communication system, one that the Office of Communication at the General Offices in Indianapolis tried to fill in the spring of 2001 with Disciple Digest, a monthly web publication. Disciple Digest, while a gallant effort, received a tepid response at best from a church often suspicious of all things emerging from its General Offices. Disciples value the free and honest exchange of information and ideas. We have little patience for “official” publications, even when offered with all due respect and good intentions. Such reticence led Jack Suggs and Robert Friedly, former publisher and editor of The Disciple magazine to create a non-profit corporation and invest a great deal of their own money in trying to revive publishing among Disciples in late 2001. DisciplesWorld magazine was born out of their endeavors, and while struggling in its first months of existence, the journal came to be regarded as one of the best religious journals in the United States. During it's eight year run, DisciplesWorld inspired, informed, challenged, educated, and entertained the denomination, and while expending a significant amount of energy and resources, the changing times and economy finally sealed the publication's end in late 2009. DisciplesWorld wasn't alone, though, in its final months, as hundreds of print publications either ceased to exist or became Internet only publications, among them United Church News, the official voice of our sister denomination, the United Church of Christ.

The world of publishing has changed considerably, but the need for conversation and dialog about the tough issues of the Christian faith has only increased. The time for print publications may have passed, but the need to keep those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) connected and informed has become all the more important. Ignorance and isolation abound in our church and if we are to fulfill our mission of being a church that embodies true community, deep Christian spirituality, and a passion for justice, we must be connected to one another and share our insights as we struggle in our attempts to be faithful to the Gospel of the One who has claimed our lives in the waters of baptism and who nourishes us for the journey of faith at the table of Christ.

Blogs (short for web logs) became popular at the beginning of the 21st century, particularly among youth and young adults who sought ways of sharing their thoughts in more dynamic ways with family, friends, and the larger world. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, blogs have become as widely read as print publications, challenging long running print publications to move toward publication in blog form. While DisciplesWorld made a worthy effort to transition to an online publication, circumstances prevented the move, leaving a void for others to fill. It is with deep respect and tremendous gratitude to those who have gone before us that we offer D[mergent] as one attempt to further build community and continue the conversation among those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Perhaps, as we move into the future that God is creating in, among, and through us, we will be able to say, “Disciples don't have bishops. We have bloggers.”

--The Rev. Wes Jamison, B.A., M.Div., Minister-at-Large for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, Chair of the GLAD O&A Ministries Team, Qualified Mental Health Professional, and Contributing Editor for [D]mergent