Welcome to Part 2 of the Reformation of Unity! If you have not read Part 1 please do so first to have a background and basis for the continued thoughts in this current blog post. Thanks, and yes I probably should have split this up into 2 or 3 more parts, but I feel like it needs to be all together. As always, please let me now wha you think.
OK, if we are making the assumption that the current mainline institutions are going to be forced to “evolve” or transform into something that will still be around past the current iteration, then I’d like to propose three potential realities that must be considered (or reconsidered) to come alongside the current institution. I want to reiterate that I’m not proposing something to replace what the current institutions are. That might be an eventuality, but there must be a slow, welcoming of new ideas and new orthopraxy to come alongside our current institutional realities. The three things I believe that must be on the current whiteboard of the R&D department of all mainlines are these:
1. A Redefining of Clergy.
2. A Redefining of Eccleisa (Church).
3. A Redefining of Theological Education.
4. The Reformation of Unity.
These three are not the only things that the R&D Department needs to deal with, but I believe these are the most pressing that will lead into a needed refinement of who we are today. I’d like to invite you to go a little deeper with me into each.
A Redefining of Clergy….
I know you will get tired of hearing this, but I want to be abundantly clear that I’m not talking about a replacement of the current clergy roles and definitions (at least not for a few decades). I’m saying we need to make room for another expression of clergy within the mainlines. Maybe it already exists and should be utilized or reimagined to fit into a role that can be a both/and reality of clergy that can be more holistic in our ability to minister to our world. But, whether it is doable in each of the mainline’s polity or not, it needs to be encouraged and utilized.
As stated in the Part 1 blog post, the finances of our current churches in the mainlines are on a trend towards not having enough to pay the clergy the minimum salary. And there is a strong shift among clergy (and I’d argue in the western society) for a desire to bring back the understanding of a neighborhood parish: Not expecting people to come to the church building, but for the church to go into the neighborhoods and stay a long time to truly meet the needs of the local communities and neighborhoods; to help develop authentic community within neighborhoods and subdivisions. (That discussion will come a little later in the redefining of eccleisa /church.) The newer understandings of “Missional” are that it is God’s mission not our own mission, and if God is on Mission (the Missio Dei), then we join God where God is already at work. There seems to be a trend and shift of clergy and/or laity that are desiring to go to places where people ARE instead of expecting people to come to us. Maybe it is a response to the church growth movement (attraction model of ministry) or just a shift in paradigm thinking, but the reality of being the church is having a new voice and calling.
So, if there is a shift of a lack of money to pay clergy, and there is a desire for clergy to stay in one place for a long amount of time to really bring communal transformation into the neighborhoods and subdivisions, then maybe the typical understanding of clergy needs another form of the role of clergy. Now, the United Methodist Church has a few ways already in place to allow for this kind of clergy (see “Local Elder” that we used to have, and even some General Evangelists take on the role). But, we need to start (or continue) to encourage bi-vocational and mono-vocational (workplace) clergy. Let me try to explain.
Bi-vocational clergy have been a much larger trend among church planters as of late. Since churches are taking longer and longer to be planted/created, the money of the mainline institutions is not cutting it, because giving a full salary and ministry support for 3-5 years is not long enough to develop deep authentic relationships and community development when you are going into the mindset of not attractional, but missional (I’m thinking 15-20years is a much better time frame). So, clergy are willing to go get another job to subsidize the costs of ministry and salary. Plus, in my personal experience of church planting from this way of thinking, when I would ask for financial support from those involved in the new community they would not give money to support more structures/institutions, or even my salary. They would ask me, “Well why don’t you go get your own job just like us and then when we all give money, we can know you are giving your money right alongside us? And then when we give money, it would not be just going back into ourselves or our “church”, but it would directly be going to do things that were transforming our neighborhoods and meeting those needs. Our budget would be small amounts of money towards administrative costs and mostly go to ministry.” It was an argument I heard over and over again, and maybe an argument that is hurting our existing churches financially, as well.
So, if we as mainline denominations would allow for and encourage more bi-vocational clergy then they would not be so financially dependent upon structures above them, and they could thrive in the lower structured communities and neighborhoods. Plus, this would help the current realities of the financial struggles of the current institutions. I could see the goal as to helping the clergy to slowly make the shift of being bi-vocational, and possibly a full-time workplace clergy. This shift would help the workplace clergy start to realize that the “business” they own, or are a part of IStheir “church”, and their customers are everyday opportunities to minister to, care for, and love. They could offer community and relationship that is transformative, and can introduce them all into the journey of finding the story of God and the story of us.
I took a voluntary leave of absence after the funding for the church plant I was doing stopped, and I started working for Apple Inc. in one of their retail stores. I was there for three years, and while I was not a pastor in an official capacity, I still performed weddings and funerals (that I received permission to perform) and I ministered to my co-workers and the customers on a daily basis. I was an unofficial pastor of the Apple store, and had I been allowed, I could have started a church among those friends and family. Co-workers stayed at my house when they had no home, I would invite them all to holiday celebrations, etc… It was such a beautiful expression of Ecclesia/Church that I had experienced. It was not necessarily better than our current existing churches, but one that was greatly needed that our current understanding of “church” was not meeting the needs. I believe it was meeting even more effectively through me by my living as a “workplace” clergy.
There is also a current shift of mono-vocational (workplace clergy) clergy that have grasped this and are seeing the power of living into their full calling through these different ways of living out their calling. I have a friend that was a second career clergy, and after getting his D.Miv. decided that he was to go work full-time in his bodyshop and allow the existing missional church to be led through new leadership. Since doing this, his body shop business has grown exponentially. He has a ongoing guest blog post on a large website in that industry that he is influencing other body shops to help them understand the importance of caring about the communities they live in and to give back to them. He understands his business is really a ministry/ecclesia/church. And, he is able to financially give towards the ministry of his local missional church, instead of receive from it. He shares the love of Christ to every employee and customer. All of them are his “parish”. Wesley himself said, “the world is my parish”. On the wall just outside Fr. Richard Rohr’s office is a photo of the universe and it has the words, “My parish” under it. Same idea, just different levels of local passionate involvement.
A Redefining of Eccleisa (Church)…
So, why can’t we create R&D departments that will help fund bi-vocational clergy or workplace clergy, over much longer time periods, until they can make enough money to not be dependent upon the support of the institutions or create new missional self sufficient neighborhood eccleisa? Church planters ask me all the time for advice and my first piece of advice other than creating a rhythm in their personal life of prayer and relationship is to get off of the conference teat as soon as possible. The reason is that most mainlines (due to what Mentioned in Part 1 are more interested in self-preservation, than true long-term effectiveness) Plus, if your desire to to just keep the current institution alive, then you want to create churches that will give back enough money to keep things running as is. But, what if the purpose of the conference was to pour itself into the communities and neighborhoods? I believe they see themselves as desiring to support the local churches, but if the idea of church is changing in the future generations, then the conferences should be helping them realize who they could be and follow their calling of God to go into the neighborhoods.
A phenonominal video describing this way of thinking was posted 2 years ago on Vimeo. Just watch this video and dream of ways for clergy coming out of seminary that think like this, to be allowed to be in ministry in this kind of way. The video is titled, “Place Matters: The Parish Collective on Churches, Places, and Spaces”
So, if that is a new-er way of thinking about ecclesia/church then how can the mainline institutions allow these kinds of ministries to occur and become deeply embedded into neighborhoods, but in a way of forming community that might necessarily look or even act the same way as the typical current churches of today? There will be so many different and unique ways of living into these ways of bringing renewal in communities through relationships. So, no one way of thinking about it, but will it be encouraged to be lived into by the current institutions. There must be different expressions of church in the world we live into today. And this is a needed one that will require a different thinking about clergy, finances, and especially in the UMC the itineracy.
A Redefining of Theological Education…
So, this one will have to be continued. I have many more questions around this than I do potential ways of living out a redefined understanding of theological education in the future expressions of the future reformation.
Should seminaries just require a few more classes and round out their required hours to be 115hrs to include classes around bi-vocational missional engagement? Would it be a separate track of a masters degree? Could we start to see seminaries start to become more local? Cohort models that would be much more specific to the local needs of a geographical area? Should there start to be Lay seminaries that are to train laity to understand and help them realize they could potentially have a greater ability to renew their communities and workplaces as lay ministers? Should this be done out of traditional seminaries or the mainline institutions? I will be talking with a few seminary professors over this issue to possible put in a Part 3.
A Reformation of Unity….
Ok, here is my potential theory of the next Reformation. And again, feel free to go read Phyllis tickles’ books on the issue and I’m sure there are several more, but she was the first to put the bug of the idea in my head:
Here she is talking about the book above “The Great Emergence”: (remember what she is calling “Emergence” is the beginnings of what she will later call the Age of the Spirit, and she is talking about another Reformation!)
Now, I personally am wondering if this next reformation will bring healing and unity instead of divisions like the previous one caused. I’m wondering if the slow death of the current institutions and mainlines will slowly create these hyper-local communities and bring community renewal, but they will find the need for community beyond denominationally lines. They will live into the Reformation and in growing upon the communal development they have passion for, it will bring unity among those that are separated. Different flavors will still exist, but they will be much more known for their similarities than their differences. For their desire of community, not too unlike the day of pentecost. Now, I made be crazy and extremely optimistic in this thinking, but I believe it will occur over the next 500-1,000 years. And we are seeing the very start of the growth/birth pains of this next reformation of unity. .
With that said, I still believe the current realities of the institutional churches have an opportunity to empower and encourage these new expressions of church/eccleisa. This will be a slow growth and evolution, but an inevitable one, and we should be creating as many R&D departments within the mainlines to find and create all kinds of different expressions of the future church in our local communities. We should realize that it must be done alongside our current realities! They are not at odds with one another, they are both desperately needed in this time of transition. And, I do think the current mainlines are still healthy enough to be able to encourage, teach, and empower the dreams of the future expressions of church, instead of putting so much of the focus on self-preservation.
OK, that is enough to span a few chapters of a book, huh? To several of you this is nothing new, but to a few this might be new thoughts that we need to work through. Again, my desire for this is for this to be used by future expressions of church and clergy, to start the needed conversation for finding a place within our current structures and institutions, to be able to fail often to succeed sooner, and to make sure that (at least in my case) the Wesleyan way of living out our faith does not die with the institution, but flourishes and brings vitality into the world not too much unlike the amazing beautiful history we are founded upon in the time of Wesley, his brother Charles, and probably more importantly their mother Susanna! Blessings. LHM, CHM, LHM.