I was tremendously blessed yesterday to be able to lead a workshop at our District Local Church Leader’s Workshop. The McAlester district is in one of the most rural parts of Oklahoma, and the largest church in our conference averages more in worship on Sunday than all of our congregations combined!
As a member of the Young Adult Council in our conference, I volunteered to present something on “Young Adult” ministries. There wasn’t nearly enough time, but we covered a great deal of ground. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to really delve into the Emerging Church movement like I wanted to. The good news is that there were several leaders who were fascinated by the changes in culture and wanted to schedule more time to carry on the conversation later on!
I do believe there are some significant things rural United Methodist Church can learn from the emerging movement, even though there is next to nothing out there about the emerging church in rural areas. I gave the group a brief outline of Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs book Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Bolger and Gibbs offer a good starting place for folks to get a handle on this movement, and their nine core practices seem to be very helpful for understanding this movement, and in my opinion could have fruitful possibilities for translation into a rural/small town Church setting.
Below is a portion of the summary that I handed out at the meeting:
Three Core Commitments of Emerging Churches
1. Identifying with the life of Jesus – committed to God’s Kingdom, not only concerned with personal salvation, but also with social transformation because of Christ’s reign
2. Transforming secular space – meeting in non-traditional settings, engaging the “secular” world, embodying their faith in the world
3. Living as a community – more missional communities of faith, more willing to abandon older church forms, view Church as a people rather than a place
From these core commitments, emerging churches are committed to six more specific practices:
4. Welcoming the Stranger – integrates worship with welcome to all people from all walks of life, maintain Christian orthodoxy but include others, evangelism as a communal activity
5. Serving with generosity – committed to offering God’s grace freely rather than seeing it as a commodity to be sold or marketed, evangelism is love & good news, not salesmanship
6. Participating as producers – each person provided with opportunities to share their story, encourage full-participation of all members, entire congregation involved actively and creatively
7. Creating as created beings – members comfortable expressing their faith through a variety of media forms: sculpture, painting, dance, technology, etc., creativity seen as an integral part of worship, creativity and giftedness encouraged.
8. Leading as a body – importance of the body of Christ, emphasize communal forms of leadership rather than hierarchical forms (grass roots, not top-down), avoid power plays at all costs (Philippians 2:5-7 as a leadership model)
9. Merging Ancient and Contemporary Spiritualities – centrality of prayer, everyday spirituality, liturgy, centrality of communion, corporate and personal disciplines (See Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline for more ideas)
There is no reason that small churches in rural or small towns couldn’t be authentic missional communities that offer rich networks and relationships that empower ministry while being committed to these nine practices. If small churches (whatever their context) began to see themselves in this way, I think it could revolutionize the United Methodist Church.