As a member of a so-called mainline denomination, I have been experiencing – on behalf of (United Methodist ) Mother Church – something like a reverse vicarious identity crisis.  It’s really not cool to be a mainliner these days.  To rip off an old country song, I’m United Methodist after United Methodist was cool. 

I’m keenly interested in doing whatever I can to help us United Methodists embody and live for the Kingdom of God.  I’ve listened to and participated in many conversations that started out to be “dialogues” about how we very divided United Methodists (yes, we recognize the oxymoron) can make peace with each other and make a difference in the world.  The talks don’t turn out that way.  We wind up fighting about who’s going to get to control denominational resources and power structures.  

And we’re all frustrated by it.  Truthfully, we’ve been sincerely about the Kingdom…in our minds, anyway, all along.  We just don’t agree on what the Kingdom looks like.  It’s so easy to get headed down some tangential path in those conversations about working together for the sake of the mission. People who have been down in the denominational trenches for awhile know all about how fine the line is between seeking and working for the Kingdom and degenerating into mere church politics.

And along comes “Emergent:” “Emergent Christianity,” “Emergent Conversation,” “Emerging Worship,” “Emergent Village.”  Gosh, just when we’re feeling bad about our denominational divisions, a spate of books comes along to tell us that we’re practically out of the game altogether.  Thank God for Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, which helps some of us mainliners figure out who we are in this new day.  

Tickle says that about every 500 years the church does a wholesale housecleaning and argues that we’re going through one right now. (Denominations, beware!)  Toward the end of the book, she offers a very helpful schematic of various groups and how they fit the Emergent picture; hence the “hyphenateds.”

“Hyphenateds” are mainline (Protestant) Christians who operate in an “Emergent” way within their own denominations.  They have no plans to leave Mother Church, but they also don’t want business as usual, nor do they care about denominational preservation.  They want their ministries really to count for the mission of God.  

It can be a fine line to walk, but I’m trying to walk it.  I feel God has called me to stay within this beloved denomination, but I don’t want to spend a minute propping up a worn-out bureaucracy.  Thus, I think I’m a hyphenated.  What are you?

I Think I’m a Hyphenated

4 thoughts on “I Think I’m a Hyphenated

  • February 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    I am not very interested in “being cool”, but my commitment to the mainline church is waning. I think that train has left the station and we are still standing on the platform. We are loaded with all kinds of baggage–Jared Diamond might call it “cargo”–that isn’t essential to our mission.
    I think that Tickle is encouraging us to travel lighter. Sounds like you are all prepped for Tony Jones next week. See you there.

  • February 13, 2009 at 1:15 am

    Thanks, Larry. I’m struggling with how to foster grass roots-type change within the denomination. I don’t know when coloring within the lines is needed and when something more drastic is required.

  • February 13, 2009 at 4:00 am

    It’s been interesting for me as I continue to move forward in church leadership in the UMC wondering just how much of a UM I am. I too see myself as a hyphenated. I’ve found great value in the UMC not because of doctrine, mission statements, or common values, rather, I’ve found value in the UMC through the people in the UMC who have raised me, supported me, comforted me, lifted me up, and pushed me forward. I could care less about the denomination itself, what I do care about are the people who are within.

    See you at the Builder’s Week.

  • February 13, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Great. We’re leaving the light on for you. One thought on the hyphenateds: people are shaped by doctrine (among other influences). I wonder how your experiences with UM people connects back to UM traditions, including doctrine.


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