The recent conversation about the Call to Action report and the Leadership Summit (known in the twittersphere as #umclead) has stirred up quite a bit of conversation amongst United Methodist leaders about the future of the denomination. It has also revealed a significant amount of discontent with the status quo as well as the proposals from the CTA about a way forward. One particular concern I have frequently heard is related to the role of younger people in the church. We hear a lot about the need for younger clergy in particular, but are we ready to entrust the church to them?
From that perspective, the timing of the release of Generation Rising: A Future with Hope for The United Methodist Church could not be better. The book is written by younger leaders in The United Methodist Church about why the church has a hopeful future.
As Andrew C. Thompson notes in the introduction, “There is one thing that is lacking in recent books on Wesleyan renewal in the church, though: the voice of a younger generation” (xii). To put it bluntly: a lot of people are talking about the future of the church. But the people who are consulted about the future, or given a platform to talk about what is needed for a bright future, are usually not people who are the future of the church!
If for no other reason, then, I am excited by this book because it is one of the first attempts to let the folks who are the future speak for themselves. I am pleased that Abingdon has chosen to support this task. I hope the book will be successful because that would be a sign to younger generations that the general church really does care about who we are, what we think, and what we are passionate about. Success for the book would also be great because Abingdon and other publishers are driven by profit and a desire to make money. If this book sells, it will be easier to make the case that there is a market for voices like these in the future. (I am thinking of the numerous books that came out related to emergent that began with Brian McLaren’s success and eventually led to folks being published who would not have been published otherwise. I am particularly reminded of this book, which is like Generation Rising for emergent: An Emergent Manifesto of Hope.)
The book contains multiple excellent chapters addressing the following topics: Discipleship (Andrew C. Thompson), Holy Communion (Timothy Reinhold Eberhart), Preaching (Joy Jittaun Moore), Evangelism (Jeffrey Conklin-Miller), Small Groups (Kevin M. Watson), Missions (Arnold S. Oh), Race (F. Douglas Powe, Jr.), Ecology (Presian Burroughs), Youth Ministry (Sarah Arthur), Young Adults (Julie O’Neal), Ordination (Eric Van Meter), and Internet Ministry (Shane Raynor).
If you were reading carefully, you may have noticed that I wrote the chapter on small groups. My chapter provides an introduction to the historical background of small group accountability in early Methodism. I then argue that involvement in a small group (class meetings) was basic to what it meant to be a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the first several decades of Methodism’s existence as a church in its own right in the United States. Ultimately, I suggest that reclaiming something like the class meeting for the contemporary United Methodist Church is key to a hopeful future for Methodism. In many ways, writing this chapter was the stimulus for much of the writing I have done here over the past few months about the relevance of the class meeting for 21st century Methodism. If you have enjoyed the posts here, you may want to read my more formal discussion of similar issues in this book.
The book is edited by Andrew C. Thompson, blogger and sometime columnist for the United Methodist Reporter. Andrew is also finishing his ThD at Duke Divinity School and will begin teaching Wesleyan Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary this fall. One of the real joys of working on this project with Andrew and the other authors is that in reading their work and interacting with them, I have found even more hope for the future. I am grateful to have been included in this project and hope you will check it out.