Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rethinking "Membership" in Emergent Faith Communities

Through my travels and my blogging and my various pastors webs, I have had the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of emergent faith communities. So many rich spiritual expressions exist such as to encourage my innovative/creative soul. In the midst of all the glorious diversity, and all the fruitfulness we each celebrate as we faithfully live into God's call, we each seem to hit up against the same dilemma - 'membership.'

After so many years - 5 seems to be typical - we hit a wall or block. Faith communities and their leaders need a cell of consistent, committed, spiritually mature people who can help sustain the whole, provide the coherence, create a sense of 'home base' for all the flux and flow of people and relationships our generation is becoming all too familiar with.

But how do you name this commitment, invite others into it when our very existence stems from reaching out to 'commitment-phobes,' and 'belong before you believe' has become our mantra? Is it possible that sustainability is a myth when it comes to church/faith community? (How often have I ashewed traditional local churches that are on virutal life support, wondering why they are kept alive artificially?) Is a church/faith community God-ordained with a limited life expectancy?


Do we have some re-thinking to do around commitment, membership?

What might palatable, appropriate, Scriptural, Christ-centered, people-directed membership look like?


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    By Anonymous KJV, at 5:09 PM  

  • I think the first thing churches need to do is become more "Christ Like". Let's lose the judgmental attitude so many Christians seem to have.

    By Blogger Donny, at 10:37 PM  

  • I think both ideas are correct: A church, like all living things has a natural life cycle, and at some point it needs to either be laid to rest or resurrected into something fresh, but the same old thing can't just keep chugging and making minor adjustments on til eternity.

    On the other hand, for a healthy church to thrive for whatever its God-given lifespand, it does need a committed core. Why not just call it a committed core, and see it more as a calling than an obligation. Membership really does sound like a drag. But being part of an energizing core sounds enlivening, like a privilege. Again talking about calling, I think so many mainline churches burn people out on committees and "housekeeping" types of stuff, and no one really has energy or passion left for reaching out to be a blessing to one another and the community, at least in any kind of radical way. If the whole approach to ministry was focused on discerning a call, including a calling to be part of an energizing core of committed disciples giving form to the community, perhaps the core itself would become more spirit-led and inspired.

    By Blogger Jemila Monroe, at 4:11 PM  

  • "energizing core" I like that expression far better than 'committed core.' Please copyright it, Jemila, because I am going to start using it all the time.

    So . . . Are Emergents commitment-phobes, or are we leaders the ones who carry the 'baggage' and discomfort of asking others to join us in a meaningful, energizing way?

    In what ways is being part of an 'energizing core' within your faith community vital to you personally? Name ways it enhances your own faith journey. How did you become part of that core and what does it require of you?

    By Blogger still_emerging, at 6:36 PM  

  • feel free to use my officially uncopyrighted terms :)

    I think Emergents/postmoderns are probably more obligationa-a-phobes than true commitment phobes. Where their hearts are engaged, they will bring much energy and commitment. But they (we) won't stick around out of an external sense of moral duty if we don't feel a living, breathing, meaningful connection to the body/community.

    I read a book in college about what Christians can learn from communists. It would seem that you get what you ask for: If little is expected, little comes forth; if much is passionately expected, such comes forth. Yes, I think we all long to play a significant role in something purposeful, and I think that's where the appeal can be made to postmoderns/Emerging people in terms of invitation and collaboration as an enegizing core.

    The second part of your question is trickier, because my faith community is not really run quite the way I'd approach the thing if I were the pastor...but easier to say that as a lay person! While the talk is reasonably Emerging, the walk is pretty modern and top-down, with alot of long sermons (which apparently is what alot of people in the seats want,) and not a lot of active empowerment of the people. So I have been very upfront about approaching the pastor and saying, "hey, here are my gifts. USE ME!" This has happened to an extent, but frankly, the "leadership" is so preoccupide with their agenda of "launching" in January that they really just seem not to want to try anything new or deal with either gifts or problems that arise in the meantime...which is concernful, because they seem to think if we can just "get the show on the road" by January, everything else will fall into place, but my feeling is if the core is not energized and empowered and we're not "living the dream" now as a smaller gathering, how are we to authentically invite others to join us?

    I can say that as for me, as I've seen them not really use my gifts or affirm them fully, my commitment level as dropped.

    By Blogger Jemila Monroe, at 9:23 PM  

  • By affirm, I don't mean they don't believe in women in ministry, but rather that I've had to take all the initiative, and even then often they say, "cool idea, let's do it," but there's no follow-up -- or if I write up something for them, there's little or no appreciation/encouragement.

    By Blogger Jemila Monroe, at 9:34 PM  

  • i think church membership is WAY overrated! Phyllis Tickle spoke recently about how a huge number of people who attend church are involved in at least two churches. This is true for myself. I am committed to Christ and don't feel the need to be a member of some organized church. Thanks for the post. I'd love to hear more on your thoughts on this topic, Elizabeth. Pax, Adele

    By Anonymous Existential Punk, at 2:01 PM  

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