“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