General Assembly

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.

Don’t Just Welcome--Create Belonging!

By JC Mitchell

I feel I am supposed to write on Sense of the Assembly Resolution 1327, “Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All,” that was passed at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and thus I will not.  Ok I will, but through another resolution that was voted on a little later that business session, 1322 “Hearing Accessibility for Participants,”  for the following reasons.  First off this resolution assumed the passage of 1327.  “What do you mean?” you may ask.  Well here are the first two “Whereases:”

WHEREAS, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) affirms the inherent worth of every person; and
WHEREAS, the Identity Statement for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) states “…we welcome all to the table as God has welcomed us”

See!  Everyone is affirmed and we welcome everyone.  I love that it emphasized exactly what 1327 emphasized, that all means ALL! 

Secondly, this is a much needed resolution to make our churches more accessible to all people, and the “therefores” that followed are simply statements that the General and Regional Assemblies, and local congregations, can be involved in including everyone at church.  It was truly a sense of inclusion at the Assembly with some great ideas for including the hearing impaired with follow up at the 2015 General Assembly.  I plan on bringing forth ways we have made our ministries more accessible to those with hearing impairments both in worship and on-line for the workshops for 2015 General Assembly as per the resolution.  

There are a lot of good ideas and help out there if you simply ask for help to include everyone in church.  But inclusion often stops at welcome.  Have you heard of the church that keeps voting down the access ramp, with the great reasoning they don’t need it because no one comes who uses a wheelchair?  (And actually they say “in” a wheelchair).  Well I have, just as I have heard churches that welcome everyone, including LGBTQI people, but say things like “we love the sinner but…”  We cannot simply include or welcome, we need to do the hard work of making people feel that they belong.  As Thomas Reynolds says, his test for inclusion is knowing that if someone is not present they are missed, and they miss the community; that is belonging.

So 1322 & 1327 were adopted, but we have work to do.  Did you know there was a Loop system at GA and Communication Action Real-Time (Captioning) available?  Did you know that some people were terrified of the ramifications of voting yes on 1327?  So get to work understanding there are many places we can improve making our table a table of Belonging!

I believe these Sense of the Assemblies are important only if we believe they do not end at the vote, and if we consider them all. Because all means ALL!

PS.  And I resolve myself to work on a Sense of Assembly, or perhaps an Item for Research and Study to challenge us all to make our table a table of belonging for people of all abilities, so if you are interested in helping construct that to challenge us all as these (and all the others adopted at GA) do, please contact me.  Thanks.

 

 

 

Let Us Pray for Belonging for ALL!  

Let Us Pray for Belonging for ALL!  

GA-1327 Becoming a People of Welcome and Grace to All (Video)

The General Assembly calls upon the Church to recognize itself as striving to become a people of grace and welcome 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.

 

We Are the Church . . . Together

Rev. Kara Markell

There’s a not-so-old church song that says:

I am the church, you are the church
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world!
Yes, we’re the church together!

I believe it.  And most of the time, luckily, I feel it.  But right now I’m not feelin’ it.   I’ve been in conversation with many other clergy in my region, who, like me, will not be at the table when our church gathers nationally in a few months.  It’s not because I don’t want to go.  It’s because it has become financially impossible for me to do so.  And I don’t mean that I couldn’t raise the money if I wanted to.  I serve a financially stable church in the suburbs.  We’d probably be able to scrape the money together.  But what about my colleague who serves in another setting who doesn’t have the means of gathering those funds?  Are we really going to force our Youth to do one more fundraiser so they can be represented at the table?

The truth is, I kind of don’t want to go.  Mostly, because it’s not a good use of my, or my congregation’s resources.  It’s too expensive. I can’t justify staying in a fancy hotel for a week, paying airfare and meals, sitting in the air conditioning, listening to famous speakers, while I know that the table is incomplete, while I know that money could have provided food for  several families during spring break. And even more, I don’t want to participate in excluding.  Only some voices will be at the table.  Only some people will “be the church” at the assembly.  And this, to me, is unacceptable.

I suppose in some ways, it’s impossible, or at least improbable, to get every voice around the table. But that’s the goal, isn’t it?  And I pray that those who gather as a general church acknowledge who is not there.  Like Paul reminds us, “The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,” because “we are the church together.”   But, I think we’re saying it, without saying it.  In a year when a major resolution about inclusion is coming to a vote, will the voices of those we want included be there for discussion and prayer and voting?  I don’t know.  And if they’re not, we need to be honest about why that is the case and start a conversation about how, in the future, we can ensure that every part of the body of Christ is represented; how they are a part of the conversation and decision-making in our church.  

I am the church.  You are the church.  We are the church.  Together.

Calling the People of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to Be a People of Grace and Welcome to All

What follows is the latest copy of the resolution that has been submitted for consideration at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, July 13-17.  It is a resolution Calling the People of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ to be a People of Grace and Welcome to all . . . regardless  of "race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical or mental ability."  This iteration of the resolution has undergone a number of revisions.

Since there continues to be much speculation about what such a resolution might look like, we thought it might be helpful to release the resolution that has already been submitted for consideration by the General Board, with the understanding that because of the process such a resolution must go through, it is fairly certain that some revisions will be made to the content.   However, this is the text of the document submitted by the congregations listed below.

Additionally, here is a link to a Description of the Need for a Resolution, along with some FAQs.  

~ (Derek Penwell)

WHEREAS, we, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), understand ourselves to be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, called to welcome others even as we have been welcomed by God [1] and to practice hospitality to one another,[2] as well as to strangers;[3]

WHEREAS, Holy Scripture affirms that all people are created in the image of God and share with all others in the worth that comes from being unique individuals,[4] which has been reiterated at past General Assemblies (2001, 2005, 2011);

WHEREAS, we affirm that as Christians we are many members, but are one body in Christ.  We are members of one another, each with different gifts.[5] We affirm that each of us is called by Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves,[6] and that we are called to the ministry of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the church itself;    WHEREAS, Disciples affirm baptism as the primary call to ministry, and offer baptism to all who profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior;

WHEREAS, Disciples profess that the nature of Christian discipleship is profoundly informed by a common table, which is central to the act of worship. This emphasis on communion calls attention to the radical nature of the hospitality extended by Jesus, who welcomes all to be received at the Lord’s table of grace. In centering our worship on the Lord’s table, Disciples  recall that our very birth as a movement came at Cane Ridge in reaction to limitations being placed on this welcome;

WHEREAS, Disciples emerged as a movement centered on a call to Christian unity as our “polar star.”  We recognize that cutting off anyone who seeks the hospitality of the Lord’s table is an act of disunity;

WHEREAS, Disciples have been engaged in a process of discernment on the question of the participation of all Christians regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the life and ministry of the church since 1997 with mixed results; WHEREAS, we know there are people who are devalued and discriminated against within society, and more sadly within the church, because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity;

WHEREAS it is also recognized that we find our identity around the table, holding each other dear even when we disagree; and that the church from its beginning has understood that God’s Spirit leads congregations to differing interpretations of scripture, but that each are called to transcend our difference and to claim one another in unity;

AND WHEREAS, it is understood that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) operates with a congregational polity whereby local congregations have final say in matters of conscience;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls upon the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)  to recognize itself  as a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children–inclusive of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls upon the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to affirm the faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that neither are grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but are a part of God’s good creation;

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls 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 Christians, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or cognitive ability.

[1] Mark 12:31 [Statement of Identity of the CC (DOC), Disciples.org]

[2] 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Peter 4:9

[3] Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2

[4] Genesis 1:26–7

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:18–20

[6] Matthew 7:12

Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Louisville, KY)

Midway Hills Christian Church (Dallas, TX)

Chalice Christian Church (Gilbert, AZ)

Fireside Christian Church (Denver, CO)

Little White Chapel (Burbank, CA)

First Christian Church (Eugene, OR)

Tapestry Ministries (Berkeley, CA)

St. Andrew Christian Church (Olathe, KS)

Lafayette Christian Church (Lafayette, CA)

First Christian Church (Concord, CA)

University Christian Church (San Diego, CA)

First Christian Church (Vallejo, CA)

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How to connect with young adults: The secrets are revealed!

I have been a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination for 15 years, and I have attended four out of the last five General Assemblies. Time and again, I hear conversations about the need to listen to young adults and connect with young adults and fund young adult ministries. As a young-ish adult (I am 37, so about the only place I am consistently referred to as “young” is in the mainline church), I often hear well-intentioned members of graying congregations say they desperately want the “younger” people to join their respective churches, and they often ask me “What will it take for the younger people to come to our church?” I have a very simple answer to this question, but first let me tell you what young adults, for the most part, when it really gets down to it, don’t care about:

Young adults really don’t care if you have screens instead of hymnals.

Young adults really don’t care if you have a guitar instead of an organ.

Young adults really don’t care if you have couches instead of pews.

Young adults really don’t care about your church having the slickest marketing gimmicks out there, including a savvy website coupled with a working knowledge of Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and whatever else comes next.

But what do young adults care about? What will help your congregation connect with young adults? I will give you one simple example, and it is largely representative of what is missing from this General Assembly, as well as previous ones: the explicit, unambiguous affirmation of gays and lesbians into the full life of the church.

It is a travesty to me that our denomination, which prides itself on being a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, is not offering an affirmative communal voice for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who have been deeply wounded by society in general and the church in particular. If justice delayed is justice denied, as Dr. King reminded us, will we stand idly by while organized religion remains one of the last vestiges for valorized homophobia?

What is particularly striking to me is that our polity (unlike that of the PCUSA or ELCA, each of which recently joined our Episcopalian and UCC brothers and sisters by taking major stands on behalf of the GLBTQ community) doesn’t even bind each congregation or each member to have consensus of opinion on this matter, yet we can’t even have a resolution or a conversation that points toward affirmation?! Years from now, will our denomination look back on the early part of the 21st century and say that we stood on the side of justice, or are we content discerning ourselves to death, convincing ourselves that our efforts of offering hospitality are related to our abilities of mastering the world of Twitter? Do you really think that is a compelling vision for younger generations, especially when over 70% of young adults are open and affirming of gays and lesbians and view the church as the last place that will be welcoming and inclusive of them? Despite whatever rhetoric we might employ, all of this gives me serious reservations about referring to our denomination as “progressive,” at least in the best sense of what that word harbors.

To be sure, there are those who will say that offering hospitality to the GLBTQ community will lead to the loss of members, and I am sure that some members will indeed leave our congregations and denomination. I say that as a pastor who recognizes the dynamics of doing ministry and dealing with church politics and the like. But I am also convinced that far more young adults will come through our doors if they view our congregations as places of welcome and affirmation. Indeed, if congregations would quit worrying about superficial concerns like screens and hymnals and embody communities of welcome and affirmation instead (communities that take progressive theological convictions seriously), then young adults will flock to our churches. Not because of Facebook, but because of the good news of the gospel.

The young adults who walk through the doors of Brentwood Christian Church aren’t doing so because we’ve put together some hip and trendy and cool worship service. They are coming through our doors because we offer a theology of welcome, affirmation, and justice. And in the past six years, ever since we decided to become a community that cultivated what Presbyterian pastor and author Carol Howard Merritt calls “unambiguous inclusion,” we have seen over 100 young adults become active participants. I’d like to say it is because I’m quite the happening pastor. But it is because the good news of the gospel, and the healing that it offers, is a gift to young adults hungering for the inclusive love of Jesus Christ.

I close with words that aren't from any "missional" or "emerging" Christian, but from Dr. King's Letter from Birmingham Jail:

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

True then, true now.

Phil Snider is a pastor at Brentwood Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri. His books include Toward a Hopeful Future: Why the Emergent Church is Good News for Mainline Congregations & The Hyphenateds: How Emergence Christianity is Re-Traditioning Mainline Practices (forthcoming). He blogs at www.philsnider.net.