Disciples Don’t Have Bishops. We Have Bloggers!

“Disciples don’t have bishops. We have editors.”

So it has been said of us throughout the more than two centuries of our journey to faithfully follow in the way of Jesus, the Christ. While recognizing the need for structural leadership in the church, Disciples have always been more focused on the ability of words to inspire, challenge, educate, and equip those who bear the name of Christ than in the power of bureaucratic structures to affect change in this world.

When Alexander Campbell began The Christian Baptist in the early 19th century, it was a small, monthly print publication that enjoyed a limited circulation on what was then the Western American frontier. Gradually, though, Campbell’s writing gained a wider audience as the Disciple plea for unity and simplicity through a return to the traditions of the early church grabbed the attention of a religiously weary populace. Campbell soon changed the name of the publication to The Millennial Harbinger to reflect his belief in the Church’s progress toward reclaiming its unity and furthering its mission. Barton W. Stone, Campbell’s colleague in the struggle for unity and simplicity, also published a monthly journal, The Christian Messenger, offer his unique perspective along with Campbell’s to the emerging movement that would become the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Throughout the 19th century, Campbell’s words and those of their successors at The Christian Evangelist, The Christian Standard, and The Christian Oracle (now The Christian Century) challenged and inspired Disciples in their journey of faith. By the mid 20th century, The Christian Evangelist had dropped Evangelist from its banner and had become the central voice for Disciples. As the process of restructuring the congregations, ministries, and institutions of the Disciples into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) progressed, it was championed by those who edited The Christian, which soon became known as The Disciple, the official organ of the newly restructured denomination.

Members of our tradition have long valued an educated clergy and laity, encouraging a parity between those in the pews and those lead us in our common life together. Central to this parity has been the idea that dialog, both in person and in print, is key to bridging the gap between ministers and those with whom they serve. Disciples have had a long history of supporting print publications through subscriptions, advertising, and dedicated readership, but as times have changed, so too have Disciples.

Rumblings of trouble began at The Disciple in the early 1990s, and though several attempts at redesign, refocusing, and reducing costs were made, the publication folded in 2001. The demise of The Disciple left a hole in the church’s communication system, one that the Office of Communication at the General Offices in Indianapolis tried to fill in the spring of 2001 with Disciple Digest, a monthly web publication. Disciple Digest, while a gallant effort, received a tepid response at best from a church often suspicious of all things emerging from its General Offices. Disciples value the free and honest exchange of information and ideas. We have little patience for “official” publications, even when offered with all due respect and good intentions. Such reticence led Jack Suggs and Robert Friedly, former publisher and editor of The Disciple magazine to create a non-profit corporation and invest a great deal of their own money in trying to revive publishing among Disciples in late 2001. DisciplesWorld magazine was born out of their endeavors, and while struggling in its first months of existence, the journal came to be regarded as one of the best religious journals in the United States. During it’s eight year run, DisciplesWorld inspired, informed, challenged, educated, and entertained the denomination, and while expending a significant amount of energy and resources, the changing times and economy finally sealed the publication’s end in late 2009. DisciplesWorld wasn’t alone, though, in its final months, as hundreds of print publications either ceased to exist or became Internet only publications, among them United Church News, the official voice of our sister denomination, the United Church of Christ.

The world of publishing has changed considerably, but the need for conversation and dialog about the tough issues of the Christian faith has only increased. The time for print publications may have passed, but the need to keep those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) connected and informed has become all the more important. Ignorance and isolation abound in our church and if we are to fulfill our mission of being a church that embodies true community, deep Christian spirituality, and a passion for justice, we must be connected to one another and share our insights as we struggle in our attempts to be faithful to the Gospel of the One who has claimed our lives in the waters of baptism and who nourishes us for the journey of faith at the table of Christ.

Blogs (short for web logs) became popular at the beginning of the 21st century, particularly among youth and young adults who sought ways of sharing their thoughts in more dynamic ways with family, friends, and the larger world. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, blogs have become as widely read as print publications, challenging long running print publications to move toward publication in blog form. While DisciplesWorld made a worthy effort to transition to an online publication, circumstances prevented the move, leaving a void for others to fill. It is with deep respect and tremendous gratitude to those who have gone before us that we offer D[mergent] as one attempt to further build community and continue the conversation among those who seek to follow Jesus in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Perhaps, as we move into the future that God is creating in, among, and through us, we will be able to say, “Disciples don’t have bishops. We have bloggers.”

–The Rev. Wes Jamison, B.A., M.Div.,
Minister-at-Large for the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the
United Church of Christ,
Chair of the GLAD O&A Ministries Team,
Qualified Mental Health Professional, and
Contributing Editor for [D]mergent

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About origenalheretic

I was born and raised in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia in the heart of Appalachia and I have a passion for the people and culture of my home. I was raised in Barren Springs, a small village near the towns of Wytheville and Hillsville and graduated from New Life Christian Academy in 1996. After graduation I took a gap year and worked as an intern in youth ministry with my home church, Hillsville Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) while taking classes at Wytheville Community College. In the fall of 1997 I left Southwestern Virginia to pursue my education. I graduated in 2001 with a BA in Religion and Journalism from Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee. During college I served both the Downtown Christian Church and Beargrass Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as an intern in youth ministry. In May, 2001, I accepted a call to Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church as Director of Education and Youth. While at WAPC I was active in Holston Presbytery and various community and ecumenical groups. In the fall of 2001, I began seminary and graduated with my Master of Divinity degree in May, 2005, from Emmanuel School of Religion in Johnson City, Tennessee. I was ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) by the Virginia Region at my home church on June 12, 2005. I accepted a call to serve as the associate pastor for East Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) in Grand Rapids, Michigan in May of 2005. I served in that position for one year before it was eliminated due to budgetary issues, leaving me to pursue my writing and to prepare to return to school for a post-graduate degree. Among my many varied interests, I have a passion for spirituality, social justice, and ecumenism. I am committed to including young people in the full life and fellowship of the church, including leadership. I received my CORE certification in youth ministry from Youth Specialties in March, 2004. I am a member of the Association of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Educators, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, the Center for Progressive Christianity, and I hold standing with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)and Ordained Ministerial Partner Standing with the United Church of Christ. At this point in my life I have come to terms with my sexuality and I think I have been able to reconcile it with my faith and my calling fairly well. I grew up in a denomination that affirmed me and encouraged me to be who I am as a child of God. I want to do all that I can to help young people accept and affirm the image of God that is within themselves. I am always seeking ways to serve the Church while challenging it to be more inclusive of all God's beloved children. I am currently a minister-at-large, meaning that I do not have a call to a specific congregation at the moment. I am thinking about going back to school to do post-graduate work in the area of sexuality and faith. I am an evangelical liberal. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, hiking, having a good conversation over coffee, frequenting used bookstores, cooking, and listening to music. I am currently writing three books: a book of daily prayer for the Christian year, a book on reconciling faith and sexuality, and a novel about the disillusionment of young adults in their first years after college.

9 thoughts on “Disciples Don’t Have Bishops. We Have Bloggers!

  1. Wes,

    I hope this project thrives. I’m sorry to hear that Disciples World is gone, whenever I picked up a copy I always found it interesting and sometimes provocative, as with the “Beyond Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” issue and the article about Appalachian mountaintop removal mining. I hope this blog produces similarly fruitful discussions.

  2. We will need a variety of conversation points, and as a Disciple pastor and blogger, we’ll need to figure out how to network ourselves to keep this conversation going.

    I shall look with interest to see how this works.

    Of course, not everyone in our churches are internet savvy, so we’ll have to figure out how to keep them in the loop.

  3. @Adam We hope this blog will serve to connect and equip us all so we may engage in many fruitful discussions that bear witness to the good news of Jesus the Christ.

    @Bob We agree that there needs to be a diversity of voice embraced that reflects the Disciples beautiful diversity. All are invited to participate in the venture. If you want to cross-pollinate this space with your words please send the articles in and we shall post them.

    We are focusing on an online presence at this time. We understand that there are some folks that are not tech savvy and may not be in the loop. We regret that we have not the resources to administer anything other than this blog at this time. Perhaps the future will offer us a better solution.

  4. @Bob: You raise some great concerns! Please knwo that we’re working on building diversity into [D]mergent from the ground up as we grow. If you know of individuals (particularly those from our historically under-represented groups), then please encourage them to contribute.

    In terms of those who aren’t tech savvy, it’s important to encourage people to subscribe to [D]mergent using the little box on our main page. Once they subscribe, our content will be delivered to their email inboxes on a daily basis. Granted, there are some folks who don’t have email, but in today’s world, that’s a very limited number. For those who don’t, perhaps pastors could print off our articles and share them with these folks?

    Also, would you be willing to let us connect to your blog so that your posts will publish on [D]mergent as well? We’re really interested in connecting the world of Disciple bloggers. You can choose which posts you want to publish to our site, of course, by using tags. Ryan and Shirlrey are much better with those details than I am, so I’ll let them take it from here.

    Again, thanks for your support.

  5. And now, if everyone in the village will just pull together, pray, vote, get involved, rally the troops, and pass a “sense of the blog” resolution, we can get that typo fixed!

  6. I’m a late-comer to this post but found it interesting. Concerns about keeping those who aren’t tech savvy in the loop are certainly valid, but anyone younger than “the greatest generation” should know their way around.

    I come at this from the perspective of someone who’s been all over the Stone-Campbell Movement. While the independent Christian Churches seem to be most influenced by their mega-church leaders, I see the bloggers among the a cappella Churches of Christ gaining prominence, particularly the bloggers who are also preachers. The International churches (ICOC) are a little harder to gauge as yet, but they have a couple of good news websites that seem to keep everyone informed and engaged.

    I hope this endeavor works out for the Disciples of Christ. It seems so odd for the denomination not to have a formal means of communicating information and inviting discussion.

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