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Thinking on structures and the Kingdom

Recently, I stumbled across EmergingUMC, a year-old blog self-described as “a place for United Methodists and others to explore and share their ideas, resources, visions, and dreams of or about mission, ministry and worship in the emerging church.” Being that I’m currently camping in a church in that domination and with this blog’s interest in the emerging movement and rethinking how we do church, I was curious enough to scroll through recent posts.

I’m glad I did because I ran across a post about to roll off the front page. In "How do we live a call within our structure?" one of the blog’s 12 contributors, RevrdMark, ruminates on the implications of the observation that the group of people leaving the church the fastest are actually the disciples and “the dissatisfaction of some people who are deeply committed to Christ, who genuinely want to follow him, and live a life that reflects that relationship with the process of maintain the institution of the church for the institution sake”:
I find myself using the language of Christianity less and more a laguage of discipleship or following to a greater extent. So for those of us in the UMC we face a unique challenge of inheriting a system founded in discipleship and community - yet struggling with categories and polity that seems to hinder us from making significant head way in creating communities where Gods grace and presence transforms lives and our world. So how do we live in that structure yet be faithful to God’s call and the post modern world view we live with? [emphasis mine]
This is one part of the emerging movement conversation that I’m drawn to. On this blog, I’ve already written about some of the basic conclusions I’ve come to so far (i.e., for the most part, the way we do church today isn't producing disciples, God is moving in an historical and profound way to awaken hearts and minds to him, etc.), but this is one question with which I’m still wrestling. Can we be faithful to God’s call to Kingdom hearts and life and still live in the for-the-most-part broken structures of current church culture? And if so, how?

Some have concluded that it’s not possible. Some say it is. Others aren’t sure. What do I think? Heh, a friend of mine likes to say not all structure is bad, and I tend to agree. I’m thinking we can live God's call in some structures, while others make it harder. Of course, any structure we use has the potential to institutionalize and make its own survival more important than the reason believers came together to begin with (ie, to do the work of the Kingdom). But do some structures have less suseptibility? Which ones make it harder to avoid that pull? Which better facilitate discipling and Kingdom-coming, Kingdom living-together, and loving-others as we go? Which make it harder? All questions I'm working through.

One thing I have noticed, however, is that the whole discussion of "how to do church" gets murky and brambly anytime it starts to wander away from the crux of walking with Jesus (attaching and learning to live in him) and walking with others along the Way—or, to put it another way, loving God and loving others. If that’s not the key value, the central focus, the thing we sift all else through, then the discussion becomes mucky and sticky and mixed-up. So, like Mark, I too find myself drawn to and using “a language of discipleship and following.”

So, still more questions than answers here. But I am grateful that others are asking these questions, too.

(Image: Wikipedia)

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