I'll be putting several posts here in the coming day or so that follow up on our work and reflections at the emergingumc2 gathering this past weekend.
The first is what I hope will become an annotated "running" list of potential missional groups, those gatherings of sisters and/or brothers who have each other's back and are committed to the way of Jesus-- and I'm turning comments moderation off for a bit to allow this to become as free-flowing as it can.
With each one here, I'm going to provide a bit of annotation, something to describe, briefly, how each of these COULD function as a Methodist missional group even if it currently doesn't fulfill that potential. I'll also note in each case "where" each of these groups is located relative to existing congregations.
So... here goes... and in no particular priority of order
1) "Emmaus" 4th Day groups-- Everyone who does a "Walk to Emmaus" (or Cursillo or similar experience) is strongly encouraged to continue to build on the spiritual and community connections they experienced on the "walk" (or in the "short course") by becoming actively involved in a "4th Day" group. These are designed to be accountable next-step groups that help people discern and then take concrete next steps in discipleship to Jesus. They aren't designed to be in "competition with" the congregation, nor are they designed to be ONLY for those who have experienced the "walk" or the "short course. But as with many of these "spiritually charged" groups (and, as we saw, with early Methodism) there can be a real tendency to get disillusioned with the congregation (and I'd argue that's actually healthy!) and start "dissing" it, backing away from it, and encouraging others to do likewise (and that's NOT healthy!). With support from a "Methodist-friendly" pastor and congregation, they could accomplish their "missional group" calling more effectively and in far greater synergy with local congregations than they may otherwise do.
You or some members of your congregation may be already part of such a group-- so a connection to your congregation may already exist. But if not, remember the example of the Wesleys and early Methodists in England. Build a positive relationship with the leaders of such groups so you can be in a position to be that "bridge" between those with "bright eyes" and such groups where you are. Don't worry if they're not led by United Methodists or if they'd not Emmaus per se (which is why I mentioned Cursillo above-- and there are other similar programs out there). It's the mission that needs to be accomplished, not the label on the group!
2) Wesley Foundations and other UM campus ministry groups-- A good number of these groups are, already, intentionally organized to live accountably and missionally, often using some form of Covenant Discipleship as their basic model. That reality is part of what gets them misunderstood (and sadly, defunded!) since they don't live "attractionally"-- i.e., they don't try to get lots of people into their "program," but rather work at being a missional community that forms and sends those who seek to live and work as disciples of Jesus, no matter their career path. But it's also why these organizations continue to be a huge engine for leadership in the church at all levels... not just United Methodist or clergy, but also those who find they can lead better in other ways and connected to other systems, including "secular" ones!
This kind of asset may be available for some of you, but not others. Or it may be available on some campuses, but not others. Here's an opportunity, then, to begin to explore with students on campuses that don't have this kind of missional group the possibilities for creating one.
3) Covenant Discipleship Groups-- This is a form of intentional covenant community between 5-7 people who meet regularly, develop a "rule of life" based on works of piety (corporate and personal) and works of mercy (individual and social) and help each other live it. An observation from my colleague, Steve Manskar, who is primarily responsible for promoting Wesleyan accountable discipleship through GBOD-- this does NOT work well as a "program" ministry of the congregation. There, it tends to get lost as "one option among many" rather than as a critical element in forming and sending people in the way of Jesus. It's not that congregations can't or shouldn't create these-- they can and should-- it's that this works better if and where it's seen more as part of the life of the people in it than the property of the congregation. An additional observation from me-- I think these would work much better if there were also more concrete "societies"-- gatherings of groups of these folks-- both to encourage folks in them and to create and sustain conversations that generate tactics (not strategy!) for deploying more of them.
Put another way, what CD groups often end up being is a kind of way of "hiding" committed people "deep inside" the congregation in some ways. Put biologically, congregations often tend to create these groups to generate more mitochondria for the congregation itself. (This is why the Borg are evil!). What they were designed to do and what they need to do is to be a venue of community that puts and keeps people on the front lines of mission in the world-- which sometimes includes the life of the congregation, but doesn't see the congregation as its primary destination.
4) United Methodist Women Circles-- This may seem to some to be an odd group to include, but structurally and missionally they really CAN fit beautifully. These are generally small enough gatherings (as circles rather than as the whole local unit) that there is very real potential (and indeed, there has been extraordinary fruit over time!) for these to be missional "class meetings" for women. Their mission is all about mission, right? And the Women's Division has done a reasonably good job over the years providing publications and other resources that keep that vision of mission ultimately focused more on the priorities of God's reign than just the institutional interests of the denomination. (You might think of the Women's Division as the General Conference, the Annual Conference and District meetings as the Conference, and the local unit as the Society-- structurally, that's exactly what they were and still are!). Plus, they retain enough structural independence from the UMC overall that they don't HAVE to get sucked into the "same-old, same-old" of the "publicly acceptable.
4) United Methodist Men-- UMM is beginning now to roll out the Wesleyan Building Brothers Process. You won't see this described on the page, or even in the brochure it links to, but one of the "four pieces" of the process is an ongoing meeting of small groups of men-- pretty much a Wesleyan class meeting. As these things launch around the connection, they really can be powerful entities for those who connect with them. At least, it seems that way to me looking at it from having talked with the guy who's getting all this going at UMM (Larry Malone). This won't be a venue for all men (or males!) you might encounter, but it could be really helpful for some.
5) Order of Saint Luke Local Chapters-- The Order of Saint Luke is an ecumenical and dispersed religious order, complete with a Rule of Life and Service, with deep roots and ongoing affiliation with the United Methodist Church (and in fact, specifically with my office at GBOD!). Where these chapters focus more on liturgical preferences, they are likely not all that helpful for what we've been talking about. But where they focus on their Rule of Life and Service (which includes but is by no means limited to worship preferences) they have great potential, precisely in part because of their depth of awareness and practice of early Christian and monastic practices of prayer and worship, for deep formation for folks in both worship and mission (or to use Wesley's terminology, works of piety and works of mercy) from an incarnational/sacramental center.
One value shared by all of these (and others I hope some of you will begin to name and describe where you are) is that they don't see the congregation as the DESTINATION of Christian discipleship, but rather as something more like we saw with Indy Fringe... an institution that can and does provide some support systems and linkages that growing artists (which is a way to think about discipleship, too, right?) need to help their art reach, affect, and help them link to other artists and people in the larger community. Early Methodists were not being trained in how to run congregations. They were being trained in how to encounter Jesus in others at work in the world and how, in those encounters, to keep acting as representatives of God's reign. That's a different skill-set than running a public institution. Yet some of what we do as disciples benefits greatly by having strong connections with effective public institutions, including congregations, who have leaders who have those skills, too.
So this list begins... keep adding to it, folks!
Peace in Christ,