What’s Your Downline?

Over the next few weeks, our team will share with you several signs and examples of vitality we’re seeing in ministry contexts nationwide. With such a diverse network (approximately 1600 pastors, 24 denominations, a majority people of color), it’s a joy to witness surprising movements of the Spirit as well as common threads of what God is doing in such vastly different contexts.

A few years ago, a Mainline Protestant colleague told me that in her congregation, the two things people didn’t want to talk about were politics and Jesus. So, she was decidedly trying to reintroduce “Jesus” to the church.

She’s not the only one with such outrageous intentions.

In recent years we’ve shared via our annual reports, blogs, and podcasts that congregations across a wide range of theological, denominational, and cultural contexts (TMC network is approximately 1,600 ministry leaders from over two dozen denominations nationwide) are “simplifying and going deeper” by recovering, re-centering, and emphasizing clear proclamation of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus in such a way that this narrative more explicitly frames ministry to individuals and communities. We also see an increased engagement with scripture as an object of shared reflection and conversation. And we find ourselves in more and more conversations around questions like, “what does simple, less programmed, more organic discipleship look like in this rapidly shifting culture?”

To be clear: Explaining causes of vitality is notoriously difficult because location, culture, demographics, and economics are so complex. And yet we do see the above trends correlated with vitality in a variety of wildly disparate contexts. Just a few representative examples: A progressive UCC congregation in Chicago is realizing that encountering the oddness and particularity of Jesus is improving their understanding of religious pluralism and collaboration, a more traditional rural church in south Georgia is seeing how a more complex, robust theology of scripture is freeing them up to ask bigger questions,  a diverse mainline congregation in Portland, OR has youth that find Jesus interesting precisely because He seems so strange and novel to their inherited culture, and a historic black Baptist congregation is sharing space with an Episcopal church plant in Birmingham because they share basic convictions about the power of the gospel in their community. These contexts are all moving towards a simpler, deeper mode of faith albeit in very, very different ways, and they complement each other beautifully due to their foundational, shared desires, and the spiritual maturity to navigate complexity and nuance.

In deep-sea diving, a “downline” is the rope or cable that connects a diver to a secure point, weight, or anchor, on the surface and/or bottom. It’s a guide for divers to find their way to the surface or anchor, especially in low visibility. It can provide reference for depth and vertical orientation. Downlines are especially necessary for exploring complex underwater features like caves, reefs, or wreckage. A downline assumes risk and exploration. It assumes that people will go in all sorts of different directions for a multitude of reasons. But whatever the complexity of a downline system and how people are tethered and connected, it remains vital to hold to, returning you to home base.

As our culture has become more volatile and ideologically entrenched, a growing number of ministry leaders are learning to major in the majors, de-emphasize finer points of doctrine or ideological tendencies, compromise for the sake of keeping the main thing the main thing, collaborate for the greater good, and dig deeper wells rather than constructing more fences.

They’re finding and holding onto the downline.

In your ministry context, what would people say the downline is? In the midst of necessary exploration, experimentation, imagination, and risk-taking, what is the central anchored point to which you frequently return? Is your context at risk of losing its connection to that place of assurance and hope? What degree is your ministry at risk of holding to downlines that shouldn’t be downlines?

We’d love to hear from you and discern ways that we can hold the downline together.

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek.”

(Hebrews 6:18-20, The Message.)

No Comments

Post A Comment

mahjong ways 2