Some thoughts on church,
and postmodernism,
and how it is that we find integrity and wholeness
in our varied forms of worship
and understandings of God.

An Entry Point

I've organized this blog chronologically from its inception, which is backwards from how most blogs are organized. Basically that means that the dates you see for each post to the right are imaginary. Don't worry about it. They show up in the right order...think of the "older posts" link as a "next" button.

And a BIG THANKS! to those who were willing to be interviewed, and who offered suggestions. You're really good sports, and I'm glad to know you (even though I've only ever really met Jay Voorhees, and I'm not sure that we did more than show up at the same seminar once).


Jay Voorhees and Church of Fools, part 2

Anne: Would you consider being involved with a project like Church of Fools again? What would you change? Jay: Yes, I would consider being a part of a COF like project, and have maintained relationships with the US expressions, although I really don’t have the time to do much. The main problem with COF was an inability of the founders to envision a form of polity that was community driven, one that was more influenced by open-source software than something created by a centralized owner. I think that the leaders were driven more by technological wizardry rather than thinking intentionally about the nature of community, and what type of community they were creating. Communities are things that aren’t created through human efforts, but are things that we put in motion but then have lives of their own. The COF founders didn’t fully recognize and appreciate the power of what they were putting in motion, and have been unable to build upon that to create a sustaining church. Anne: How do you think the UMC in particular and Christians in general can best connect with postmoderns who are not presently connected to a church? Jay: Obviously, as is true for any form of evangelism, one has to be present with folks before one can connect them to a faith community. What I think we offer as a denomination is a theological tradition that is well situated to deal with complexity, holding in tension personal piety and social holiness. Postmoderns usually need to belong before they believe, and our “journey based” theological construct allows us the means of recognizing the unique gifts of all, and of understanding that our relationship with God is not based on a single event (walking down an aisle, saying the sinners prayer, etc.) but instead represents the adoption of a lifestyle over time. Anne: You mention shared leadership as a hallmark of ministry with postmodern/emerging people. What might this look like in a church context, functionally speaking? Alan Hirsch suggests in The Forgotten Ways that leadership in postmodern/emerging ministry will be more lay-driven, with less value placed on seminary training and ordination. What might clergy look like? Jay: Shared leadership is absolutely crucial in ministry with emerging folks. The pastor in the these models is less of the example to be emulated and much more of a co-participant in the journey, albeit with a certain task in helping to create a culture within the congregation. Certainly many of my colleagues in the evangelical end of the spectrum are very negative of seminary education, however I think that is because they experienced a theological education based in indoctrination rather than in formation. I frankly found my seminary education (Candler) to be valuable, but part of that we there was a great deal of thought given to balancing praxis and doctrine. In these kinds of congregation, however, clergy are really environmental engineers, creating spaces by which Christian community and the experience of God can flourish. Anne: So many people posit that the age of the denominational church is coming to an end. Do you share that view in regard to the church at large, or the UMC in particular? Some have suggested that we are “due” for another Great Awakening. Do you anticipate a revival/renewal movement growing out of postmodern/emerging ministry? Jay: Are we at the end of the denomination era? It depends on how denominations respond to the world around us. There is no doubt that denominations in the current American form are children of modernity, focused on institutional development and the systematization of revival along universal norms. Denominations assume that there are universal truths and practices that they hold which can be shared and experienced with little regard for the specifics of cultural settings. The great analogue to modern denominations is the notion of the fast food franchise – an organization that helps to provide uniformity to an experience (be it worship or a Big Mac) in a variety of locations. From that standpoint, denominations are certainly already dead, for “brand loyalty” means nothing these days . . . for postmoderns and moderns alike. There has to be something more than style of branding that provides meaning for this structure if it is to have any success (one reason that Open Hearts, Minds, Doors is generally ineffective is that it is built on old notions of brand identity and loyalty). Yet, I maintain hope for denominations, especially our United Methodist Church, based not in a universal experience or form, but in a shared theological heritage that provides meaning for folks searching for holistic ways to reach God. This absolutely requires an emphasis on content, not style; theology, not form. Part of the reason that I maintain this hope is that I think the church needs structures of accountability, both at the individual and small group level, and at the ecclesiological level. At that latter level, I think this needs to include not only accountability for church leaders (clergy and staff) but also accountability for congregations, holding struggling congregations to certain expectations of their faith practices. Are we due for another Great Awakening? I am always suspect of those who put too much emphasis on “revival,” fearing that we will fall into the trap of the first and second awakenings – the systematization of that revival into something that can be duplicated. I think that the emerging church is indeed bringing about renewal in certain segments of the church, especially to an evangelical world in flux with the fall of the Falwells, Robertsons, and Haggards. But it is one of those things that we won’t really know until hundreds of years later, so we are better off simply trying to be faithful to our calling by God and let the historians worry about those questions. Anne: How do you feel that that the Internet (including blogs, social networking sites, YouTube, Second Life, etc.) and other new forms of communication (text-messaging, for example) can be used to foster community and bring people into relationship with Christ? What dangers do you see in the Church adopting these means? Jay: I am the original technogeek (sometimes called the TechnoPastor) so I am not the best person to ask this question, however I do see value in these tools for facilitating alternative paths for communication. One must always remember that these things are tools in the service of a broader mission (bringing Christ, creating community, etc.) and resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon simply because something is cool, however the proper use of these tools can indeed enhance ministry. The one mistake I often see made is the desire by Christian folks to create alternative spaces to the ones currently populated on the web. So instead of trying to be present on MySpace, we create a “MyChurch” site as an alternative, only to find that no one shows up. It is kind of like saying we’re going to build our own alternative mall with only Christian stores, and then are surprised when folks keep going to the “real” mall and shopping at Macy’s and Sears. Just as the church has to be present in the broader world, we also have to be present in the on-line world rather than creating our own Christianized ghettos. The danger is what I said above – becoming enamored with the technology and forgetting that technology is only a tool in the service of a broader goal. The church has to think through what it is trying to accomplish and then choose wisely the technological solutions that help them in that purpose. Anne: Who do you see as leaders in postmodern/emerging ministry? Who has most influenced you (positively or negatively), and how? Jay: I’ve been lucky enough to be friends with many of the public faces of the emerging church, folks like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt of Solomon’s Porch, Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith, Tim Keel of Jacob’s Well (whose new book titled Intuitive Leadership may be one of the best introductions to the who postmodern emergent thing I’ve read), Karen Ward of Church of the Apostles, and the list goes on. These are folks who aren’t mentors but are friends, willing to engage in conversation about the variety of ways that God is calling us to be faithful. I am also especially pumped up by a new generation of United Methodist leaders involved in trying new things – D.G. Hollums in Kentucky, Jim (I can’t remember his last name) at Hot Metal Bridge in Pittsburgh, and others along the way. Anne: What sources do you consider essential for learning about and participating in postmodern/emerging ministry (books, people, websites, places, conferences, etc.)? Jay: ; (Anne suggests maybe this should be; Soularize, most of the books in the emergent lines published by Baker, Zondervan, Josey Bass, and Abingdon; Wikipedia; Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” and “Blink”; Friedman’s “The World is Flat”; the Alt Worship movement in Great Britain; open source theory; well, that is a start. Anne: What is your greatest hope for the Church in the future? What is your biggest fear? Jay: Greatest hope? That we might actually follow in the way of Jesus and actually help to usher in God’s kingdom on earth. Greatest fear? That we will continue to be consumed by consumerism until we are totally meaningless. Anne: What have I not yet asked that you wish I had? Go on, you might as well answer it, too. Jay: I’m out of gas, so I hope these are helpful.

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I am a United Methodist (UM) pastor, married to a UM pastor, which makes life entertaining from time to time. I am a newly minted D. Min--yes, that's Rev. Dr. Anne, to you. I am a learner and teller of stories, looking at how we share faith and relationships. Any views I express here are not necessarily United Methodist views: they are mine.