Friday, November 4, 2016

Our New Mission Statement and the Apostolate of the Methodists

The Ordination of Francis Asbury. Public Domain. 
A New Mission Statement

On May 19, 2016, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church revised the second statement of the paragraph that includes our mission statement. That second sentence now reads: "Local churches
and extension ministries provide the most significant arenas through which disciple making occurs."
Followers of the blog emergingumc or persons who have followed my presentations about the network ecclesiology of early Methodism over the years will know that I see the primary charism of Wesley's Methodism not consisting of congregations alone, but of congregations (local churches) in network with discipling groups. The Wesleys per se founded zero congregations. They started religious societies with a laser focus on helping persons who were ALSO actively participating in congregations (Anglican for the most part, but not exclusively) to experience the assurance of justifying grace and grow in sanctifying grace toward "entire holiness of heart and life" which they also described as "perfection in love in this life."

Understood this way, what early Methodism was actually creating, and what the Wesleys were leading, was a form of extension ministry.

I praise God that our mission statement now reflects our historical reality, as well as the larger historical reality that since the early 6th century at least, it has been religious societies (monasteries and other groups) through which the most "hands on" and accountable processes of discipling have occurred, alongside the work of congregations.

The Apostolate of the Methodists

So what does all of this have to do with our apostolate as Methodists?

It goes back to recognizing that both congregations as we have them and discipling groups as we have them (and as early Methodist societies, class meetings and bands fundamentally were) derive from the same stream of apostolic ministry started by Jesus and handed down to his original apostles, and from them to the rest of the church.

The congregational format of Christianity and the support networks and leaders that have fundamentally related to it (dioceses or synods and their bishops, and, later, presbyteries and conferences and their leaders) have passed down from generation to generation in a fairly orderly and generally traceable way. One can speak at least in broad terms of there being a kind of historic succession of leadership for the congregational format of Christian faith that stretches back to the time of the apostles.We have far less documentation about how the leadership of discipling groups in all the varieties in which they have emerged over time has passed down.  Rather, it seems
the Spirit has raised up many people, many lay, some clergy, many whose names or status are unknown to us, across the generations who have carried on this significant part of the original apostolic work in varying ways at varying times. The peculiar work of the Spirit led by the Wesleys and labelled Methodism first by its detractors is among these, and it continues in a variety of different forms, to this day.
Discipling, or in our terms, helping persons come to the experience of assurance of justifying grace and then grow in sanctifying grace toward perfection in love in this life, is the heart of our apostolate as Methodists.

United Methodists have at best an irregular claim to stand in historic succession as it is usually described. The historic succession is typically connected to the congregational format of Christian faith, and specifically to a line of ordinations of and by bishops. John Wesley was not a bishop, yet he ordained not only elders but also one (as Superintendent) who would later take on the title and essential role of bishop (Thomas Coke, who then ordained Francis Asbury). It is primarily through Asbury, himself irregularly ordained, that the vast majority of our ordinations come.

This does not mean our ordinations are in any way deficient. It means they may come through a different but equally legitimate stream of apostolic work than those of the historic succession.

I'd like to suggest it also means something else. The fullness of the apostolic work and thus of the continuing apostolate, stretching back to Jesus and his first apostles,  is not contained in either the historic succession nor in the discipling/society work which has been our particular charism. The fullness of the continuing apostolate is found as the emergent property of the interaction and collaboration of both.

This suggestion would have some influence on how we may conceive of rites of full communion and in particular the rites of mutual recognition or reconciliation of ministries with churches who have a claim to historic succession in ways we may not.

Part of what it says is we as United Methodists have both something to give and something to receive in such rites and processes. We bring an apostolate of intentional discipling, and both a heritage and an ongoing practice, at least in some ways. Those who have a better claim to historic succession than we do bring the gift of that stream of the original apostolate. When we each offer these gifts of the apostolic deposit to each other, and each take up these gifts with all earnestness, we cannot all but be blessed in the mutual exchange.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Christian Year: Seasons of Discipleship

The Christian Year, by Adam S. Keck.
Used by permission. CC BY-SA 3.0
Does the title of this blog surprise you? The Christian Year: Seasons of Discipleship? Had you thought of the Christian Year as instead something more like a few different seasons of commemoration of key moments in the life of Christ and then a big "time out" or "meandering" for the summer (or winter in the Southern hemisphere)?

If you had, you're not alone. And there are historical reasons you might think of the Christian Year that way. There really were two sort of parallel calendar systems developed over time. One was a set of commemorations for particular saints or occasions in the life of Jesus or the life of the church. The other was a seasonal cycle whose logic was intended to underlie the whole of the calendar not simply with the life of Jesus but with the work of the church to disciple persons in his way. In the West at least, the cycle of commemorations had grown so large that it had effectively overrun the seasonal calendar.  It took Vatican II, and then the subsequent ecumenically-pursued Protestant reforms of the church year, epitomized in the Order of Readings for the Mass and the Revised Common Lectionary, to restore the seasonal cycles and their discipling focus to prominence.

So what is the discipling focus of each season, and how does this sequence of seasons support the discipling work of the church?

Advent: Beginning with the End in Mind
Advent was originally developed beginning in the fifth century as a means to provide a second season for intense preparation of candidates for baptism during Christmas Season, an intentional parallel to Lent leading into Easter.

The chief difference between Advent and Lent was the biblical and theological focus. Lent and its readings had focused on the teachings of Jesus and learning to live out those teachings in daily life, concluding with the events surrounding the death of Jesus. Advent focused instead on the culmination of all things in Christ, with a strong admonitory tone about the need to prepare for life in the age to come, ending with the lead-up into the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

Advent can still function as a season of baptismal preparation, much as it did in the early church, especially if Extended Advent (starting with the Sunday after All Saints) is observed.

But the primary purpose of Advent now is about the realignment of the whole church in view of the culmination of all things in Christ at his second coming. To that end, every year, we hear from Jesus himself, from John the Baptizer (for two weeks) and from Mary about the expectation of what the kingdom of God will do among us in its fullest expression. Advent thus prepares us for Christmas not in a chronological sense (a review of the historical events leading up to the birth of Jesus) but in a theological sense (a review of all that has begun and will eventually unfold from the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ).

Christmas Season
Christmas Season, bounded by December 25 (Nativity) and January 6 (Epiphany), has been created as a time for intensive celebration and contemplation by the church of the unfolding implications of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, Word made flesh. During this season the saints calendars may actually help us recover the practice of both celebration and contemplation, including lament. For more on the saints days of this season (St. Stephen, Holy Innocents, St. John, and Holy Name, see Christmas Season: Martyrs, Mystery and Magnificat).

Christmas Season remains a fine time for baptisms. Baptism, after all, is both sign and sacramental seal of new birth. The only danger is those baptisms could get lost or overrun within the overall cultural practices of vacations, parties, "Santa-stuff," and New Year's observances.

The chief gifts this season offers are celebration, wonder, and contemplation. The gospel reading on Christmas Eve (the first Mass of the traditional three Nativity Masses) already announces this. The angel host celebrates the birth, the shepherds are awestruck, and Mary ponders all these things in her heart. The church needs this time to take in and dwell in these three gifts to prepare for its work in the season to come, the Season after Epiphany.

Season after Epiphany

The Season after Epiphany is the season of evangelism, par excellence. The church, re-grounded in its destiny, and refreshed with the celebration and contemplation of the incarnation, begins this season where the Christian life begins: at baptism. Remembering Christ's baptism, we reaffirm our own baptismal vows, and take up the journey with Jesus afresh by joining in his work of calling disciples to "Come and see," and "Follow me." Evangelism, invitation, and introduction to the ministry and teaching of Jesus are the core work of this season, which then takes us all-- longtimers and newcomers-- into the next. The season concludes as the Christian life culminates, with the vision of Christ in glory, and the hope of our own transfiguration with him in the age to come.

Lent is the season of baptismal preparation par excellence. While the Season after Epiphany gives the church the opportunity to invite and introduce newcomers to the way of Jesus, during Lent the church becomes midwife to actively form people who choose to undertake such formation in his way. The gospel readings for these weeks correspond to the baptismal questions and vows. Those questions and vows give all in the church the opportunity to examine and improve our own lives, as well as, primarily, to support those who are just learning to live under this new covenant with God. This is a season where patterns not only of prayer, but also of renunciation of and resistance to evil, not only of study of scriptures, but also of serving as Christ's representatives in in the world are most intensively formed. And at the end of this season, novice and mature disciples together wash each other's feet, stand, kneel, and bow as one before the crucifix of our Redeemer, then pray as one in solidarity with all who have died or will die in hope of the final resurrection.

Easter Season
"This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave." So the church has sung for centuries at the Great Vigil of Easter, the first of the three Masses of the Resurrection of our Lord. And so the church has baptized on this night, or early on the next morning, since at least the second century. And so the church keeps singing all Easter morning: "Christ the Lord is risen today. Alleluia!"

But Easter Season only starts here. During Lent the church forms persons in the habits of discipleship. During Easter, the church forms people in the key doctrines of the faith and prepares persons to claim the gifts of the Spirit for their ministry as Christ's disciples and apostles to the world. We spend seven weeks on this critical work each year, culminating, at Pentecost, with a celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a commissioning of all the newly baptized or confirmed into the ministries into which they have been called and equipped during these weeks, and the recommissioning of all of us to continue to live out our baptismal callings.

Season after PentecostHaving become reoriented during Advent, having become grounded in the implications of the incarnation during Christmas Season, having been sent forth as evangelists and companions during the Season after Epiphany, having then functioned as midwives for new birth during Lent, and then teachers and coaches toward ministry in Christ's name and the Spirit's power during Easter Season, the church refocuses again, shifting its energies from all this work of preparation toward an extended season of supporting one another in the body of Christ and witnessing through our Spirit-given ministries to the kingdom of God in the world during the Season after Pentecost.

Like the Season after Epiphany, this period of Ordinary Time has "bookends" which mark our beginning and our destiny. For the Season after Epiphany those bookends are Baptism of the Lord and Transfiguration. For the Season after Pentecost the bookends are Trinity Sunday and Christ the King (or All Saints, if you observe Extended Advent). Having been baptized into the Trinity, we walk with each other through this season, indeed through all our lives, toward the hope of that day when Jesus Christ shall be all in all, and all things are renewed in him.

For this season-- or any season, but perhaps especially this one-- to do its intended work requires more of us than simply to attend worship each Sunday. It requires ongoing working systems of accountability and support. These are most likely small groups with whom one checks in regularly, small groups (such as Covenant Discipleship Groups) whose purpose is to help each other watch over one another in love and grow in holiness of heart (personal growth) and life (growth in ministry in the world). The three independent streams of lectionary texts through this season (Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel) are intentionally different in focus, so pastoral and discipleship leaders can collaborate with worship leaders to focus on those streams of texts over these weeks that are likely to be most helpful for each particular congregation to fulfill the mission of this season-- accountable discipleship and transforming ministry in Christ's name and the Spirit's power-- as effectively as possible.

The Christian Year as Guide for Intentional Focus on all Stages of Discipleship

And then, having been in the fields for a time of service and growth, it's time to "come home again" to Advent for re-orientiation to our destiny, Christmas season for re-grounding in the mystery of Incarnation, the Season after Epiphany for evangelizing and inviting newcomers, Lent to form them and strengthen our own formation in the practices of discipleship and to face together the reality that discipleship to Jesus means death to self, Easter to learn more of the mystery of resurrection, the doctrine of the church, and what it means to be gifted by the Holy Spirit for ministry in Christ's name in the world, and the Season after Pentecost to send us forth to keep growing in personal and social holiness and in our Spirit-given ministries.  

Of course life and discipleship are both messier than the ordered pattern of congregational life for discipleship given to us in the Christian Year. We may well invite people to "come and see" during July. We may be working with some individuals in intensive formation in the way of Jesus during May or November. Nothing stops the church or any of us from engaging whatever activities for discipling are needed at any time of the year. Indeed, it behooves us to do just that!

What the Christian Year provides, with the Revised Common Lectionary that supports it, is a coherent plan that can give strong focus to the program ministries of the congregation so that the core discipling systems of the congregation (worship, evangelism, formation, deployment) get focused time in the congregation's life together. When we spend time each year focused on each of these core activities, we're more likely to accomplish all of them, and leave none to chance or the vagaries of changing programs or leaders. We provide a steady undercurrent of the call to discipleship, and support it with worship and other ministries, an undercurrent that keeps us moving forward throughout the year, and year to year. In short, even if we do nothing else, when we live out the Christian Year faithfully and attentively, we are likely to find ourselves becoming increasingly effective at "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." 

I invite you to "come and see" what a full and faithful observance of the Christian Year can do for you and your congregation if you haven't already.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Three P's and Church Size in United Methodist Worship

In my role as your Director of Worship Resources at Discipleship Ministries, I receive questions about specific worship practices in The United Methodist Church nearly every day. Among the more frequent questions I receive are about how to handle what I call here "Three P's of United Methodist Worship"-- the prayers, the peace, and PR (announcements). Sometimes I get the impression that folks expect me to tell them the "one right way" or at least the "real United Methodist way" to handle some of these things in their context. But my actual answer is often more like, "It depends."

One of the most important variables on which it depends is current church size and the size the congregation's leaders (lay and clergy) agree they want it to be and become.

So here are may observations and a few rules of thumb about how the ways you handle these three elements in your worship service relate to the size of the congregation.

The Prayers

"Joys and Concerns"
There is a fairly common practice in many of our smaller congregations (average worship attendance less than 50) of establishing an "open mic" time for people to state their "joys and concerns" out loud. This often involves the person standing, saying the name of the person or persons for whom they're asking prayer, and describing the situation of the person(s). It's not uncommon for each of these requests to take 30 seconds to a minute or more. And it's also not uncommon for there to be seven or more people who make such specific requests. At the conclusion of this time, often the pastor will offer a "pastoral prayer" that includes these specific requests by name along with other petitions related to the day, the particular service, and the wider world. Overall, this period of time can typically last 10 minutes or more within the "worship hour." Other elements of worship are adjusted to ensure worship remains within the designated hour.

This practice can and often does work quite well in a group size of roughly 20 to 50. At that size range, everyone likely knows everyone else quite well, and there is an expectation that the congregation is an extended family. Often, in fact, congregations this size are made up of just a few families, some of whom are likely related to others by blood or marriage. Sharing this fully both reflects and helps sustain the extended  family-feeling of the gathered congregation. It reinforces the sense of personal mutual support in what Peter Steinke calls the "family church" (under 50) and what Robin Dunbar, describing social organizations more broadly, describes as a "work team" or "good friends" or "extended family."

But get much beyond 50, and the practice may start to become a constraint that could. in combination with other factors, have the effect of reducing the average attendance back to within the 20 to 50 range. This is because beyond 50 people, the dynamics of the group significantly change. None of us has the resources to sustain more than 50 "good friends" -- people we can contact and be in enough conversation with over time to be able to share this kind of information openly. In congregations larger than 50, or congregations that want to "get to the next level," it's not uncommon to find the amount of time spent by each person and the level of detail they share reduced relative to those between 20 and 50. It's also common to see a shift to a different practice begin to take place.

The Written Prayer List

Many congregations larger than 50 but smaller than 150 will have a written prayer list that appears in a bulletin, possibly in newsletters, or on screen. Such churches may also give time for one or two additional names to be taken, either during announcements (in person, out loud) or a larger number to be submitted in writing at the offering or via email or social media platforms. Churches on the smaller end of this scale may say the names of these persons aloud, in unison, at some point during the prayers, whether they are offered as a pastoral prayer or as "prayers of the people" (bidding led by a prayer leader and response by the congregation). Churches that make the successful transition beyond 150 in average attendance tend not to continue the practice of unison praying of these lists, but simply leave them in writing for silent prayer or prayer by individuals or smaller groups during this week. At the same time, they may encourage the practice of leaving a brief time of silence after each petition or within a pastoral prayer for individuals in the congregation simply to name others for whom they are also praying but without additional explanations, usually in a quiet voice, if they wish.

This is because at a group size beyond 150, its is impossible to know one another well enough for the unison saying of these names to register as a meaningful exercise at the group level. Congregations larger than 150 may also have dedicated prayer groups of a much smaller size (under 20) who take the time to pray for each person aloud, and often take additional time to share their own "joys and concerns" as part of their meetings. 

For more discussion of how to offer the prayers well in various contexts in The United Methodist Church, and how the prayers are part of our baptismal calling, see Mark Stamm's book, Devoting Ourselves to the Prayers.

The Peace

There are two different ways something called "The Peace" is used in United Methodist congregations, though our official ritual defines only one of those with that term.

In unofficial use, "The Peace" is an act of greeting, typically early on in the service, perhaps shortly after verbal announcements or an opening song, song set, or hymn. Sometimes it's introduced by "Greet your neighbors and those nearby you" or "Let's greet one another and make each other welcome."

The official (and historical and ecumenical) use of The Peace has a different function. Its purpose is to enact a "horizontal" act of reconciliation and peace among the body immediately following the act of "vertical" reconciliation and pardon from God after a corporate confession of sin. Both of these acts are themselves the needed preparation for acts of Thanksgiving or the celebration of Holy Communion which follow them. The rationale for such acts, in this order, flows from ancient Christian practice and theology, as well as the teaching of Jesus himself. Our acts of thanksgiving, whether with or without the Great Thanksgiving, are our corporate sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. In order to be able to offer any such sacrifices "without blemish or spot." we first must be "whole" ourselves-- which is why we must be reconciled to God and neighbor first.  The purpose of The Peace is thus both to establish and to strengthen our wholeness as the body of Christ.

Whether as a greeting or a critical part of our preparation to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, how we engage these acts may both reflect and indicate to newcomers something about the size of the community we wish to be. For family size and smaller congregations (under 50), it's not uncommon and is at least the unspoken expectation for everyone to greet or offer the peace to everyone else present. This correlates well with the fairly intimate community of the "extended family." Once the congregation is larger than 50, however, this action becomes less relevant and more problematic, especially for newcomers who are unlikely to know much less feel comfortable greeting everyone present. It may be more appropriate in congregations larger than 50 to suggest and model a practice of greeting those around them, and, if this is The Peace in the official sense, to make a special point of going to offer the peace to persons with whom individuals may have some conflict or tension, rather than everyone in the room.

How these actions are introduced also reflects on church size. In extended family size congregations (30-50), the leader may say something like, "Let's all greet one another in the name of Christ" with no further instruction about whom to greet, and the group is likely to have everyone greet everyone, including the pastor greeting and being greeted by everyone. In what Steinke calls "pastoral churches" (50-150), it's not uncommon for the leader (likely the pastor) to say something like  "Turn and greet your neighbors this morning" as an instruction that helps to limit the "everyone greets everyone" phenomenon, while the pastor may indeed greet everyone, or at least walk through the congregation and stop at each pew or row of seats to greet all those she or he can. In congregations larger than 150 and up to 500 or so, the leader may use language similar to that of the family size church, but it's understood this refers to those in near proximity. The pastor may still "walk the aisle" but is likely to greet only a few people from front to back. Finally, in congregations larger than 500, it's not uncommon for the pastor to remain "on stage" and greet those who are there, while others greet those nearby them in their seats.

Because The Peace is so tied up with a feeling of community, whether as "generic greeting" or the offering of the "peace of Christ" in the official sense, I sometimes find some pastors and people in larger congregations either lamenting that these actions don't feel or look like they did in smaller communities they remembered, or actually trying to impose "smaller church" ways of enacting the peace on larger communities. This rarely has the desired effect, unless the desired effect is to make people uncomfortable and help make the congregation smaller! Again, as group size goes up, expressions of personal intimacy naturally go down, and so what it takes to express "group feeling" in effective ways also changes.

For more reflections on the function of The Peace and how peace has been embodied in Christian ritual from the time of the early church, see my dissertation, The Teaching of Peace in Early Christian Liturgies.

PR (or Announcements)

When do you place verbal announcements in a worship service, what is included in them, and who leads them?

The answer for the first of these is less dependent on church size.

Let me suggest there are two factors to consider and keep in balance as you make this decision for your context. The first, and let me suggest the more important, is the flow of the service. Regardless of church size, flow matters. Place announcements and offer them in a way that maximizes flow for the part of the service where you place them. The energy at the beginning of the service is about launching the service, so here announcements should "be brief, be bright, and begone!" to keep the energy moving forward.  Nearer the middle, after the sermon, the prayers and the peace, the energy may be more "conversational" as you begin to gear up for the offering and other acts of thanksgiving or communion. You still don't want to bog this down-- keep it moving!-- but it needn't be quite so quick a pace as at the beginning. If you place them at the sending, where the energy is about propulsion into the world, think bullet points at most, and preferably no more than 3-5 items.

The second factor is retention. In what part of the service is your particular community, regardless of size, most likely to retain the key information you are taking their time to announce? Let me suggest you don't know if you don't ask! Unless your congregation was started relatively recently, you are likely to have longtime members in your congregation who will remember different pastors trying different practices over time. Ask them what's worked best, and when! As you make your decision, or try out something different, just remember it's always about both retention and flow. Generally speaking the better you handle the placement and performance of announcements to support the flow where you place them, the better what you're announcing may be retained. 

What and Who?

What might be included in verbal announcements during worship and who offers them will vary by church size.

Smaller congregations (under 50) are more likely both to want and to feel like everyone should know about everything going on, and so all kinds of events, often including events in other churches in the community (especially if it's a small community) would be expected to be part of the announcements. People in congregations this size may both feel and express anger or hurt if anything going on is left out, or if anyone feels left out. Mutual belonging is that important. 

For that reason, too, it's quite common in smaller congregations for announcements to be made by either a trusted layperson or the pastor, and to include time for anyone present to make additional verbal announcements that may not have made it onto the list the announcement leader has.

It's important to realize both the extensiveness of the announcements and the number of people who may offer them are typically very important in churches this size. Like the sharing of "joys and concerns" this information is part of what bonds the community together as a community and contributes to the intimacy of their bonds.

In the pastoral size church (50 to 150), as the depth of personal bonds diminish (and they do!), it's often more the pastor who holds the congregation together, and therefore it's the pastor who is most likely to make the announcements, and to make nearly all of them. With only one "talking head" it becomes more important, for the sake of attention, that the announcements be briefer and reflect primarily those items that relate to the whole of the body, or at least to which the whole of the body is invited, which often translates to events at which the pastor is likely to be present. On the smaller end of this spectrum, individual announcements can still work and not seem entirely out of place. But once the congregation approaches 100 or more, "stand up and announce your thing" during this period tends to detract from the feel and the flow of a service needed for a group this size, and should probably occur only when truly needed.

In the program size church (150 to 500) while the pastor may still be the person most likely to make the announcements, what the pastor announces verbally will be further limited. Essentially, verbal announcements are now made on a "need to know" basis. The question is what does this entire congregation of people whose connection is more to the program life of this church than to each other personally truly need to know. This might include major events to which all are invited and perhaps individual program events for smaller groups which to which it makes some sense to draw particular emphasis because of the theme of a service or series or some other compelling interest, such as the activities of a group seeking donations to help others after a natural disaster.
To maintain some sense of balance in the announcements across the programmatic life of the church, the pastor may draw attention to specific programs on a rotation basis. But generally speaking, ongoing communication about other program areas is generally best handled not by verbal announcements in worship, but by and among the leaders of those program areas with their more immediate constituents.

Written Announcements

What I've suggested above about the placement, content, and leadership of verbal announcements may apply similarly to written announcements, whether in a printed bulletin, onscreen, via social media, or some combination of the above.

It's quite common for a small congregation to have a thick bulletin or newsletter (or both) that contains details on all sorts of events. Indeed, the written announcements in such settings are likely to take up two to three times more space than the worship order! If these congregations use projection, they're likely to have a fairly long announcement slide set they begin to display up to 10 minutes before worship begins and resume immediately after worship ends. The key to the value of these written announcements, precisely because there are likely to be many of them, is clear and consistent organization. In many smaller churches, people are likely to take the bulletin home and use it throughout the week to keep track of what's happening in the congregation and be part of it in person or through their prayers as they can.

As congregations shift from family size to pastoral size (50 to 150), the written announcements may give a bit more detail than what can be offered in worship, but will generally reflect the same kind of content, with a primary focus on all church events and events in which the pastor or other major leaders will be part of during the coming week or weeks. While the pastor may not draw attention to the regular activities of Sunday School classes, youth groups, mission groups, or others are doing, those activities may still be both listed and to some degree described here. Slide sets may be shorter, giving brief highlights of the theme of the worship service or series, upcoming all-church events and registration information, and contact information for more specific program information. The bulletin is likely to be given to roughly equal parts worship order and announcements, with more of a bias toward the worship order as the church gets larger. 

the 150 threshold is crossed and the congregation is program size or larger, written announcements take on a different role. While they still call attention to churchwide events, the primary allegiance to the congregation is now through its programmatic life, and church leadership has become more dispersed. Churchwide events might continue to be given some explanation, but a simple calendar listing upcoming events in various program areas with contact information or links to more information may be all that is required. The same is true for announcement slide sets. If the bulletin contains the worship order (some larger churches no longer print a worship order, but drive worship primarily from screens), it is likely to be lengthier than the announcements. Primary communication about program areas is no longer expected (nor should be expected) to happen as part of worship, but rather as program area leaders interact with their constituents through a variety of other means on Sunday or throughout the week.

An Invitation

These reflect my observations as a result of ongoing study of the effects of group size on social organization and after more than eleven years of observing our congregations first hand and through interactions in a wide variety of contexts at worship across our connection in the US and around the world.

What have you found in your observations and experience?

I'd love to hear!

Feel free to share this in the comments, below.

Monday, August 29, 2016

UPDATED: RCL-Based Series for the Season after Pentecost and Extended Advent 2016

Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources, Discipleship Ministries


The Vocation of the Prophet
Mission in the World, Not of It
Learning from the Master
May 29
Who or What Is God?
Operate Out of Divine Authority
Expect Surprise!
June 5
“Ministry With” or “Where Are God’s People”
One Christ, Many Cultures
Compassion in Action
June 12
How a Prophet Speaks
The Faith OF Christ Justifies
Responding to Lavish Love Because of Lavish Forgiveness
June 19
Time Out
From Pedagogue to Christ Himself
Delivering the Possessed, Reconnecting the Marginalized
June 26
Passing the Mantle
Works of the Flesh, Life in the Spirit
Dealing with Resistance to the Call to Discipleship
July 3
“Prophetic Ministry Is Toward All,” OR “Bureaucracies May Be a Means of Salvation, Too!”
Freed from the Flesh: Paul’s ALL CAPS RANT
Mission Being Accomplished!

When God Speaks Judgment
Our Life in Christ
Loving God and Neighbor
July 10
A Plumb Line for Leaders
How We Grow in Christ
How to Be a Neighbor
July 17
Righteousness and Justice for People
Christ in Y’all, The Hope of Glory
Loving by Listening
July 24
When Pity Is Exhausted
The All-Sufficiency of Christ to Save Us
Letting God Love You
July 31
Judgment for Restoration
Out with the Old, On with the New
The Love Never Stops Here

Extended Bible Study: Through Judgment toward Renewal (11 weeks)
What Faithful Living Looks Like
Getting Ready for the Coming Kingdom
August 7
Right Living Comes First
Seeking the Unseen
Get Yourself Ready
August 14
Why Judgment Will Come
Faithfulness Everywhere Under All Conditions
Signs in the World
August 21
To Destroy and to Build
Worship with Thanksgiving, Reverence and Awe
Signs among the Faithful
August 28
Idolatry and Broken Systems
Money, Sex, and Displaced People
How to Dine in the Kingdom

A Church for Saving Sinners*
September 4**
The Potter: A Call to Repent
Philemon: Setting People Free
Let All Possessions Go
September 11
The Threat: Uncreation
God Is Out to Save Us All
Reclaiming Lost Possessions
September 18
The Siege Begins
The Church that Prays for All
Being Shrewd with Possessions
September 25
A pledge for the Future
What Leaders Pursue
Distracted by Possessions

After the Disaster
Leaders Persevering
Keep on…
October 2***
Stay the Course
October 9
Don’t Let Suffering Deter You
Healing All
October 16
Teach the Scriptures

October 23
Live as a Libation
Trusting in God’s Mercy

The Coming Judgment

October 30
God’s Judgment Is Just
Seeking and Saving the Lost
All Saints (Nov 6)
God's Judgment Calls Us to Sanctification
Practicing Resurrection
November 13
All Things New
God's Judgment Calls Us to Work Hard
Trusting Jesus

Nov 20 Christ the King

God's Judgment Leads to Paradise

November 27
Advent 1(3)

December 4
Advent 2(4)

December 11
Advent 3 (5)

December 18
Advent 4(6)


* Alternative: Do September 4 as a “one-off”—Labor Day or Back to School or Laity Sunday, or Philemon,  then start a 7 week series in I Timothy, skipping the 2 Timothy readings entirely. Conclude on October 23 with what is now week 3 (September 25). Add the following themes: September 25: I Timothy 3: 1-13 “Qualification of Spiritual Leaders: Head Pastors and Deacons;” October 2: I Timothy 3:14-4:5 “Living Out the Mystery;” October 9: I Timothy 5:1-21, “Honoring One Another;” October 16: I Timothy 6:6-10, “Cultivating the True Riches”

** Alternative for All Tracks during September: Season of Creation resources

Either complementary to or alternative for all tracks during October: A Season of Saints