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The Nature of Christian Organization Today

I have written in the past on the emergent movement.  While I have never talked in much depth about their theology, I am quite interested in the sociological trends of places like emergent village.  I recieve their newsletter via e-mail and was again interested in the direction they are taking.  They are suggesting four shifts in priority that generally follow the organizational structure in our changing world:

  1. Reduce and decentralize by getting rid of the national coordinator position (this means Tony will be moving on).
  2. Re-emphasize the importance of the website as a central hub.
  3. To decentralize by depending on grassroot organizations to plan events rather than emergent village to plan events themselves.
  4. To Reconfigure the board

I do not consider myself an expert on emergent (I have not read enough of the author’s who call themselves ’emergent,’ nor do I have the time to do so), but I have been watching the conversation for some years and have been greatly interested by the sociological trends.  All of their goals for the “new” emergent-village seem to be about less national presence and more presence as network node (perhapas the anti-federalists were right all along).  There is a term recently introduced to me by my blogging friend Nate called subsidiarity.  I am so excited by this word because it brings to term some of the ideas that have been boiling in my brain.  This concept suggests that matters ought to be handled by the smallest group possible.  It would probably have been the view of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy and probably embodies many of the grassroots organizations throughout United States history.  There is a good conversation going on about this idea at catholicanarchy (read the comments).  I want to quote one of the comments here:

I think (and I cant take credit for this) that locality is such a wonderful answer to capitalism & globalization. Wendell berry is the best critiquer of this system that I can think of. Why can’t people be happy with solving the problems and providing for the needs of their own communities? Everything is always mass produced and shipped all over whether or not its wanted/needed elsewhere. This is where advertising and the creation of perceived needs come in. What is really troubling is when we think about how this has come into Christianity in the form of evangelism.

Why join a subsidarity movement?  Well, as Christians we hopefully realize that the best way to work is through the local church as an expression of the catholic church (universal, not necessarily Roman Catholic).  Could we argue that God uses subsidarity?  He chose a particular people group in a particular place to be the expression of his love to the world.  The particularity of God in ‘choosing’ one group to, in turn, bless the wold holistically, seem to show subsidarity, or the idea that working through one group as a kind of tree that spreads its root deep, as his guiding principle.  As Christians, we need to remember that bigger is not always better.

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7 thoughts on “The Nature of Christian Organization Today

  1. Hey, just wanted to thank you for stopping by our blog today and leaving a comment. Feel free to stop back anytime! Also, a HUGE amen to your closing statement in this post:

    “As Christians, we need to remember that bigger is not always better.”

  2. Just read your blog for the first time. Good stuff. Call me naive, but anybody who understands/puts into practice Berry is probably on the right track. I like your emphasis on decentralization and I think the notion of a “subsidiarity movement” (Berry’s “local economies”) gives it a good expression.

    Figuring out how to subsist on local economies, or on a subsidiarity, is what excites me the most about living in community. I like to imagine the daily economic and prophetic possibilities in this type of organization, even though I’m getting sort of worn out by the journey (not to mention, a bit jaded). Your post will be a good reminder that the smaller it gets (in terms of particularity), the closer I am. 🙂

  3. Andrew,
    You’re welcome. I added you to my google reader and hope to stop by as often as there is new conversations going on there.

    Jason,
    I have added you to my reader as well, and I too have become a bit “worn out by the journey” (I’m only 22, but it seems like I have been thinking about community living, Jesus, and empire for all my life). Why specifically are you getting worn down?

  4. I don’t know if you’ve read any Stanley Hauerwas, but he’s got a ton of theological essays on all these topics, coming at it as a Christian ethicist. Another excellent book dealing with how Christianity can inform the ways individuals can equip themselves, organize and reply to culture in a spiritual and holistic manner is “Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics” by Samuel Wells. H. Richard Neihbur had a good book on this too I think, but I can’t remember the name of it.

  5. I have read some Hauerwas…

    I particularly liked that he thinks the pledge of allegiance may be a giving in to empire.

    I have read parts of “Christ and Culture” by Neihbur.

    Sounds like a good reading list.

    Thanks for the comment.

  6. Specifics? Well…

    I’ve been on the leadership team with my church for the last 8 years. They are the place/family who initiate me into faith as an adult. And I’ve been trying really hard to get-them-to-try-things for most of those years…now, I’m tired and I just want to start *living* so to speak. Finding the “right approach” to take with that as well as some semi-reliable co-conspirators can also be a bit challenging.

    Any of that resonate with your experience?

    p.s. If you don’t mind me asking, what (general) part of California are you in?

  7. Hey Danny! I too was pretty excited when I read up on subsidiarity. Leo XIII and John Paul II nailed it. I think it puts government in individual responsibility of the citizen (and the Christian citizen) in perspective.

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