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.