I was surprised to see a shout-out in the latest edition of the Emergent-C newsletter, which focused on denominational expressions of the emerging conversation. I’ve been a part of this emergent conversation thingie (the thing we find ourselves in) since 2002 or so, and I count myself as one who has been influenced by the conversation. Yet, I’m no leader, out there doing new and cutting edge things in the church. While others like D.G. and Jim and living out new expressions of church, I continue to remain in a “traditional” congregation, attempting change, but one baby-step at a time, and for the most part, folks would be hard pressed to name how our congregation falls in the Emergent stream.
This ultimately leads to the question of this post: What does it mean to live in the tension between serving as a pastor in the traditional United Methodist world and also being a part of the emergent world that envisions a new kind of church?
Here are a few random thoughts:
- In a very real sense, folks that choose to remain in the traditional mainline realm while also being in relationship with the emergent world live in the reality of orthoparodoxy (a phrase that floats around emerging church circles with some regularity). To keep one’s foot in both worlds is to understand that traditional church models are in need of redemption and reformation, while also maintaining a love for the tradition and the good things that arise from that tradition. It is paradoxical to remain a part of a hierarchical system when one is at the same time part of a conversation that emphasizes transparency, distributed leadership, and a bottom-up approach to governance (if we talk about governance at all!). And yet, there is also an inkling of hope that maybe the answer for the church isn’t an either or choice between episcopal/connectional or congregational/communal leadership, but rather that God may offer room for a both/and approach. This is a paradox, but a “right” paradox that offers a new way of thinking beyond the post-enlightenment categories of right and wrong.
- Methomergence maintains hope in God’s bringing a new thing to the church, while also recognizing that God’s original revelation in our stream of theology might be valuable as well. For me, the former Southern Baptist who took a turn through the charismatic world, veered through the reformed tradition and ended up a United Methodist, this means that I appreciate the theological thought of the Wesley brothers, believing that they continue to have something to say in our world today. I don’t hesitate to say that I connect to the Arminian/Wesleyan theological stream, not seeing it as the only way of talking about God, but finding it meaningful in a world of rapid change and in need of community. John’s expressions of things like “Christian conferencing” which understands the gathering of the community as an expression of God’s grace (and a source of revelation — something that many emergents believe while not overtly stating it) provide a connection between the “new” way of thinking that’s going on today and the tradition of the church. In a sense, maintain ties with this long tradition roots us as we envision new directions for the church.
- Being methomergent in a traditional setting often means deep longings, cries and groans of wanting to be something different while also recognizing that folks invested in the traditional structures need the grace of God as well. For some, it means being “in-between,” neither fully traditional or fully emergent, and that in-betweenness drives them crazy. For others of us (and I consider myself in this camp) it is about a self understanding of the minister/pastor as interpreter. Of course, this is true in many different ways, but in this specific world of emergence/traditional it is about the person who stand between both worlds facilitating conversation. This person has to love and appreciate both streams in order to steer the conversation in a respectful and honorable manner, while also understanding that their task is as much setting the table for change as it is effecting change.
There are many more things that could be said about what it means to be Methomergent and I look forward to your thoughts about what it means for you.