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January 30, 2009

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Comments

Emily

you have taken my thoughts and feelings, and put them into words.
I am not of the younger crowd.But I grew up in the church. Married outside of the church. Raised two children teeter-totering between the two faiths and failing.
I don't feel ashamed of our early connection to LDS anymore because I work with some Philipeno women that were helped greatly by that church. We are not them, but, they searve a great need, and for the good they are doing now I am willing to share that my church had to split from them because of the "more them 1 wife thing."
I know I belong to this church, there is no other. (I have looked) But I don't "fit" somehow.
It has changed so much, I'm not sure how to begin.
Yes, outreach international is part of what I was looking for. In a small way I am helping that cause.We want to be involved, to take action.
I have been involved in political activites, food drives, senior citizen's care, ect.
I think in this changing world we really want to feel informed. Ready to stand up and help.
And when the saints go marching in we want to be in that number.

Stephen Donahoe

There are several people who are writing blogs about these sorts of issues. Here are a few:

http://erosophy.wordpress.com

http://mattfrizzellonline.wordpress.com/

http://treynolds.wordpress.com/

Check them out

-Matt Bolton

James

Another important perspective to consider is the alienation of the young adults who still consider the Book of Mormon a sacred scripture and those so-called "treasured myths" to be an affirming witness of the gospel. People who are embarrassed that our church had any affiliation with the Mormon church need to get their heads checked. We ARE a Mormon church. That temple sitting in Independence was built by many generations of faithful witnesses to the gospel as given to God's children through his prophets. The temple may have been dedicated as an "ensign of peace", but it is still a House of the Lord where the Holy Spirit is to be encountered.

I think the other difference between the church of yesterday and today is that we weren't as wishy-washy with the gospel. Generations of Saints went into their communities and engaged their neighbors in discussions and conversions to the gospel. Now we have people who are "embarrassed" by the Book of Mormon. Either get over it or get out of the way. We now have an official church historian who is going to publish a book attempting to discredit the Book of Mormon, so I guess we'll see who wins in the end. My bet is still on the true believers.

My last point will be on the "social activism" demands of young adults. Be careful what you wish for. We have seen in this last election cycle how one's associations are often challenged and scrutinized by the voting public. You may be all about social activism now, but in 20 years when you're running for elected office and your crazy preacher's sermons wind up on YouTube, you might have to figure out what's really important to you.

Diane

Thanks for your insightful blog. Certainly, while the church has tried to focus on young adults in recent years, they are missing what motivates and activates the passion of young people. In a conversation I had with church leadership as a youth minister a few years back, I responded to the question: "What could the church do to entice/keep young people?" My response: "Stand for something. Keep pace. Youth are exposed to so many more open ideas (vibrant action on behalf of impoverished, gay, and others at the fringes) that the church strains (on gnats) over. They want to be part of something that upholds higher values, keeps pace with, and finds answers to the struggles they see in the world." And now it seems the leadership is more fearful and less prophetic than ever. But KUDOS to you for saying that young adults might need to take leadership and be the ones to rejuvenate the church if it is to be a relevant, vital force in the world today.

MAS

Thanks for a really prophetic blog. Just a coupla comments. Thomas Paine, on Dec. 23, 1776 could have been talking about the COC on Feb. 2, 2009 when he prophetically wrote:
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. The tyranny to which Paine referred is just a palpable to us today, as it is the complaceny of the status quo.
Frankly I am not sure that there are many revolutionaries among us members. To really become a people of peace, maybe there should be.

As for the new church history book that's forthcoming, I hope a previous blogger will read it first BEFORE making value judgements on it approach to the BOM. Then a constructive dialogue can emerge from a position of knowledge rather than suspicion.

Good luck in what will hopefully make a significant contribution to a move toward becoming a really "prophetic people."

Kevin Williams

This article was forwarded to me through a friend and she said, "Read this and comment!" Every word, every statement resonated with me. They were my own thoughts, and yet I have tried countless times to put them to paper.
The past 6 months have been a roller coaster of emotions. Discussions about lack of motivation, troubleshooting volunteers, and decline in youth and attendance echo throughout my region. In our region, most have recognized that there is a problem, and want to see it fixed. They have brainstormed ideas, and even have implemented a few. When the idea becomes reality, they are empowered and excited; however, more than often, they spark, fizzle, and die.
I, one of the many young adults in the church, know all too well what is occurring on the home front. I work for the church, and see it every day. Passivism has blanketed itself over our congregations, over the many who attend church. It is easy to be caught under that blanket.
Just recently, I had a conversation with an individual who said, "We need to stop this internal programming. It is not working. We need to do outreach. That means making changes that might make others feel uncomfortable." The word 'outreach' has been repeated hundreds of times, and yet I realize now, no one gets it. Everyone understands "Ice Cream Social" or "Potluck". These are the pinnacle social gatherings that make everyone comfortable, but I don't think that is what we are supposed to have. If we are comfortable, then we have no room for growth. Someone gave me a great analogy once, "We all are holding onto the trunk of the tree, but Christ is not holding the trunk, Christ is out on the limb seeing and showing us how far it goes."
I strongly believe that our church, the Community of Christ's strongest values lie in Peace and Justice. If this is true, if young adults want to stand for something, then I believe that it is the church who should give them the opportunity.

Shannon

This is a great blog entry Matt. I truly believe that it really is the duty of young adults themselves to take responsibility for the transformation of the church that they love. I will be one of the first to admit that it isn't easy, I have mused with friends from other declining mainline denominations that some days it feels like we'll only be able to transform our churches when we finally pry them out of the iron grips of the baby boomer generation, and we may have to wait awhile for that. It helps me to know we are not alone (other denoms are going through this too) and that a core piece of our Christian faith says that death does not get the final word.

John Hamer

Why have you marginalized yourself within the church, Matthew? I phrase my response to your essay that way because you're the actor here, not the well-meaning, but aging church leaders who know how critical it is to invite your generation back into participation, but lack the blueprint to accomplish it. And so they try contemporary music and powerpoint and end up looking patronizing.

At the end of the day, the graying generation cannot possibly articulate phrases that speak to your generation's causes without having their message seem hollow, because those are the things that move you, not them. All they can really do is be welcoming and open to young leaders like you. And I am extremely confident that the church is absolutely welcoming and open to young leaders like you.

The church is at a crossroads, I agree. The graying generation is presiding over managed decline because they have no alternative. At the end of the day, the church is a volunteer organization --- and thus the volunteers are the church. There's no sense yelling at the old people: "Make the church meaningful!" They can't do it. The only one who can do it is you. You need to make the church meaningful. Right now. I presume that you have a good idea about how small, not-for-profit/volunteer organizations actually function based on your experiences with Outreach International. Apply those lessons to the church itself at the congregational level, so that you can make an exemplar of a congregation that is meaningful to young members like yourself.

What would your congregation need to be like to make you yourself want to attend? What would it need to be like to get you to invite your similarly self-alienated friends back? Answer that and then do that. I've traveled around and seen the graying, declining congregations, and I've started attending one in order to create a growing model of a rejuvenated congregation. All the graying congregations I've seen are open to new things, if you're bringing new energy. If go back to one, I predict that it would take all of a few weeks to get their trust and they would turn one Sunday a month over to you to produce the kind of church program you would find meaningful. If you can't coordinate with the existing congregation in your area, I am very confident that the church would be very excited for you to begin an emerging congregation with your friends.

Let me use an experience I've had with the church as an example. I believe that it's critical for thinkers in the church to be continually publishing new ideas so the members are in dialogue. About two years ago or so I was in the archives and I saw a journal called Restoration Studies, which I had only been dimly aware of previously. I started pouring through it and I realized what an incredible journal this was. I asked about it and was told that it was defunct because it had been published by the Temple School, and the Temple School had been shut down as part of the managed decline program you're talking about. Meanwhile the Seminary had been publishing a proceedings journal called "Theology," but this too was being cancelled for budget reasons. I immediately asked why we can't restart Restoration Studies, under the auspices of JWHA. The reaction I got off folks was "oh, we can't do that." But I knew that we certainly could do that. I sold the idea to the JWHA board, and I sold the idea to church leaders, and finally sold the idea to people to participate. And last year we held a Restoration Studies symposium that had 150 attendees, was filled with incredible presentations, and which featured emeritus president Wallace B. Smith's intiation of a new annual lecture series. As we speak, the first revived issue of Restoration Studies (Volume 10 of the series) is in typesetting and it will be available at our second annual symposium this April. I certainly didn't do all the work alone, but I saw the need, I stepped up to the plate, and I initiated it.

The fact that I could do that and many other similar things illustrates that the church is absolutely open to you and people like you. There is no value I appreciate more than sustainability. If Outreach International depends in any way on donations from the church or from church members, then anything you're doing there is not sustainable. Those congregations and members will not exist in the future unless you come up with a way to make a congregational community that you and people like you would want to be a part of. That's what I'm doing now and that's what we need you to do. If you can't, the good your doing isn't sustainable.

Richard Howard

I will be eighty years old this summer. The founder of Outreach International inspired me more than half a century ago by his radical, prophetic grasp of the role of the church in the social order. Forty-three years ago I became historian for the RLDS Church (Today's Community of Christ). I soon began nearly thirty years of deconstruction and reconstruction of the church's historical (a-historical, for the most part) self-image. I quickly encountered endemic inertia, at best, and fiery hostility, at worst, from the membersship and in some cases, the leadership.
By the early 1980s I was seen by vocal, fundamentalist "restorationists" as a primary enemy of the faith, because I was constantly raising questions about the history and traditional understandings of the church,and suggesting alternative ways of looking at such things. Many of the young adults of that generation (1980s) were deeply attached to the views of their grandparents, who were so offended by analytical rather than polemical history. I was urging history for understanding, and they were urging history for proving our church's claims to be the "only true church."
I retired from the historian's chair in 1994, and have had many occasions to publicly continue the analytical approach to church history. I still find pockets of resistance to this more detached style of looking backward, but I continue to hope that rather than simply jettison historical studies altogether, Community of Christ people will embrace a more relativized, relaxed mode of historical inquiry. Genuine curiosity would greatly enrich our historical perceptions, as an alternative to heatedly embracing the old absolutistic hagiography once thought of as legitimate history.
Before today's young adults discard any connections to our early historical development, I urge them to delve into the sources, study sound historical literature based on bona fide methodologies, and learn to see the real, even if tenuous, connections between who we are today and the milieu of the founding generation and its immediate successors in the flow of time. An excellent place to begin will be the current church historian's soon-to-be-published book, "Journey of a People," Vol. I, where Dr. Mark Scherer does some truly brilliant revisionist history based on deep research and perceptive conclusions. The book was to have been published in 2008, and then in January 2009, but is being delayed by bureaucratic fears of possible reactions by some of the more "conservative" membership. Ho hum!
Meanwhile, I am working just now on a paper to be given at the impending April 17-18 Symposium sponsored by the John Whitmer Historical Association, Sunstone Theological Organization, and the Community of Christ Seminary, at the Independence Campus of Graceland University. The theme of the Symposium relates to the background and meaning of Scriptures. My paper will try to clear away some of the lingering misconceptions about something Joseph Smith, Jr., began working on in 1831, but never finished--his so-called "New Translation" of the Bible. Unfortunately, this "unfinished" Bible is still being marketed by Herald House under the polemic title, "Inspired Version" of the Bible.
My general position, on this topic and many others is:
"If we cannot honestly keep proclaiming what are actually parochial faith assumptions as if they were genuine historcal truth, then now is the time to let them go."
We do need, as a church, to get on with more honest and legitimate historical investigations and conclusions. Not to do so is to betray any other claims we might ever hope to make to "truth" in other arenas of inquiry. If the church could do this at all levels, then it would become more able to create the quality of congregational life and general church polity that would nurture Christian social ideals and stir its people to risk greatly for the causes of justice, equity, and peace.

KS

What does Outreach do that will continue to move the issues forward to create peace in the world? Partner with others in a mutual relationship that benefits both giver and receiver - what Jesus inhabited - "caritas" love - mutual love for others. Empower people to find their own solutions, "with a little help from their friends." Teach children that they are part of the world's children, that they can appreciate and respond to others no matter their station or culture. Impact youth and adults so they see that their choices and where they put their passion can change the world. Seek the best solutions in the spirit of collaboration. These are what Outreach is best at, Sustainable Good. No quick fixes.

Matt Frizzell

Thanks, Matt B :)

First of all, I live in a world of enough privilege that venturing out in public discourse about religion, politics, or social justice can be a choice. Those who choose the risk are courageous and take democracy seriously. Thanks for a great post.

Second, I don't know if I fit or not in this group of young adults you describe. One the one hand, I resonate with your sentiments. Your observations and comments strum the chords of deep feeling within me. However, as an anomaly of sorts, I've taken another road: the spiritual discipline of theological education and ended up working again for the church. From a general view, I think your observations about the church are devastatingly accurate. I concur. They resound a judgment that can only be met by some form or repentance. Somewhere along the line, the church had only so many lifeboats, and in the search for faith, an efficacious life, and sense of meaning...many of us were left to swim.

I include myself in that group. I share a deep and deeply painful sense of alienation. It never goes away.

However, there ARE a few like me who recognize that "rolling up our sleeves and jumping into the messy arena of politics" and "negotiating the redistribution of power in human relationships" is also a fragile possibility within the church as well as a divine call at the boundaries. Otherwise, any hope behind your post is futile. The church's penetration into real people's lives world-wide and its financial resources make it a worthwhile project. Spiritually, "the church" matters too because the church can be and must become a witness to a promise of divine proportions WITHIN history...to a history in which there are humanitarian and revolutionary possibilities.

I care deeply about the questions you are asking. I also see evidence across many religious/non-religious, political and non-political circles that "the church" is both a historical tragedy and source for remembering our enduring hope.

I will close saying this. The word salvation and salvage share roots. As a minister and half-baked theologian, I believe I have been called into the salvage business. Perhaps, salvage is also a good word to describe the hope for the church, for peace, for social justice, humanitarian economics, and human relationships. If so, I would suggest such salvaging requires both equal parts vision and faith.

Barbara Howard

Dear Matt, I am in such agreement with your issues. I think institutions, like nations, move slowly, and if young adults pull out, the institution will die a slow death. Can you be a prophetic voice in a congregation? Can you organize some young adults and just move out on those issues with some caring adults and seniors tagging along with you. Maybe the church just moves too slowly, dear one. I don't know. I do know the world needs compassionate, active, caring people, and educating the church to these issues is vital. My congregation welcomed a transexual family (the father became a woman as they stayed in the congregation and were loved, supported and continue to be supported). This came about because our pastor held a meeting where Matt Naylor taught a class on transexuality. THe couple came, told their story and left. We had the class. If anyone left because the couple and their children were there, I don't know about them. I do know they have found a home. This is a small thing in light of the horrific conditions in the world, but it is a small light in darkness. Communities can do this. Education can do this. I don't think people stay in an insitution primarily because of doctrine or history unless they want to feel superior to other institutions. Those days are no longer possible for any church. We are one small community, and need to show our witness with our ministry of justic and peace by uniting with other communities doing this. Outreach has shown us how effective this is. The church needs to let go of fear and move in bold affirmation that to "proclaim Christ and communities of peace, love, joy and hope" is to always, always participate in those issues with monies and bodies. Lead us, dear Matt. Show us the way you and your young adult friends can let the church be a vehicle for its mission. My own children have a very jaundiced view of our community, but they were abused by folks who were upset with their dad and mom and their viewpoints. You may be ignored by some, but we are listening to you, supporting you, and eager to participate in significant ways that you can develop for our participation. I'm not trying to lay a burden on you. I'm eager to share in the concerns you've shown us. Marjorie Suchocki write "All conflicts, disagreement, and egregious sins within the congregation are like an overlay that is continuously correctable because of the internalized gifts. One does not abandon the community of faith, or argue for splitting the congregation on the basis of irreconcilable differences....Reform is not to be found by creating a newer, purer group--for all groups, sharing the same gifts of God, are essentially one already." This is hard to believe when you've been ignored, overlooked or abused. But, I truly believe that the trivia that you experienced at the youth gatherings could be challenged. You will be heard. I think the conservative, "evangelical" ideas about young people are just one way. Your way of inspiring young people to lift the fallen, to feed the hungry, to stand for rights for gays and others who are often shut out, can make a difference. I say, let the church provide you an arena, a platform. Maybe it seems like a waste of time, but I hope you'll think about it. You know how you feel when you make a difference in someone's life. Everyone needs to have someone show them how. You are a prophetic voice, and maybe the church can't be the arena for you, but I hope so, oh, how I hope. Years ago, Chuck Neff gave me an article by former Roman Catholic priest, Charles Davies, who said he saw the way the church needed to change its attitude toward women as priests, but he left the church, and could make no difference in it. "Change," he wrote," comes from inside institutions. The prophetic voice in the insitution can restructure the institution." I think you are at this moment, that prophetic voice. And, I love you for writing and sharing your heart.

Ben Smith

Thanks for your comments Matt. The caricature you paint is fairly accurate!

I'm a 24 year old white guy in middle class Australia. My family is deeply planted in church roots, going back more than 5 generations. My mum is a church employee here in Australia, and I too am now working for the church in Perth, Australia. (There's my short life summary!)
I too have found that the church, as a whole, moves slowly on issues. I have been so frustrated at the pace of indecision that I felt like leaving the church at more than one point in my life.
During these times of frustration, I have been sat back in my seat by a few comments that made me think about why we need to dialogue for extended periods of time about issues.
A year or two ago I was traveling to work (at that time I was a senior manager for an IT company) asking myself if my job was making a difference in the world. The answer was no. I was the Pastor for my congregation at the time, and that was what was making me happy. It was here that I could contribute to society in a positive way, and a place where I could live out the vision for my life.
This led me to leave that job and begin my vocation with the church in Perth to help the congregation here reach out into their community and create outreach opportunities within the youth and young adult sphere.
I have differing points of view on church policy, and butt heads at times with decisions that are made from a local and global level; but I keep telling myself that I am able to push for changes and help change the way we look at things in my own ministry.
I have bore the brunt of policies with respect to de-facto relationships whilst in Priesthood, which shook my faith. I am now married to a Catholic. I now ask myself "if I have have left the church because of a decision I did not agree with, how can I change things for future generations?"
I am looking at the scripture for this Sunday as I will be speaking, and Paul talks in 1 Cor 9 19-23 about how he had to change the way he operated in order to proclaim the gospel. For him to "win more of them" he had to be all things to all people. He was weak to the weak, a man of the law to the people of the law, a jew to the jews.
So from as early as 50's CE (and probably many examples prior to Paul) we are taught that we need to be relevant.

Keep writing Matt, but more importantly, keep challenging us to change.

Shalom,
Ben

Randall Pratt

Thanks, Matt, for this blog topic. It raises important issues that I care deeply about. I share your concerns, but I am also very optimistic about the future of the Community of Christ.

Why am I optimistic? For many reasons, but here are a few:

++ OUR OPENNESS. Unlike most of the Christian world, we are open to uncertainty. We have not “put God in a box” by saying that the Bible alone contains the truth about God. Indeed, we believe that God still speaks, that not all truth has been revealed by God, and that current understandings are subject to improvement. This puts us in a radical, prophetic place with possibility for change, growth and rejuvenation. To me, the cool thing about the Book of Mormon is not so much its history, but that we are open to accepting inspired writings from multiple sources, and we are willing to do the hard work of carefully considering the merit of all scripture. God comes to us from many directions.

++ OUR CALLING. I think that we are fascinated by church history for (mostly) good reasons. While there certainly is an element of proving that we are the “one, true church” for some, for most we find in our history the prophetic call to be the “church that is true”. For all their shortcomings, those founders of our faith community were bold, radical visionaries seeking no less than to build the peaceable Kingdom of God (Zion) on earth. God called them then, and calls us today, to this bold vision. It’s not all about Joseph Smith and his inner circle. I am inspired by the passion and purpose of the thousands of ordinary folks who gave up security, certainty and comfort to be on the edge where God wanted them (and wants us) to be. This Kingdom is expressed daily wherever we choose to profoundly live in the Way of Christ; it is a quality of experience rather than a particular place or time.

++ SAVED TOGETHER. We know deep in our bones that our relationship with God depends on our relationships with each other. Our salvation is found in community. So much of the Christian message has been twisted into an individualized spiritual insurance policy -- profess Christ and be guaranteed a place in heaven/the hereafter. But we have generally avoided this seduction. If I am distant from my brothers and sisters I am distant from my God, no matter what words come from my mouth. We have been given this life to share because in sharing we find life eternal. Rejuvenation will flow as this truth grows within us. Changing our institutional name, and D&C Section 163, are significant milestones in our transformation and rejuvenation. A lot has been happening, and (in institutional terms) quickly! Hold on, because more change is coming! God continues to form in us an identity of a “prophetic people”, for whom tangibly pursuing peace and justice is central to our identity, mission and salvation.

Yeah, on a typical Sunday morning we may not hear much about all of this in the local Community of Christ congregation. But we need to! In every day the church struggles to find the right “mix” between being “priestly” (comforting the disturbed) and “prophetic” (disturbing the comfortable). Both are necessary for our personal and institutional well-being. Young adults (like Jesus and Joseph Smith) have always been essential to being prophetic, and always will be!

How can Outreach International assist in the rejuvenation of the Community of Christ? Outreach International can help us see ourselves more clearly. Said another way, the best values of Outreach International are also the best values of the church. These values, which are shared by Community of Christ and Outreach International, are as follows:

1. THE WORTH OF EACH PERSON (THE “WHO”). Each person is of inherent, magnificent worth. We affirm that God is present in every person. Our concern, care and compassion extend to all.

2. THE HOPE OF A BETTER, PEACEFUL FUTURE (THE “WHAT”). By human choice and God’s providence, we work for a better future for each person, our communities and our world. We seek peace for all.

3. THE POWER OF COMMUNITY (THE “HOW”). We are created to live in community, which is the means by which we find meaning and transform our self, families, neighborhoods, nations and world.

These values are simply not shared by all of the Christian world. For those that believe in an angry, vengeful God, it makes sense to use violence to punish as God uses violence to punish. For those primarily concerned about the hereafter (individual salvation), improving our world now has little urgency or relevance. For those disempowered by the message that “you can do nothing to save yourself” (dependency), the power of community (people) to change the world seems absurd.

The Community of Christ has a clear, compelling and unusual calling to model peace from the relational power of community. This has always been our calling, understood in different contexts for each day. It’s an awesome, holy journey!

Kat Bice

Matthew- Wonderful work as always. Like many I echo the words that you have written.

As someone who understands where we came from and where we are, I don't have a lot of hope for where we're going. Let me also say that I don't know that it's a bad thing, at least for me anyway.

I spent many, many, many years trying to make myself in to the kind of "saints" who can stick around, rejuvinate, and call people to revolution through historical understanding, critique, and meeting people where they are. I've looked at people like Richard Howard, Howard Booth, and Matt Frizzell and for many years I wanted to stay, I wanted to try. I think for myself anyway, that desire has fallen by the wayside. It's been pretty clear to me in the past 5 years that the church isn't in the same place I am, and at least for the near future, doesn't look like it will be, and just the same as I don't shop at places that don't support the values I uphold, I'm not inclined to give my dollars and my time to a church that does the same.

I like many of the young adults you describe, have a career in public service. I came to that career after I was discarded by the church in true desire to do ministry. But because of age, inexperience, theology that didn't match, or whatever the reason, I wasn't given that opportunity. Now being a therapist I've made my peace with all that and I honestly believe that people made the best decisions they could at the time and clearly I'm better off for that. No regrets.

My career in public service, in serving families in inner city Kansas City, Kansas and children and families in the foster care system, that has given me the same kind of satisfaction, purpose, and fulfillment that I would get from serving in institutional church. My vocation is my ministry. I also know that spending my days doing ministry as a therapist, does not leave me a lot of desire, time, or energy to spend on more program or more talk that the institutional church loves.

I suppose that people can judge what they will of me, but I've found great satisfaction and joy in my vocation and have found plenty of ways to express my spirituality and my theology through that, political activism, relationships with friends, and involvement in my community.

I don't begrudge anyone who finds meaning or value in what the church has to offer. I have nothing but deepest love and appreciation for many members of this community who have loved me and supported me through the years. Like many of you, I'm too busy actually trying to change the world to wait around to drag the church along behind me.

Again, Matthew, thanks for the post.

Dave Brock

Important conversation! I'll keep reading with hopes that more voices will broaden and deepen the dialogue you've begun, Matt. I'm hoping I'm still contributing to the dream of a world where justice rolls like a river when I'm 90, but I also have a sense that I need some direction from emerging generations.

Critique is essential. New and creative endeavors (hopefully with space and encouragement to test and model those inside the institution) are what we need even more. Next generation, please enter the fray and offer ideas and energy and refreshment. Our efforts have been inadequate and our vision too myopic at points, but a lot of good folk in this living body who still long for a better world.

A couple organizations that I would recommend strongly for those who believe there is yet hope and life and prophetic witness inside the institution. Check them out and see what you think. www.cacradicalgrace.org Especially look at the upcoming conference, March 20-22, 2009 in Albuquerque, called THE EMERGING CHURCH. Richard Rohr, Phyllis, Tickle, Brian McClaren, Shane Clairborne. Voices of challenge and hope. Rohr has been a reforming voice within Catholicism (Franciscan) for quite a few years now. I think he is on to something. McClaren has an ability to pull from lots of places to reframe our sense of mission in a world-wide community. I hope someone can go to the conference. Maybe a whole group of someones in Community of Christ!

Another key group of voices can be engaged through The Gospel and Our Culture Network at www.GOCN.org Prophetic. Visionary.

And, I'd recommend the site www.cofchrist.org as well. If you haven't seen the recent posting of the document on Identity, Message, Mission, and Beliefs, I'd recommend it highly. We all have to put 'wheels and handles' on it, but a strong foundational piece, I believe, hammered out by church leaders from around the world over 18 months or so (based on 2,000 plus years of people working at the same calling!).

OK. I said I wasn't going to say much. Going to listen. Last thought. One of the books we are reading in Temple Team International and Temple Strategies Team is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP. Not a bad resource to stimulate all of us to examine what it really means to take up our cross and follow a most gracious and generous God; what it means to be a people dedicated to the pursuit of peace.

Thank you again to you, Matt, for inviting us into a timely and essential conversation. Courage!

Jeff Manuel

I've really appreciated all of the heartfelt, honest comments that were generated by this blog posting. Matthew's post resonated with me because I care deeply for this church and feel that we could do so much more. I also have been saddened by the many persons my age (and older) who are doing amazing things in their answer to bring about God's justice in this world but no longer feel that the Community of Christ speaks to them. The church is missing their voice and their perspective on the call to be peacemakers. I, too, have struggled with the seeming lack of prophetic action to match the prophetic voice. Based on Section 163, I believe the church should take action with issues of poverty, hunger, war and environmental destruction and have yet to see any strong action to go with those beautiful words.
Yet, as I talk with my friends and read blogs such as this one, I know that there are people connected to our tradition that do care about the same things I do and truly own the calling to be a prophetic people that are not satisfied with the status quo. I guess I wonder if there could be a place for us to come together, to share what we are doing, offer support to one another and openly discuss our spiritual journey as it does or does not relate to the church as an organization. And have it be a safe place where we can have this dialogue without alienating those members who disagree with the issues we raise. I understand that changing minds and hearts takes time, but if the church goes too slow, or does not create a space for these voices to be heard and nurtured, I fear that their voices will be lost and the church will lose its struggle to be relevant in a very complicated world.
That being said, I don't think that this particular blog is the place to have this dialogue, it can start here, but this blog has many excellent posts pertaining to outreach international and I think that this should remain it's focus. Maybe we should form another group or forum where these issues can be discussed further.

Matthew Bolton

RESPONSE TO COMMENTS, FROM THE AUTHOR, MATTHEW BOLTON

The many responses to this post have made me realize there is a seam of discontent in the church that hides just below the surface that needs to be explored further.

Before asking you to all to comment on what you think should be the next steps in a process of rejuvenating the church, I thought I would reflect on some of the key themes that came out of the above comments.


HISTORY
There was considerable discussion of history in people’s comments. This is unsurprising given the Community of Christ’s tradition of taking its history as a core source of identity and doctrine.

Clearly, as several people pointed out, an uncritical and faith-promoting approach to history is a recipe for problems. We need to be clear-eyed and honest about our past. Rooting faith in a shifting sand of untruths and half-truths hardly seems like a good idea.

However, I think the church history community has also become a little stuck in recent years, not unlike congregational life. While the ‘New Mormon History’ movement of the 1960s and 1970s introduced the Latter Day Saint traditions to critical history, it has fallen into a rut of obsessive attention to the early years of the church in the Midwest and Utah.

We now need a ‘New New Mormon History’ that takes seriously the global nature of the faith. This means a moratorium on early church history. How many more new papers on Joseph Smith, Nauvoo or Kirtland are really necessary? I don’t mean to denigrate the necessity of examining our past, but I do think we have examined certain parts of it way too much – to the neglect of other stories that are also important.

If we are serious about our story, and our identity as a multinational community, we need histories of the church in Latin America, the Pacific Islands, Europe and Africa that are just as detailed as Nauvoo and Kirtland.


SCRIPTURE
Several people remarked on my observation that many progressives find the Book of Mormon has little to say to them. I have to say that personally I find little inspiration in the Book of Mormon. It has long been discredited as history, and as narrative I find it often alternates between dull and gratuitously violent. There are some interesting utopian and challenging passages, but I’m not sure that these could not be found in the Bible. I struggle to see the ‘value-added’.

That said, I do find intriguing the idea that Joseph Smith, Jr. wanted to interpret Christianity in his time and place – to think about what Jesus would have said if he came to the Americas. By writing the Book of Mormon and introducing the idea of continuing revelation with the Doctrine and Covenants, Smith was saying that ‘God walks here, in my context.

In Africa (as well as other places), that kind of thinking is called ‘inculturation’ or ‘contextual’ theology and has been an important movement in ‘decolonizing’ Christianity by using African myths, culture and imagery to tell the Christian story.

Therefore, I do think there is great value in the Community of Christ’s scriptural tradition if it is interpreted to mean that we are open to divine inspiration from a variety of cultures and peoples and that we believe in reflecting on what our tradition means in our own context.


GENERATIONS
In my original posting, I characterized the problem of the church’s slow decline in terms of generations – namely, that the younger generation is drifting away from the church due to a sense of discontent.

However, as I have reflected more deeply on this issue and read the remarks from readers, I realize I was perhaps wrong to limit my portrait of the ‘Dissatisfied Progressive’ only to young people. With comments written by people of many ages, this is clearly a problem that exists across several generations.

As one reader pointed out, I may also have drawn sweeping conclusions about young adults -- many conservative young adults are actually dissatisfied with the ‘liberalization’ of the church leadership.

I actually believe that the malaise of managed decline in the church is not only affecting the ‘left-leaning’ young people. I have spoken to many younger ‘conservatives’ who are just as frustrated by the stultifying atmosphere in many congregations and have drifted toward the growing evangelical and Pentecostal movement.

Clearly this is not simply a problem that only young adults and so-called ‘liberals’ have. Too many congregations lack the heart, soul and passion that are so needed to keep people spiritually alive and prophetically engaged.


MY OWN ‘MANAGED WITHDRAWAL’
One reader remarked, “Why have you marginalized yourself within the church, Matthew?” Others too pointed out that if I wanted transformation in the church, rather than harping at church leaders I should change things myself. Fair point.

Indeed, in reflection, the ‘Managed Decline’ of the church has in turn led me to take a ‘Managed Withdrawal’ (to borrow a phrase from the Vietnam War) from church life. It started in college, as I began to question the church’s theology, history and doctrine. However, I still remained engaged in the Graceland congregation and one back home in Independence

Eventually though, this really sapped my energy as I got hostile responses to my questions and was asked to do and say things in church that I simply could not believe in. It became easier to keep quiet and sit at the back of the church, to enjoy singing and hear the occasional inspirational sermon, than to dive in and risk getting burned.

I have actually spent most of my life post-college in places without easy access to a Community of Christ churches (Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Uganda, to mention a few). Moreover, I am married to a non-member. Thus, part of my drift from congregational life has been a natural rather than chosen one.

However, living in London and Washington DC, I have often found that attending congregations of other Protestant denominations to be a much more fulfilling experience. I have appreciated the diversity, commitment to peacemaking and community spirit that I have found in these places – something I find sorely lacking in many Community of Christ congregations.

Nevertheless, I sometimes grieve the slow fading of my connection to the Community of Christ. I feel like I was once rooted in the church family and had a sense of requisite stewardship and responsibility.

I just don’t know how to maintain that association or play a meaningful role in it, given that I am a religious agnostic, a skeptic and have little time for most of the doctrines and myths so many church members hold dear. I feel that were I to play any major role in a congregation, I would have to hide my beliefs or risk alienating much of the core membership


WHAT NEXT?
So what comes next? To be honest I have no idea. I feel like this discussion has hinted at a problem that the church community must face. But I am unclear of how best it should be faced.

Perhaps one place to start is by continuing this discussion – focusing on ways young adults and progressives of all ages can revive the church, whether at the congregational or HQ levels. Please post your further thoughts below.

- Matthew Bolton

Matt Frizzell

Matt,

I could hold this conversation for hours on end. I don't know why, but I was given tremendous emotional and intellectual energy for it...and most topics concerning hope, futility, fatigue, and faith. I guess I deeply believe that meaningful things require work.

I, too, am a religious agnostic of sorts. Let me play on your words. I am either unsure or disinterested about religion. However, I have found that ideas and practices concerning hope and criticism are revelatory and have tremendous social and person shaping force, whether religious or secular. Therefore, discerning these ideas and practices matter. I think this whole post and comments are a testament to that. Hope and goodness, faith and critique are profoundly historically bound and human products. Getting beyond religion and metaphysical machinations to its tender underbelly is an ongoing process. I think we are moving to new frontiers.

If you or anyone is interested in finding a way to sustain this conversation, I would welcome it. I'm going to be around for a while. If there was interest of even 4 or more people to get together and continue this conversation in a formal or inform way, as well as look toward constructive consequences of a gathering, I would welcome that. I believe we live in a pregnant time. Our enemy is not being wrong or even irrelevant. I think it is disinterest and apathy. For me, I'll ante up.

KathleenO

Hi all! This entry fully described my feelings as a young-ish convert to the Community of Christ, and also the feelings of the congregational youth group which I am privileged to serve.

I was literally sent to my congregation by a command from God. One morning I awoke in my bed and was shown the image of the meetinghouse and told to "go there, and you will do God's work in God's house".

I'd spent most of my adult life as a fulltime volunteer (a privilege for which I thank God for my husband's faithfulness). But chronic illness had recently forced me to retire from the most physically-challenging aspects of my work (as a firefighter and EMT).

My first emotion, upon entering the church community, is that nobody wanted to actually help anyone! I was the first newcomer (except by birth or marriage) in over four DECADES. And a significant part of the congregation was much less than welcoming to me.

As time passed, I began to find the places within the church where I could actually serve others. I also joined a small core group, comprised of a half-dozen youngish and energetic members, who do want to attract newcomers. And the youth adopted me as one of their own (at the age of 47), as someone who shared their idealism and fierce longing to serve humanity.

I wish that I could tell you that we've caused a huge change in the congregation environment. What I can say is that we've been able to rejuvenate it a little bit. We've encouraged outreach to the youth within the community, not through adults' ideas, but created by the youth to reach other youth. (This weekend, we're having an anime festival, for instance.)

We focus much of our efforts on bonding efforts with each other; the goal is to become a core group committed to caring for each other, and then to become a foundation stone for the health of the congregation.

We also do small projects attempting to educate the adults about issues such as sustainability. We give away free Hunger Site bracelets. We are putting together bags of authentically Asian rice, with recipes and URLs for reaching out to feed those who have not even enough for a meal today.

We are sponsoring events as varied as vegetarian workshops and secret Santa programs for at-risk children.

We are doing these things overtly as believers, and by doing this we are counteracting the examples of our older co-parishioners who may have forgotten their mission from God.

So there *is* hope within the Community of Christ. But we have to put it into practice, despite the frowns of some older people. It's hard work sometimes, but worthwhile.

Kathleen

Jared Doty

This is an excerpt of an email I sent to Matthew in regards to his blog posting that he has asked me to post. I’ve edited out parts that were not relevant to public discourse, so there may be a sentence or to that references another part of the email.

I wont’ talk about theology, for me it’s a separate issue.
As for the decline, that to me is obvious. When we look
at the most successful churches, they all have a couple
things in common, and being evangelical isn't one
of them.

1. The successful churches employ a very good to great
preacher.

Theology takes a back seat to the worship experience.
Walk into any church of more then 500, and you are going to
hear a well developed and delivered sermon. The theology
may be all over like rover, but it's a well done sermon.

Sometime in the late 80s and early 90s, we diminished the
importance of the sermon and opened worship up to much more
varied types. Right or wrong, the importance of the
sermon, and the quality, hit a steep decline as the
democritization of services increased. You don’t have to be good
to participate.

I think this point is hard to argue. I sit in bad sermons
more often then I sit in good ones. I think the lights and
the rock bands and the modern architecture often fool us
when we look at Mega Churches. Look at who is probably the
most famous pastor and preacher today. Joel Osteen took
his dad's church over. There was no real theology
change or program change. The difference is that Joel is
just a much better preacher then his father. I find his stuff simple minded and lacking real insight, but like
ABBA, I cannot deny he has a good melody that's easy to dance to.

Look at the other mega-churches today and earlier movements in history (Billy Graham) and you see that repeated over and
over. Pick up an old Arthur Oakman sermon. The quality of presentation is far and above what you will hear in 99% of sermons anywhere today. It's exceptionally good, and that was during a much more prosperous time. Now, I'd say that
75% of sermons I hear on a COC church are of medium to low quality. This is not to say we don’t have great preachers. We do. I heard Dave Schall at a Graceland homecoming deliver one of the best I’ve ever heard. But the aggregate level is and has been on the decline.

2. Successful churches employ a clear and easy to follow narrative.

If you want to know why Obama won and McCain didn't, clear narrative. Obama's was clear and easy to follow and McCain's was not. Poll the average supporter of either candidate and neither could really point
to prior legislation their candidate supported, but Obama created and directed a very clear narrative about himself.
McCain’s narrative presented was far more muddy.

Evangelicals provide a clear narrative. Even as society gets more permissive evangelicals
thrive because it's pretty simple. Progressive (or permissive) churches are confusing and unclear in their beliefs and directives for their members. Those churches
have suffered the most. The CoC church is faring much like the others in this category.

I think people are caught up in conservative vs. progressive churches and assume that is the answer for who is growing and why. They miss the boat by thinking it has to do with theology. So while I think a real hard look at our theology is important, I think the decline is actually a separate issue from
theology.

There used to be a rule in companies that do paid presentations or seminars that is pretty spot on and is widely known in the business. I think you'll find it's relevant for this discussion.

After using all kinds of metrics over the years, they know quite a bit about who
comes back to paid seminars and why:

1.If the information is good and the experience is bad, people won't come back.

2.If the information is bad and the experience is good, they might come back.

3. If the both are good then they come back.

4. If both are bad they won't come back.

For us, the first two are what is important. That research says that no matter what, the experience has to be good, regardless of the knowledge imparted.

For me, right or wrong, the issue of decline has far less to do with church theology then worship experience.

Wayne Allen and Erica Blevins Nye

This conversation is outstanding! Dialogue about our visions and experiences in discipleship is exactly the place to start. Some folks earlier asked if there is a place to continue this type of conversation. There is one in the works! Community of Christ Young Adult Ministries will launch a new website soon, to give us a space to discuss our various opinions and hopes for CofChrist's ministry involving younger generations.

As happy as I am to see this discussion happening, after reading all of these comments, I felt utterly overwhelmed - almost discouraged. We have such a long way to go to minister effectively with young adults while also remaining sensitive to the needs and contributions of other generations. As the support person for CofChrist young adult ministries, sometimes if feels like the task is just not possible, and at times I have wondered if I should simply throw up my hands. It's overwhelming because it's hard to know even where to begin, and discouraging because I haven’t made the strides I have hoped for so far. I would imagine this how most of us feel when we consider the how far we have to go. This journey we are on to transform this church into something more engaging for young adults, especially in regards to expressing our mission, will be long. And there are so many paths and distractions to choose from, winding in different directions. Yet, in the midst of all this, I find hope that our willingness to travel together will be the true source of our ministry.

Doctrine and Covenants 161:3c points us to our calling: "Be patient with one another, for creating sacred community is arduous and even painful. But it is to loving community such as this that each is called. Be courageous and visionary, believing in the power of just a few vibrant witnesses to transform the world." Our first step toward transforming the world (the mission-oriented action that so many YAs are longing for) is to labor toward sacred community.

By striving together in community - as slow and cumbersome as that promises to be - we are indeed living in mission as Christ challenged us to do. Patiently struggling together with our congregations to share and integrate our visions for missional and congregational ministry may not appear to make sweeping strides to alleviate injustice, to heal the planet's wounds, or to deeply engage in the world's political/social systems. It's probably not as attractive or immediately satisfying as a being a vanguard organization engaged in world-transforming outreach ministries. And it is probably just as messy! But I believe that it is our first, most faithful step toward being the mission-engaged movement that we are called to become. In this way we EMBODY our mission of peace and justice that CofChrist is called to promote.
I challenge our generation to bravely claim the difficult, unglamorous, yet rewarding task of building sacred community as PART OF OUR CALLING to boldly proclaim peace. "The road to transformation leads both inward and outward." (D&C 161:3d) We've got to start with the "inward". Our own congregations are where we need to start - gracefully confronting conflict/disagreement, advocating for the voices of all generations and perspectives, practicing listening and consensus-building, allowing room for compromise and imperfections, deepening Christ-centered relationships, and celebrating our successes. It's so tempting for us to choose to live out our ministry in vocations or organizations that do not require so much "inward" effort! But by hanging in there we demonstrate that peace in diverse community IS possible, and it is a means for extending peace "outwardly" through unified mission together! I hope that young adults connected to CofChrist will not abandon the church as a channel for responding to their Christian call to change the world because it is a challenge for us to overcome diversity of generations, traditions, and approaches. Tackling peace-building at this intimate level will speak volumes about our generation's commitment to holistic peace and justice!

I want to point back to Doctrine and Covenants 161. It is an incredible rallying cry and encouragement for young adults and the whole church as we stumble toward transforming the church - and the world - through community. I encourage everyone to review it again as we try to follow Christ together in the midst of our past hurts, current frustrations, and still unrelenting hopes.
www.cofchrist.org/onlineresources/DocCovenants/section161.asp

Peace and Hope!

Phil Meyer

Matt,

Thanks so much for opening up this discussion! I am a Young Adult minister not a Young Adult myself. I am working with University of Central Missouri Liahona and Odessa C of Christ Young Adult's. I will make sure all of them have the link for this blog so that we can begin to get more Young Adult input.

I am sitting her with my fingers poised over my key board and do not know where or how to start! All of the things you have said I have heard repeatedly from the young people I have ministered with. I have shed many a tear over the ineptness of our faith to recognize, utilize and appreciate these gifted and valuable members of our church.

I have witnessed over and over again as congregations all over the Central Mission Field have given lip service to change and then patted themselves on the back as our young people walked out our doors, heads hung and shaking. I have tried in your face, I have tried passiveness, I have thrown up my hands and walked away! But I cannot just walk out, I must, have to be involved some way some how.

I do not know what the answers are. I DO know that what we are doing is far from where we need to be. To me this church is a symbol of acceptance and somehow we cannot accept our young adults. I hope, sincerely hope that we can hear from more of the young adults here. Your voice is important to me and others like me, please speak up and out so that we can find a way to make something happen.

My last thought. You can throw coal dust on a Dalmatian and it will look like a Labrador. But underneath it is still a Dalmatian! We can continue to kid ourselves that there is nothing wrong, we can continue to say wake young people your thoughts and ideas don't have value. But underneath there ARE problems and what the young people are thinking is of worth and does have value! There's an old adage that says,"Perception is reality." I know that street runs both ways, but consider this; one is leading to decline and the other...well it is wide open for us to choose!
God Bless!

Ray McIntyre

While I liked your article Matt, I wonder if an important point is being missed. You talk of the church's focus on a process of decline and you talk of a need for young people to be involved in the risky business of Shalom in all it's aspects BUT isn't the central focus people?

WHY are we involved in peace-making? WHY do we want to halt the church's decline? Surely it is because we wish to serve, to help, to reach out to people in all their hurting and pain, joy and happiness.

Really the church's historical roots within early mormonism is a secondary thing (but they are there, ask Dale Broadhurst.); regardless of the Book of Mormon ; regardless even of folks' unwillingness to change. We still stand as part of that historic Christian witness to the worth of suffering humanity.

Section 161 puts it better than I can "...2a. Become a people of the Temple–those who see violence but proclaim peace, who feel conflict yet extend the hand of reconciliation, who encounter broken spirits and find pathways for healing..."

We do not do peace-making because it is easy, we do it because it is both essential and commanded of us, we do not do outreach because we 'have' to grow, we do it because we have encountered the Love of God for ourselves and wish to share that unconditional, compassionate, accepting love with others.

There is so much more I want to say but all of it is off-topic. This rambling agglomeration of thoughts are those of a person who does not 'fit' well within the CoC but who, nonetheless sees real potential within the group.


Caleb Meyer

Matt,

Thank you for posting your insights. I am a young adult, and my family has switched congregations so many, many times, looking for a place that wouldn't alienate us exactly the way you are talking about.

Even as a youth, I began to notice that our faith is stuck. Even with the SLOW transition I have seen to powerpoints and contemporary music, I still feel that there is something missing for the older youth and young adults.

We are at a time in our lives where we are finally ready to accept some responsibility, yet the older generations cling to their "duties" fervently. A few years ago as a senior high, I prepared and gave a reasonably decent sermon. It was short, but it was to the point, and it had a message. I got quite a few complements after the service, but never got asked to do anything more than an occasional prayer afterwards.

We have since switched churches, and I have seen the decline in that congregation. It saddens me that any Community of Christ should be on the way to closing its doors.

I am not ashamed of our heritage, but I have felt the sting from other faiths that don't even associate with us because we have three books. I know exactly what you are talking about, although I think the fault lies with those who would call themselves Christians and still practice hate for other faiths.

I like the idea that our church should be a cause, and not a bureaucracy. That we are "managing our decline" and not leading the community is the root of the problem. You and I have seen firsthand what a cause can accomplish. It's time we took a serious look at our ultimate goal. We want to be The Community of Christ, so we need to start being a true community.

Thank you for an insightful and straightforward post. I look forward to hearing more from you (and about your accomplishments) in the future.

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