Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Search of Disciples Indentity

I am not what they would call a "cradle Disciple," someone who was born and raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I found the Disciples about a decade ago. At this point, having been ordained and now serving in a Disciples church, I can say that I am fully Disciple, for what that's worth. But back in my seminary days, I really struggled with what it meant to be a Disciple, if it meant anything at all.

I went to a Lutheran seminary, here in Minnesota- the heart of Lutheranism in America. So, being at the Lutheran version of Mecca, where there were few non-Lutherans, you were challenged on what you believed. I remember learning about how Lutherans approached theology and studied up on Reformed Theology, but when it came to my own tradition, I was a bit lost. What did we believe? How did that shape our way of being? What did it matter that we were Disciples?

More than once, I thought about leaving the Disciples, simply because I didn't know what my tradition believed and I wanted some sense of identity.

I do remember reading two books, Disciples and the Bible and Disciples and Theology, which did help me immensely in understanding the Disciples. I can also credit having Jan Linn in my midst. Jan is the pastor of Spirit of Joy Christian Church in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities and an emminent Disciples scholar.

But I still lacked solid grounding in Disciples heritage.

Recently, I was in a meeting where people brought up the fact that the congregation did not do a good job of describing who Disciples were. The common refrain people hear from Disciples is the errorneous viewpoint that we are free to believe in whatever we want. Even I have been guilty of saying that we are tolerant and open to a wide range of views, which said very little about who we are.

I am beginning to believe that one reason Disciples are in such a bad lot in regards to our size these days is because we do a bad job in telling people who we are. When someone comes to one of our congregations, they want to know a bit about us. They want to understand where we are coming from.

But the thing is, in many cases we don't have much to say. And I suspect with such a shallow ground, people go elsewhere.

I know that these days, "brand loyalty" doesn't mean as much to people as it once did. There are few and fewer cradle Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists and the like. But even though people move from tradition to tradition, that doesn't mean that Disciples can be lax. In these postmodern days, identity means a lot and people want to know what is it that they are getting into. If it can't be defined in some way, they will go elsewhere.

I am thankful for the new book by Linn and Michael Kinnamon that tackles Disciples Identity. If this wonderful movement is going to continue, we have to start knowing who we are.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Quit Yer Complaining!

As someone with Asperger's I am always puzzled by people in that they never mean what they say. And one place where that is the case is in the church.

Over the last few years, I've had conversations with lay people where much is made about what is wrong with the church, or their church. In most of the cases, I could agree with them. What is interesting, is that while these people are good at pinpointing the problem, they are terrible in offering a solution.

More to the point, they don't seem interested in offering a solution. They can point to a solution, but they have no interest in putting the time into said solutions.

I've wondered a lot about that. If they know what the answer might be, why aren't they doing it?

As a pastor, sometimes it feels that you are working on your own. As much as we Protestants, and especially Disciples like to talk about the high regard we give to the Laity, most of us still believe it is up to the clergy to get things done. It's not a big surprise that pastors tend to burnout, distrustful of the church.

Part of me wonders if people in the pews feel powerless to really make any change. Maybe those who do have ideas and spark are afraid that they will be swatted down by pastors who fear their power is being taken away, or members that like things the way they are.

In my less charitable moments, I wonder if it is because they like to complain, but don't really care about making a difference. It's fun to be the one pointing out all the flaws. Better than getting down and dirty and trying to solve and issue or find ways to help revitalize a ministry.

I don't know. All I do know is that as someone once said, it would be nice to have people stop talking about what's wrong with the church and actually staring being the church.

Okay, my rant is done for now.