Awhile back, I wrote about being a “hyphenated,” a term I picked up from Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence. According to Tickle, massive changes in media the past 30 years are causing American Christians to live in much closer “subjective proximity” than ever before. One result: some of the old divisions are dissolving and people are collecting around new convictions, hence the gathering center. Mainline denominations especially need to pay close attention to this phenomenon.
Denominational boundaries are not just doctrinal and organizational. They, too, are subjective. Precisely at this point I start to feel anxious. I am deeply interested in church renewal, but just what is the church I’m trying to help renew? United Methodism? Not exactly. Quite a few of my students are not United Methodist and I’m as interested in them as I am my denominational compatriots. I am also privileged to participate in a study/reflection group made up of a wide range of scholars and practitioners from Wesleyan, Holiness and Pentecostal backgrounds. We are kindred spirits even though, historically at least, we have been denominational rivals.
At the same time, I care almost desperately for the health of United Methodism. She has a great and important legacy that could be fresh and relevant, stepping into some gaps in doctrine and practice not adequately noticed by other traditions. Her vast organization could be terrifically fruitful in bringing the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the lost and marginalized. And by the way, who is more marginalized than the rural under-class? And where are many United Methodist congregations?
So, I’m facing my own quandary. I’m not interested in re-inventing the wheel and sometimes I think some Emergents are trying to do just that. Neither do I want to get trapped in the denominational paradigm. What do I do? What do you do?
We tend to personalize and individualize this comment of Jesus, so let me paraphrase it this way: Those who try to spare their (denominational) lives will lose them. Those who lose their (denominational) lives for the sake of the Kingdom will find them.
Denominational health is a by-product (not the aim) of Kingdom-driven ministry. Can we tell the difference?