Author's details

Name: UMJeremy
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: 3 Ways the #UMC gets Progressive Methodism shockingly wrong — September 1, 2014
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Only days remaining for Worldwide Nature of #UMC Survey — August 27, 2014
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: #UMC resources about #Ferguson for churches — August 22, 2014
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Straight Ally? No problem. White Ally? Uh… — August 21, 2014
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: How many Resurrections are in your Sunday Worship? [Class Lesson] — August 20, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting — 5 comments
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Time is Ticking on #UMC Tipping Point — 2 comments
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Restricting Marriage is a Justice Issue — 2 comments
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: About that UMReporter Article…[response] – A Methodist Church United for our Daughters — 2 comments
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics #UMC – Measuring transformation or accumulation? — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Sep 01 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: 3 Ways the #UMC gets Progressive Methodism shockingly wrong

Original post at

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” ~ Not-Einstein

A blog reader sent in a recent Faith Street article entitled “4 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Get Progressive Christianity Shockingly Wrong.” I loved it, and this is my version of it based on my persistent frustration in online conversation about the United Methodist Church.

#1 – Progressivism leads to decline.

Rev. Tom Lambrecht, an occasional commenter on this blog, recently considered the quantitative metrics of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and concludes:

The numbers show that an agenda of radical sexual permissiveness does not help the church grow, but instead contributes to its decline.

In harmony with the above, Dr. Christopher Ritter, proponent of one of the schism proposals, recently commented in the 4,000 member United Methodist Clergy group on Facebook in this way (no link as he deleted the thread):

Is there any place where [progressive views on human sexuality] don’t also coincide with advanced decline?

As a counterpoint, Rob Rynders, co-founder of a progressive UMC church plant in Arizona, refutes that linkage and points to our own denomination’s report here:

[W]e learned from the Towers Watson report that measured characteristics of church vitality…that theology and/or particular stances on social issues are not the key factors that drive church growth or decline. What the report did find, however, is that “vitality” is increased through a number of organizational factors such as quality of leadership, preaching, diversity of worship styles, numbers and types of small groups offered, missions giving, etc…

It’s past time that we stop using the “my church is bigger than your church because we take a X stance on X social, political, or theological issue” argument, once and for all.
Progressive congregations that are in decline aren’t in decline because they’re progressive. They’re in decline for the same reason that many conservative congregations are in decline: organizational dysfunction/brokenness and general shifts in cultural attitudes/behaviors (a.k.a. the move towards being a “spiritual but not religious” nation).

To compare the growth of a conference right in the middle of the None Zone and a conservative conference in the Bible Belt and claim the difference is because of LGBT inclusion is erroneous and disregards our own denominations’ (very expensive) report on the topic.

Progressivism is often painted as a poison pill for Methodists: if localities adopt progressive stances, they will lose members, unlike the evangelicals. In reality, the numbers show that the evangelicals were merely able to stave off decline longer than progressives: the Southern Baptists are in their third year of decline. I wonder how they’ll get to blame progressivism for that one?

#2 – Progressives can’t sustain themselves.

The Via Media Methodists, a conservative Methodist group blog, recently depicted progressives in this way (main post and selected comments):

For all the pious grandstanding from the far left about how “this is our church, too” I genuinely think they know that [progressives] don’t have the ability to start their own church from scratch.  Where are the progressive megachurches and healthy progressive denominations?

…The progressive strategy for decades has been to agitate and advocate for change from within, rather than take an entrepreneurial approach, because they are quite aware that they have no ability to build something from the ground up.

…I am well aware that the UM left has no interest in creating a new denomination, because they couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

These comments about progressive’s inability in empire-building misunderstand a basic tenet of progressivism: we are about transformation of the world, not just parts of it. Creating a progressive separate-but-equal institution is not the goal or desire of many progressives. While Via Media Methodists say that means we lack an entrepreneurial spirit, ability, or sense in empire-building, the reality is that if you are committed to justice, reconciliation, and sustainable holistic spirituality, many progressives ethically cannot leave entire segments of Christendom in the outer darkness. If you are judging progressives because we have heretofore not been into empire-building, then you are judging progressives on a quality we aren’t seeking to exhibit anyway.

In the best case scenario (to my view), there will not be a progressive denomination because there will not be a need for one. The best institutions absorb the gains of the movement. The power of the United Methodist Church is in its twin arms of evangelical zeal and progressive political theology, and whichever one is the institution at the time should consider how to absorb the movement’s successes, instead of cutting them off.

The important point is that neither side can cede a quality to the other. Conservatives are not the only ones with an entrepreneurial zeal: progressives are too, just in different ways. Likewise, Progressives are not the only ones concerned about justice: conservatives are too, just in different ways. But to label one side as completely lacking in a quality is to fail to recognize that you’ve defined a quality in a way that presupposes the answer.

Side note: Glide Memorial Church is one of the Top 10 United Methodist Churches in the world (by attendance) and they are unapologetically progressive in the heart of San Francisco.

#3 – Progressives don’t do discipleship.

I hate to point at one group twice in a single blog post, but sometimes the content writes itself. Even when the Via Media Methodists try to include progressive voices, they include ones that parrot their own talking points. Case in point from a token progressive that has recently been exhibited on their website:

Where Progressives fall short is that too often than not conversations on politics and culture tend to crowd out other substantial discussions such as mission, ministry and discipleship.  It’s important to talk about the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church, but if we aren’t also talking about how to keep churches healthy, how to make disciples, there may likely be no churches that have opened God’s tables to LGBT folk.

The promotional tagline for this post was “seeking a via media in his own church.” Thus, the “via media” is depicted as between activism and discipleship–as if they are mutually opposed.

The truth is that progressives have a strong theological link between activism and discipleship as they seek ethical living in diverse communities. Rev. Roger Wolsey, a UM campus minister in Colorado, outlines as much in his book Kissing Fish (which is an excellent Facebook page too):

Many progressives believe that Jesus “returns,” and God’s Kingdom is manifest, whenever we feed the poor, heal the sick, stand with the oppressed, seek to end their oppression, and love our neighbor. I might suggest that the return of Christ could be said to have “fully returned” and that the “fully realized Kingdom of God” could be said to have taken place when we eventually come to a place where a critical mass of the world’s population comes around to thinking and acting in these ways.

Living “in Christ” and living in Kingdom ways doesn’t make for an easier life. It is certainly far more challenging than merely making do while passively hoping for Jesus to come down from the clouds. In fact, this way of being Christian, intentional deep discipleship, may seem much more challenging. It creates yet another reason for many people to passively go along with the teachings of conservative Christianity.

I don’t think Wolsey is trying to say that being a conservative Christian is easy. What he is trying to say is that discipleship in the progressive tradition involves much more communal aspects than scripture memory or worship attendance or whatever other false proxies are classically defined as “discipleship.”

Indeed, this very blog holds up a higher articulation of discipleship than many conservative churches. You can find those posts–shockingly–in the Discipleship section of the website. In particular, the BaptismFAIL series (1) (2) (3) shows how cheapening aspects of Baptism is prone to error. If you are looking for a shallow definition of discipleship, you won’t find it here: you’ll find the progressive definition that doesn’t separate the individual from the community.

What should Progressive Methodists Do?

For starters, progressive Methodists should quit yielding the field to the conservative Methodist bloggers as the de facto voice of Christianity. We have an articulation and should promote it.

Secondly, so much of the above is pointing out that the “other side” is using terms that they have defined. It is always better to show how Progressives have defined discipleship, evangelism, entrepreneurial zeal, and other terms and how they are living into those definitions–then contrast the two. That leads to helpful discussion and ceases Progressives being judged on a term they disagree with anyway.

Finally, Progressives would do well to point out that all of the above critiques are about church growth. Whether it is a winnowing of the church ahead of us or a New Great Awakening, there are widely shifting times ahead for the church, and it will take all of our creative efforts to find a way through it. That’s one of the reasons why I’m glad to be in the None Zone now as I want to be part of the great experiments to figure out the church before the creeping secularism hits the Bible Belt and demolishes it.

In these endeavors, progressive Methodist must be humble and seek to find the truth in whatever situation we are in, hand-in-hand with the “other side.”

But we can no longer be timid.



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Aug 27 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Only days remaining for Worldwide Nature of #UMC Survey

Original post at


I believe one of the most critical (and far-reaching) points of conversation for United Methodists is the worldwide nature of the church.

The United Methodist Church is different from other denominations (not unique, but very different) because it has a global democratic polity. This differentiates us from most Protestants who have America-only democratic polity, and the Roman Catholic church which has a global but not democratic polity (ie. the Pope makes most of the decisions and chooses the decision-makers). While it’s not a proportional representative polity, it’s the best we got.

This unique place in Christendom comes with great joys and some great challenges.

US-dominated polity for a worldwide church…

Rev. Jim Parsons, a clergy member in Western North Carolina, articulates why he recently found this to be an important topic to talk about in an epic post (quotes formatted for readability – he’s the only conversation partner for this post)

The UMC is truly a global denomination that is trying to figure out how to order, run, and grow that denomination in a global society. Our current Book of Discipline is centered on how to run the UMC in the US.

  • The polity of District Superintendents and the local churches are focused how we do things in America…
  • The Trust Clause is essential [to] the UMC in America because the denomination holds the deeds to all property and makes us, or forces us to be connected. Yet not all countries allow a denomination to ‘own’ property. So how does a UM Church exist in a European country that doesn’t allow it to own property?
  • Clergy educational requirements are another example. How can we hold other clergy to the same educational requirements as we do for US clergy when they may not have access to that type of education? Do we stop ordaining people in Africa or parts of Asia because they don’t hold a Bachelor’s degree and Masters of Divinity because the nearest place to get that type of education is a continent away?

These are quick illustrations of the problem that is uniquely United Methodist.

In short, in our big book of polity is a ton of stuff that really only applies to the U.S.-based church. We spend days and millions of apportionment dollars at General Conference to vote on issues that only affect less than 56% of Methodism.

There’s got to be a better–and more equitable–way.

A Two-In-One Discipline?

What are the proposed solutions? Jim recounts one approach of two books of Discipline: a worldwide applicable one (Global Book of Discipline) and one that articulates policies for a particular region voted by that particular region (Books of Discipline).

The point of a Global Discipline would mean that the essentials of what makes a UM church can be held up around the world. Yet how the local churches/regions then are ruled, governed and so forth are left up to those areas.  The idea of a Global Discipline would free up local churches in the central conference to figure out how to be the best UMC in their part of the world.

One of the primary forces of dissension to this plan comes from Traditionalists who are willing to have an unjust polity if it gets them what they want: continued rejection of LGBT persons. Here’s Jim one last time:

One concern our table had (during our discussions) is that this would seem like a ploy from the liberal movements to get rid of the African vote at General Conference and push more inclusive stance on homosexuality within the America’s UMC. This cannot be further from the truth. The idea of a Global Discipline has come from the central conference, those churches outside the US. They want more freedom to in order to organize their local churches with what makes sense for their part of the world…

But the bottom line is…

The bottom line is we are attempting to do something that is not currently nor ever been done before. We are bridging, building, and growing a global denomination run by democratic polity.

We are unique and we should take pride in this fact.

We should also recognize that if we want to succeed at this task, then it will take changes to our sacred Book of Discipline.

In short, this is an important topic, and I’m glad the UMC is asking for more feedback about it.

Fill out the Survey…like today!

One of the ways to give feedback into this process is to fill out a Worldwide Nature of the Church survey by August 31st. The survey has been out since May but I only recently noted it because up until now, I thought it was only for delegates to General Conference. However, I’ve got the official word that anyone can fill it out: just don’t check that box!

After the demographic questions on the first page, page 2 is the main topics. While they don’t ask about a two-book of Discipline, they do ask about having a conference over only the USA. They ask: “Where shall the UMC in the US “confer” on US-related matters for greater effectiveness in the mission of the church?”

  1. As at present on the worldwide level of the general conference?
  2. In establishing a central conference for the US (as other regions in the world)?
  3. In establishing a new structure, e.g. a joint meeting of all US jurisdictional conferences?

Anyway, the questions are accessible, it’s only 13 questions, and they have something for everyone Methodist.

Take a few minutes, give some feedback (whether you agree or disagree with Jim above) and give the Connectional Table more data to consider for their November meeting in Oklahoma City (which is actually a joint meeting with the Council of Bishops as well).


Thoughts? Respond in the comments!

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Aug 22 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: #UMC resources about #Ferguson for churches

Original post at


There’s several official resources out that offer some content and starters for clergy and congregations who are choosing to preach or teach or organize on an upcoming Sunday on the topic of Ferguson and the killing of Mike Brown.

Together, these should be helpful for a congregation willing to engage the topic, and I appreciate our United Methodist agencies being relevant to the issues at hand.

Naming the Reality?

That said, I gotta say that there’s a distinct chasm between the two documents specifically about Ferguson from the GBOD and the GCORR.

  • The GBOD document mentions race only once, plus mentioning the composition of the police department and targeting of minorities. We’ll call that 3 mentions of racial issues, while mentioning acts of vengeance (looting and violence) an equal number of times.
  • The GCORR document mentions race nine times, plus many more mentions and articulations are in the linked documents (especially Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s at UM Insight).

I’ll let you decide which one is speaking more about the hard truths of the situation.

I believe preachers are called to name the reality and to build a narrative that links reality, Scripture, and the hearers’ own narratives.

While the preaching document is more about bringing up topics for preachers to consider, the bulk of the article hinges on the people’s response to injustice instead of naming the reality of the greater unjust system or systemic racism. Preaching about hospitality is an act of justice, yes, but dancing around that the hearer likely benefits from a racist society isn’t helping seeking justice, in my opinion.

As the preaching document concludes:

How do we advocate for all involved and support just resolution and not supporting acts of vengeance, while at the same time not abandoning God’s call upon us to care for the lost and the least?

I think we’ll do better advocacy and lack of abandonment by starting with the systemic inequality rather than starting with how the people have responded to it. Charitably, though, for any preacher, holding in tension both justice and mercy is a tricky one, isn’t it?

Other resources?

Like we said on Thursday, we cannot ignore the topic, no matter our social justice cred in other areas. If you have any other specifically United Methodist resources to share, please leave them in the comments and I’ll update this post as appropriate.

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Aug 21 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Straight Ally? No problem. White Ally? Uh…

Original post at


While thousands protested and marched since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th, I was blogging about church unity, worship theology, and young clergy issues.

While in the past 10 days three unarmed black men have been killed by police, I was on vacation.

While an AME Pastor Lamkin was offering support for protestors and was shot with a rubber bullet, I was tweeting complaints about how long it took for an airport shuttle to pick me up from that vacation (a whole 38 minutes, people!).

I am the embodiment of a hard-hitting article on OnFaith with the subtitle:

As white Christians debate who’s going to hell, the black community is already there, and nobody seems to give a damn.

Yup. That’s me.

And yet whenever there’s an LGBT issue in the United Methodist Church or in society, it’s all I can tweet, blog, and update about. I dominate the social media sphere, engage the critics in long twitter streams, champion the leaders and the prophets, and use my bully pulpit to cut through LGBT issues and faith with ease and dexterity.

I don’t get it.

I’m a straight, white male.

Why is it easier as a straight ally to write on LGBTQ issues, but harder as a white ally to write about racism?

Just Sit it Out?

Perhaps I don’t need to answer the question. People are speaking out.

  • Bishop Minerva Carcaño is the President of the General Commission on Religion and Race and she wrote a letter. She’s infinitely more qualified than I am to write about Ferguson.
  • My African-American friends have been writing blogs or reposting links.
  • Even my friend Kenneth Pruitt–who has been tearing it up on Twitter and Facebook–is more qualified as a white dude who lives in St. Louis.

Maybe we all have our roles to play and this one isn’t mine. I can just sit it out, sharpen my words for when the LGBT questions come up again, and come roaring in on my pet issue like a lion on fire.

What value is it for white people who are ethnically and geographically removed to speak up about Ferguson when it seems like everyone else has better things to say?

Everyone’s Voice =  Every One’s Voice

One of the deans at Boston University School of Theology–my alma mater–is Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey. She’s currently in Ferguson videotaping encounters with police and protestors (check out the videos on the RMNetwork feed). I asked her about my predicament and here’s what she said.

“Many black people are stunned at what is going on in Ferguson and don’t have words, so I appreciate the reticence of white allies to speak up. However, all our voices are needed at this time in Ferguson. Now is not the time for segregated vocal pockets.”

- Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey

When I don’t speak up, I help turn the response into a pocket and not a whole garment of the human experience crying out for justice. Imagine if these issues were just seen as “their” issues:

  • What if only African-Americans in a town speak up about police brutality…
  • What if only Hispanic-Americans in a border town speak up about children being imprisoned…
  • What if only Arab-Americans speak up about being profiled by the TSA…
  • What if only homeless people speak up about inhospitable spikes on park benches

To stand in solidarity only on our pet issues makes the entire seeking of justice more narrow.

Towards A Unity of Diversity

Indeed, the truth is that cross-cultural and multi-ethnic approaches have yielded better results to combat systemic discrimination.

Deepa Iyer writes at The Nation:

Coalitions such as Communities United for Police Reform in New York City provide hopeful examples of how organizing black, brown and interfaith communities can lead to legislative victories that maintain public safety, civil rights and police accountability.

Police brutality is just one symptom of this country’s larger structural racism, which segregates our schools and cities, increases the poverty and unemployment rates for people of color, has psychological consequences for families and young people, and decreases our life expectancy. African-Americans disproportionately bear the brunt of this structural racism, but it affects many immigrants and other minorities as well.

In order to transform our communities, all people of color must find common cause in each other’s movements.

Allies need to speak up, whether it is about LGBT, racism, sexism, or other forms of oppression. Unless we stand together and support one another, no matter how strong our engagement of our -ism, discrimination will be only be overcome with allies across borders, perspectives, and places. The structure–what Walter Wink called the powers and the principalities–can only be overcome by unity across diversity, not a diversity of disparate voices speaking out against their own oppressive pockets.

Niemöller was wrong

In closing, people know the quote from Martin Niemöller regarding the Holocaust, right?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

That’s stupid.

It makes seeking justice into a self-serving enterprise: that I should support my brother in his struggle against discrimination because one day it might come for me.

That’s not what we are called to do.

We are called to seek justice because that’s what Jesus would do. It may never have any benefit for us personally: we seek justice for the other because that’s the right thing to do. Anything that we gain is wholly secondary.  On my website, “Justice” is categorized under “Theology” because I believe we seek justice out of what we believe about God, the Divine, the “More” of the universe…not out of self-serving ends.

Indeed, it’s not what we get–it’s what we’ve already gotten that matters. People like me should also do these things because white men have already benefitted from the discriminatory systems. As Rudy Rasmus and Dottie Escobar-Frank articulate in Jesus Insurgency:

Structural racism is a form of hegemony that normalizes and legitimizes historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal dynamics by routinely giving advantages to whites, while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. (page 79)

Sorry Niemöller, it has nothing to do with me and my future injustices. It has to do with the past injustices that I’ve benefitted from and continue to benefit from with or without my knowledge. My past, present, and future is bound up in the struggle against discrimination in all its forms.


This entire post has been about me and my excuses and my thought processes. Yes, I’m aware. My hope is that in focusing on me that it has also been focusing on you and your reticence to speak up.

If you share the above concerns, I invite you to speak up, to make a case, to share that post, to tweet that link, to have the conversation, to talk to your neighbors, and start making other people’s injustice into your injustice. By standing together, no one will stand alone.


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Aug 20 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: How many Resurrections are in your Sunday Worship? [Class Lesson]

Original post at

In seminary, one of the classes that stuck with me was a theology class after Easter in 2004. The professor had visited a local church’s Easter service the day prior and posted that church’s order of worship on the projector. We were then to read the hymns, liturgies, and scriptures to discern “what type of resurrection was being depicted?” I remember being struck by how many understandings of the Resurrection were in a single worship service.

Ten years later, I recreated this class, thanks to my classmate Rev. David Nicol in New England Annual Conference who shared his copy of the class notes that day. This past Sunday, I taught an adapted version at my local church. The following is the taught lesson. Feel free to copy or teach it yourself.

It has three components:

  1. A case study of a traditional Order of Worship that has multiple depictions of the Resurrection in its worship music.
  2. A list of six understandings or depictions of the Resurrection (feel free to use more/less/different ones based on your context)
  3. Guiding questions and possible takeaways

Thanks for reading and I hope this is helpful to both worship planners and laity in the pew.

1 – Case Study

Instructions: Look up the text for the italicized hymns and respond to the question “What does the Resurrection look like in this verse?”

Note: This outline includes the page numbers for the United Methodist Hymnal and links to hymns not in the UM Hymnal

An Actual Order of Worship from an Easter service

  • Prelude
  • Call To Worship – Rejoice the Lord is King (UMH 715 – read as text, not sung as hymn)
  • Hymn – Christ the Lord is Risen Today (UMH 302)
  • Opening Prayer / Silent Prayer / Lord’s Prayer
  • Time for Children “The Resurrection and the Butterfly”
  • Anthem – Requiem: Sixth Movement – Johannes Brahms (link - sixth section)
  • Scripture – Luke 24:1-12
  • Sermon “What does Jesus’ Resurrection Mean?”
  • Hymn – Thine Be The Glory (UMH 308)
  • Prayer
  • Offertory – Hallelujah Chorus – G.F. Handel (link)
  • Doxology
  • Hymn – Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven (link)
  • Benediction
  • Postlude

2 – Six Types of Resurrection

Instructions: Categorize your responses in the following six categories. Please note that a singly hymn likely has multiple categories.

  1. Is the resurrection Literal?
    God actually raised Jesus from the dead. Bodily resurrection.
  2. Is the resurrection Mythological?
    Is there a clash of powers? A defeating of death, a bursting of the gates of Hell?
  3. Is the resurrection Spiritual?
    Is resurrection everyday? Signs of new life just like what happened to us when we find new friends, and unplanned opportunities.
  4. Is the resurrection Metaphorical?
    Is resurrection depicted in way where it is understood metaphorically or a simile? Uses “like” or “as”?
  5. Is the resurrection Demythologized?
    Resurrection is likened to a natural process (metamorphosis of the caterpillar to the butterfly)?
  6. Is the resurrection Eschatological?
    Does it refer to the end times or the Second Coming? ie. Revelation 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah and he will reign forever and ever.”

For example, I saw in the closing hymn Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts to Heaven (link) depictions of resurrection as literal in the first stanza, mythological in the second stanza, and metaphorical in the third stanza. I would then put check marks in those categories for that hymn.

After scoring the hymns, here’s our final numbers (your interpretation or numbers may differ):


In short, in six hymns, a scripture, and a children’s sermon, there are at least six different understandings of the Resurrection–and many have multiple understandings within a single hymn!

3 – Guiding Questions & Thoughts


  1. Is it okay for a worship service to have more than one depiction of the Resurrection or is multiple contradicting depictions okay?
  2. For many folks, they sing the hymns because they’ve “always been sung.” For an increasingly post-Christian world, is that a viable practice?
  3. Are hymns merely “preparing hearts” for the scripture and sermon and prayers through emotion? Or are they stand-alone intellectual engagements with theology that should have every bit as consideration as the rest of the service? In short, do you care what you sing?


  1. For many people in my class, the tune and the singability of the hymn was more important than the theology. For Charles Wesley and other hymn-writers, the tune was the way to get people to sing their faith and learn theology (especially for people who cannot read or write). How odd it is that we have flipped from care for the words to care for the tune!
  2. For conservative congregations that hold to a literal/mythological resurrection, it is easy to find hymns and music that support that depiction. For progressive congregations that have more varied understandings in the pews, it is harder to find hymns and music that are spiritual/metaphorical. Little wonder conservatives have a tighter crafted worship service with narrower depictions of the Resurrection: it’s easier to do in the hymnody!
  3. One request was really interesting: could we put short introductions to the hymns in the worship bulletins? That way we could better frame the hymn about to be sung with “For a Thousand Tongues to Sing was written in the 1780s by Charles Wesley to celebrate his conversion to Christianity.” or some words about the historical context to better frame the hymn’s language. A possible logistic nightmare, but could be helpful for a teaching congregation.


Thoughts? Thanks for reading.

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Aug 19 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Exit Young Clergy, Stage Left

Original post at


Today is my 35th birthday and I believe that means I have officially left the bracket of “young clergy” in the United Methodist Church, and I’m unsure what category I am in now.

There are many ways how the UMC calculates “young clergy.” To some conferences, it is 30 and under (which would mean about the first five years of ordained ministry). To Hamilton/Slaughter’s “Young Clergy Institute” it is under 35. To other conferences, “younger clergy” refers to the youngest segment of clergy–in some conferences, it goes up to 44 years old! So by some standards, I still have some time left.

But realistically, I entered ordained ministry when I was 26, and I’m in my 9th year of serving churches as their pastor. I had my first church job after my freshmen year of college, so I’ve worked in churches for 15 years now as intern, secretary, youth minister, children’s minister, associate minister, and solo pastor. While I definitely feel young (sometimes just in comparison!), I have sufficient experience to be at the edge of this demographic, if that’s where the pension-counters want to put me.

More importantly, though, the march of time means that I am no longer a definite “member” of the group that we write passionately about at Hacking Christianity: young clergy. While I will continue to write about young clergy issues, I will be doing so as someone at the top of that age bracket or juuuuuuust over the edge: in short, more armchair than practitioner.

As a farewell to this age bracket, here’s some of the articles that we’ve written over the years that I think continue to have relevance today.

Top Eight Posts on Young Clergy

(arbitrarily selected from the past four years)

here-there-be-dragons#1 – Here, there be Dragons for Young Clergy. My absolute favorite post regarding young clergy: this is my personal list of how to navigate being a progressive young adult seeking ordination in a more conservative United Methodist area. How to engage controversial topics and navigate troubled waters. (link)


computer-coding-cat#2 – Code your ministry until you can Program it. The difference between coders and programmers is helpful analogy to describe clergy at the early years of their ministries. While there are a number of visionary pastors who likely were programmers at the onset, the reality is that I think many pastors are coders who become programmers, not the other way around. (link)


young-clergy-exodus#3 – Young Clergy Exodus in the UMC. After four of my young clergy friends left ministry the same week, I felt it was important to give a place for young clergy to write about their stories. I still have the data and am going to publish some results in the future, but this began the conversation–and the comments are incredible. (link)


brain-drain#4 – Church Metrics = Young Clergy Brain Drain. An examination of one of the very real roadblocks to young clergy isn’t mentors, education, serpentine ordination processes, or ageism. It’s church metrics, which I believe can become a hazard to identification, support, and retention of young clergy. (link)



flickr.spincity#5 – Over Age 45? Texas Doesn’t Want You in Ordained Ministry. This was a monster of a post (over 100 comments) and it doesn’t seem to be about young clergy since it focuses on 45yo’s and up. But ageism is ageism, regardless of which end of the spectrum it is on. The followup posts are here and here. (link)


tsunami-warning#6 – The “Other” Death Tsunami in the UMC. A young clergy looking at a plan in Oklahoma to remove a huge number of full-time ministry appointments would likely ask “Why Go To Seminary?” There would be little support to get a seminary education and become a full Elder until later in life. A cautionary tale against de-incentivizing theological education for young clergy. (link)


Numbers And Finance#7 – Oklahoma Young Clergy Results on LGBT and Schism. A survey of young clergy in Oklahoma showed them to be out-of-step with their demographic…why is that? Some quantitative and qualitative reflections, including considerations of the cultural context of Oklahoma. (link)



lonesome#8 – Stop worrying about 18-30yos. Several successful churches talk about not focusing on the 18-30yos because they aren’t going to be solid churchy people at that stage in their life, while others see the “ROI” on outreach to young adults as more missional. (link)



Thanks for walking these formative years of being a young clergy with me. Don’t worry: if the Spirit is with me, I’ll have at least 30 years ahead of me to annoy or inspire you with online writings. I hope you look forward to the not quite young, not old, just plain ol’ clergy perspective in the years to come.

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