Author Archive

Decline/Growth, Missional

Putting some pieces together

Who/What are “emergent Brethren”? Here’s another piece of history, with some suggestions for moving forward…

Steve Longenecker of Bridgewater College recently published “The Brethren in an Age of World War,” a source book of Brethren history, covering the years 1914-1950. He begins the book by telling the story of Raymond and Laura Cottrell, who in 1913 left the United States as mission workers in India. Both were medical doctors, and served in India until the late 1940’s. He ends the book by describing the formation of Brethren Volunteer Service, which happened about the same time the Cottrell’s returned home.

Along the way, Brother Longenecker makes the case that during this era of Brethren history, we shifted from being mission-minded to being service-minded. In the early 1900’s (and before), our members (especially our youth) were encouraged to give their lives for mission. By the mid-1900’s (and continuing to today) our members are encouraged to serve.

I believe the emergent/missional church will again pick up the mission-minded approach to discipleship—prayerfully seeking the places where God is at work in the world—and combining it with the service-minded approach to discipleship, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and even loving our enemies. We must reject the “church as club” model, which invites people into a church that doesn’t reach out to the world at all. We must also reject “service in the name of service only”, which seeks to serve other people but not tell them in whose name we serve.

The task of the emergent church will be to put these pieces together as we live our faith in the communities surrounding our churches, and in the world around us.

Missional, Spiritual Formation, Understanding Context

The risks of grace

Last Sunday evening, our church (Central Church of the Brethren, in downtown Roanoke, VA) was broken into. This is the second time in 3 weeks. To date, the most signifcant loss is my old laptop, which had been given to the music department. It might work for another year, it might conk out tomorrow. The list of what is missing is minor, even somewhat amusing, but that’s another story…

Our congregation is discerning a transition to a “small group-missional church” model, where we intentionally reach out to the community around the church. We currently have three primary involvements that a “missional small group” could easily expand: a partnership with the local elementary school; the beginnings of a relationship with a “social-service” type ministry that reaches out to uninsured children; a willingness to allow the homeless are welcome to join us for our Wednesday evening meal (we generally have 2 or 3).

The recent break-ins have caused me to wonder what other ways our missional congregation will be broken into?

1. Will we continue to experience those who “break in and steal”? Probably. Will we let this be a motivation to retreat within our own walls (or retreat to the suburbs)? Knowing our congregation, I doubt it. But what of those pesky attitudes and stereotypes? Will we allow God to break into our own lives to redeem us from classism and racism? Pray that it would be so.

2. Will we allow God to “break into” our theology, learning to see how God is interested in all people—even preferentially interested in the poor, the widows, the aliens, all those on the “flip side” of global economics and political power. What do we need to learn from those whom affluence has passed by?

3. Will we allow God to “break into” the mentality that church is for “us”? Will our walls form the boundaries of a barrier between the church and the world? Or will the walls of the church provide the structure for authentic fellowship, for sharing our faith, for engaging our community, and for an opportunity for all people to experience the transforming grace of God?

It’s a risky venture, to be sure. But these are some of the risks of grace.