Monday, June 09, 2008

My Proposal for a Wesleyan Neo-Monastic Emerging Community

As readers have been asking me about what it is exactly that I would like to do within the context of this emerging, postmodern conversation, I have tried to explain briefly.  I have chosen to publish a copy of a proposal I recently sent to friends, local United Methodist churches and District Superintendents.  This serves as a living document, as the conversation develops with particular people the ideas expressed will be challenged and grow out of the conversation.  Please feel free to offer comments/questions/corrections/etc.


“The gospel we preach shapes the kind of churches we create. 

The kind of church we have shapes the gospel we preach.”

Introduction 

In an effort to address an entire population of people who “like Jesus but not the church”2, I am submitting a proposal for the establishment of a Wesleyan Neo-Monastic Emerging Community. This community, which will serve as a prototype and model for future faith community development within the United Methodist Church nationwide, will establish itself as a community of missional theologians set upon participating holistically in the missio Dei by adhering to a living discipline or order. I believe that this community, operating under an open and organic structure will become a place for the lost and broken to join together in an effort to seek and find reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ so that we may return to the mission field around us supported by each other and the Holy Spirit to serve others and, in doing so, help bring about the commonwealth of God. 


Terminology 

In order to be clear about exactly what is being proposed, it is necessary to define how the terms Wesleyan, Neo-Monastic, Emerging, Missional, Holistic, and Discipline are utilized in the context of this proposal beginning with the identifier Wesleyan. In plain terms, this identifier refers to the fact that the community will root its theology in a Wesleyan approach to faith that identifies all people as broken and in need of the reconciling love and grace of the community of God (creator/father, redeemer/word/son, and sustainer/holy spirit). It will also acknowledge our journey together as a broken people on a process of transformation towards sanctification involving a holistic approach to seeking out scriptural and social holiness through works of justice, worship, compassion, and devotion. The community will also utilize Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to process theologically, dialogue constructively, and direct itself creatively. 


The use of the term Holistic refers to the fact that the community will identify that living a life of faith includes all aspects of life; a free and hearty yielding of all things to the pleasure and disposal of God.The community will seek to refrain from compartmentalization of one’s life or the life of the community into secular/sacred, private/public or inward/outward. Instead, the community will seek to transform or synthesize the secular into the sacred. 


In terms of Neo-Monastic and Discipline, the community will operate under a living discipline or order that recognizes the twelve marks of neo-monasticism(or new monasticism) that emphasize relocation to the abandoned places of Empire, the sharing of all available resources amongst the community, hospitality to the stranger, the active pursuit of justice and reconciliation, creation care, a commitment to peacemaking, geographic proximity amongst community members, and the commitment to a disciplined contemplative life (which includes prayer, worship, service, and observance of sacraments). In this way, the community will be disciplined, supporting one another in practice and holding each other accountable for adhering to the agreed upon rule of life. As a guideline, we will utilize Scripture and resources like United Methodist guidelines for covenant discipleship to establish the community’s rule of life. 


One particular term that has not been used as of yet but is worth mentioning here is Organic. Though the community will be committed to a disciplined contemplative life that follows an agreed upon rule or order, the organic element of the community will allow that the rule may expand or change according to the ebbs and flows that may occur within the life of the community. For example, the rule may not involve the sharing of financial resources as the community begins but could later include this element if the members of the community determine that this would benefit the life of the community as we live out our understanding of Scripture. 


Emerging is a term that receives a lot of use in current culture and society, especially as it refers to the Christian church. In using the term Emerging, I am seeking to communicate that this community will seek to “(1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities"5


The use of the identifier Missional acknowledges that the community will operate as a group of theologians who take seriously “the essential nature and vocation of the church as God’s called and sent people”seeking to be the church as they understand it in terms of the context in which we find ourselves. As missional theologians, the community will operate out of the understanding, as Darrell Guder writes, that “the interaction between the gospel and all human culture is a dynamic one, and it always lies at the heart of what it means to be the church.”In acts of justice, compassion, worship, and devotion the community will live out its missional ecclesiology by shaping and being shaped by the culture of the society around it.Instead of blanket marketing approaches to evangelism, the community will grow through one-on-one relationship building, personal invitation, and witness. Evangelism within this context seeks less to target people with an agenda that inspires belief change and more to live out the commonwealth of God in the midst of the world as a community.


Another term that has not been used but would be beneficial to define at this point is the term Leadership. According to the definition of Emerging previously shared, an emerging, organic community “leads as a body.”10 In other words, leadership is shared amongst the community in an effort to share accountability for the existence of the community. As the originator of the proposal, I cast the vision for the community and work at helping to make the initial vision for the community a reality. The life of the community, however, will depend on the participation, direction, guidance, and vision-casting of the entire community in order that it remains authentic to itself and to the context which it finds itself in. Though the term “pastor” may initially be attached to one or more members of the community its direction will come from the entire community. A group of Elders that the community identifies will serve in a planning capacity, gathering together with the pastor(s) to dialogue, brainstorm, and ensure that leadership is shared rather than hoarded. The community, however, will have the ultimate say on decisions and direction of the community. As the community grows in numbers and develops, there will be special attention paid to opportunities to birth new communities with new leadership out of the existing community and group of Elders. However, as stated earlier, decisions like this one will ultimately be made by the entire community. 


Proposal 

I am proposing that you join with me to create this Wesleyan Neo-Monastic Emerging Community. I am proposing that you and I, with the assistance of identified partners in ministry cast a vision and provide direction for the creation of this type of community and that we continue to work together to sort out details regarding location, funding source, and oversight of the community. As I stated earlier, we would be we engaged in an endeavor to create a community that will serve as a laboratory and prototype for the creation of future faith communities not just within United Methodism but within the denominational landscape of North America. To be clear, I am not proposing planting a new church or congregation. I am not proposing we follow the traditional step-by-step business model for creating another branch of the United Methodist Church in its current form. Instead, I am proposing we join together by building upon our United Methodist heritage to pioneer an altogether new type of community equipped not just for the present of the church but for its future. I am proposing we join our minds, hearts, and heads together in casting a new vision for making disciples of Jesus Christ who will be about the business of transforming the world. 


I am also proposing that we work together to find creative ways to locate the funding necessary to create and maintain this community through co-operative partnerships with your congregation, the district, the larger conference, the United Methodist Church, outside funding, or creative interior fundraising endeavors. Looking at successful models of emerging communities around the United States and Canada, I believe that we can work together to locate sources of funding that could include one-time or on-going donations, grants, or the production and market of retail goods such as coffee or clothing to allow the community to exist as a self-sustaining endeavor. Initial start up and operating costs do not include the repayment of initial giving to the local congregation or larger United Methodist Church. As a missional endeavor, the initial funding provided must be understood as an offering donated by a community of Christians who are seeking to reach out and minister within the context of a post-Christian culture. As the community grows, it will engage in the spiritual practice of devoting finances to support minimal operating costs of the community and support agreed-upon missional endeavors, which would include endeavors by the local congregations that support the community itself or endeavors of the larger United Methodist Church. 


I believe that this community can exist physically in many different forms. In its initial stages, I am proposing that it gather in homes of leaders and members in order to cut down on operating costs for physical meeting space. As the community grows in numbers, I am proposing that you and I work to creatively locate a meeting space (or spaces) for the community based on its needs.  The community will need the support of local congregations not only in initial funding but also support in terms of prayer and guidance and support for its leaders as they seek to maintain the life of the community. I am proposing that we seek out partnerships together that can provide the aforementioned elements as well as oversight and supervision. I am also asking for your support and guidance to determine exactly what path leaders should follow in the ordination process that would be appropriate for the needs of a community like the one I am proposing. As I am putting the finishing touches on my Masters of Divinity degree, I am prayerfully considering how to follow the path to ordination that would allow me to assist the community in the observance of the sacraments within the context of worship and allow the community to remain connected to the United Methodist Church and its officers while not obligating me to itinerate. Though I have already laid out a good portion of the proposal, I believe that a certain amount of details remain to be filled out. I believe you and I can work together to fill in those details through further dialogue and discussion with other interested parties. 


Conclusion 

As I have fulfilled the call on my life to serve God through ministry in the church of Jesus Christ that I received at a young age, I have sought to do so within the various contexts that I have found myself in throughout the journey that has been my life thus far. In the past ten years, I have found myself connecting with those thinkers, writers, theologians, and common people who have a profound interest in emulating the person and model of Christ but find very little evidence of him present within organized denominations of the institutional Christian church. I have read countless books, attended numerous conferences, formed multiple generative friendships with authors and theologians, and dialogued with them about the multifaceted dimensions of what the church at large faces as it enters into the postmodern, postcolonial era and how we can continue to share the good news of Christ in a relevant way. Christ continues to call me into ministry in new and creative ways as I have cast a vision, articulated, and endeavored to create a community such as this. 


I am truly passionate about few things more than the two fundamental beliefs that are spurring me on to create a community of this nature. First, I believe that Christ calls us to live a holistic life in service to others in order to share His good news with the world. In Mark 12, Jesus is questioned by a scribe about the first commandment, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy and replies that one must love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength (all of one’s being) and then goes on to remind the scribe that that the second commandment calls one to love one’s neighbor as one would love themselves. In Luke 4: 18, Jesus reads the words from the scroll of Isaiah to declare his objective that runs throughout the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles: “…to bring good news to the poor…the recovery of sight to the blind…to let the oppressed go free.” In Matthew 28: 18-20, Jesus delivers what has been called the Great Commission which not only directs the disciples to “Go” in order to make disciples of all nations but also includes the mandate to teach and baptize them. In John 13: 34 & 35 Jesus repeatedly commands the disciples to love one another and assures them that by this love, the world will know that they are his.11 Throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts, we see that Christ calls us to focus on the love of God and the love of neighbor (especially those neighbors on the “outside”) within the context of a life of service. 


Second, I believe that the church must reclaim a missional ecclesiology to address the undeniable shift from modern to postmodern or fail to remain relevant to the world at large. Current research shows that “Christianity has an image problem” based largely upon the view that those inside the church are hypo- and hyper-critical, exclusive, and disinterested with the larger world around them.12 In order to reclaim its relevance to the world, the church must look upon the world with fresh eyes to discover opportunities to live out of its identity as a missional endeavor: identifying, raising up and sending out missionaries to reach, teach, and unleash indigenous peoples to share the good news of Jesus Christ, serve one another, and transform the world. Though I would agree with many who feel that Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture is dated, I do agree with Niebuhr that Christ will always transform culture through the work of communities that practice their faith holistically and live their life as missionaries, seeking not to overcome, overtake, or ignore the secular but to seek and find ways to find the sacred within culture.13 


I want to be clear about the fact that, as a lifelong United Methodist, I am proposing this to those within the United Methodist church first. In simple terms: I will be moving forward to fulfill the call of God to serve the church of Jesus Christ through the creation of a community like this one with or without the support of an organized denominational body. I do however believe wholeheartedly that the United Methodist Church is the most well-equipped theologically and missionally to create communities such as this one. United Methodism is also equipped with a rich history of being recognized by the world as a denomination possessing a pioneering spirit continually stepping out in faith to create something altogether new in response to changing cultural and societal factors, a denomination devoted to constantly seeking opportunities to reach people according to their needs in order to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world. I pray that you will accept my proposal and join me in this endeavor to continue to reach people with the love and grace of God through Christ Jesus. 


Suggested Resources 

Websites: General Interest 

The New Monasticism: http://www.newmonasticism.org 

Emergent Village: http://www.emergentvillage.com 

The Ooze: http://www.theooze.com 

The Simple Way: http://www.thesimpleway.org 


Other Communities 

The Eucatastrophe: http://www.theeuc.com 

Journey: http://wwww.journeydallas.org 

Ecclesia: http://www.ecclesiahouston.org 

Potter Street Community: http://www.thesimpleway.org/PSC/index.html 

Jacob’s Well: http://jacobswellchurch.org/ 

The Freeway Coffeehouse and Community: http://www.frwy.ca/ 


Books: 

  • Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 
  • Darrell L. Guder, ed, Missional Church: A Vision for Sending the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 
  • Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt , ed. An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007) 
  • Tony Jones, The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2008) 
  • Tim Keel Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, and Chaos (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007) 
  • Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2001) 
  • Doug Pagitt, A Christianity Worth Believing (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2008) 
  • Hugh Halter and Matt Smay The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2008) 
  • Robert Webber, ed. Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) 


Scot McKnight, A Community Called Atonement (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007) 5.

Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus But Not The Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007)

The United Methodist Hymnal Book of United Methodist Worship (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1989) 607.

The School of Conversion, “The 12 Marks of the New Monasticism,” 28 Apr 2008

Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 44-45.

 Darrell L. Guder, ed, Missional Church: A Vision for Sending the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 11. 

Ibid, 14. 

Ibid, 14. 

Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 134. 

10Ibid, 45

11 All references to Biblical text refer to The Harper Collins Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version (New York: HarperCollins, 1989). 

12 David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007) 11. 

13 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: HarperCollins, 1951), 116. 


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