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I love science fiction. I’ve been waiting for years for Michio Kaku to reveal the fact that we will finally get our flying cars and personal robot assistants.

But you don’t hear too many people talking about the distant future of the Church, except for maybe John’s Revelation. The General Board of Discipleship has gathered some of the leading minds in the United Methodist Church and asked them to pull back the veil on the future. Their answers are both shocking and not at all surprising.

The most important things that I heard:

“The Church is primarily a network at the structural level. [The local] community focuses much more intently on discipling people, on sending them in mission in Christ’s name, and holding them accountable, not only for what they did, but how they were growing in holiness of heart and life.”

–Taylor Burton-Edwards

“There will be a Church. The question in my mind is “Will there be a United Methodist Church. We have to make the case for “Why Jesus? Why Wesleyan theology? Why the Methodist movement?”

–Karen Greenwaldt 

“We may go back to the Wesleyan model of the small group. We may have fewer brick and mortar churches and more house churches.”

–Sarah Wilke 

“What makes transforming the existing congregation difficult? In a word: Inertia.”

–Taylor Burton-Edwards

“[With] our current trajectory toward individualization and customization … it’s hard to imagine how a community is going to live and work together and worship together and pray together. But I’m confident that the Spirit can work it out.”

–Tom Albin

“There is a more transforming way that church needs to think: The pastors and leadership teams and the whole congregation — how we can change ourselves first to change the whole culture of the church and the whole culture of the community.”

–David Kim

These questions focus in on an often neglected component of theological thinking and discourse. That orphaned field is the study of praxis. How are we to be in the world? An excellent question, but one that must be answered within the context of our culture. And our culture is unique among other cultures. We are United Methodist.

This means that we must examine ourselves within the context of United Methodist culture. That is not to say that only a United Methodist can make this examination — far from it. What it means is that we cannot ignore the tenets of our past and current culture when casting about for a new direction for ourselves. But how to examine this? Theologically? Historically? Sociologically? The answer is, of course, “YES.”

N. T. Wright has stunned colleagues with the simple brilliance of his works. Wright has opened up new fields of orthodoxy by simply applying his exegetical methods in a very consistent pattern of analysis. I think that his methods would apply very well here as well.

Wright asks that the thinking person simply consider the historical elements of story, symbol, praxis, and questions when determining the history (and I would add future) of a culture, nation, or organization. The questions are fourfold as well: Who are we? Where are we? What is the problem? and What is the solution?

I’ll be writing on the concepts of story, symbol, praxis, and the four questions in coming weeks. For now, suffice it to say that we have much to consider when it comes to who we are and how we are to be in the world where we live. These answers, like the suggestions offered by the video above, will not surprise you. But they won’t be easy answers either.

Author: Joey Reed

Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.