A side-trip on the way to the abbey pointed out this post by Bill Bean which points to this article about a local church which endeavours to make visitors comfortable and welcome these newcomers to church. The sermon is down to one point only, the meeting is down to 45 minutes, and they avoid the controversial “bad news” items. The article quotes a Rev. Gary E. Gilley (a Brownsburg native and author of “This Little Church Went to Market”) as saying, “The ’emergent church movement’ — which rejects more authoritarian preaching — is simply the next step in the evolution of the seeker-friendly church.” Comments attached to the posts cited generally indicate that if the Emerging Church is about cosmetic change in the same way as the seeker-sensitive movement, people aren’t interrested.
I’m not interrested in the Emerging Church if it’s just cosmetic either… but it isn’t. No matter how many EC books that they’ve read at ‘Church Lite’ in Indiana, that doesn’t make them Emerging… I’m not so sure they ‘get it.’ As for the Rev. Gilley, I have to disagree, but before I do that I could also outline a context for his comment which would make it correct.
First off, Church Lite. Jesus said salt and “light” (illumination) not “lite” (dumbed-down). The corners of EC that I’m familiar with are about going deep than keeping shallow so as not to offend, which sounds more the tone of this ‘lite’ church. Embracing mystery is more the longing than is ignoring theology so you can have more people turn out to try and feed on an anemic gospel. (Perhaps it shows that I was never fond of the seeker-sensitive model.) Further, the corners of EC that I’m drawn to are more in tune with missional living, which this article (kinda) says is good… but missional living is in my own definition primarily about taking church to people rather than bringing people to church. It’s about going out and gathering rather than staying put and attracting. When you start rearranging how you do church solely in order to attract people who don’t do church in the first place, I think you just might need to have the old horse and cart interchanged.
Secondly, the Rev. Gilley. His statement in the article is sans-context so I can’t really say one way or the other, but he could be implying that the emerging church is a revision or subset of seeker-sensitive… with which I would strongly disagree. Or, he could be saying that because seeker-sensitive is losing steam and not working as hoped, they are turning to emerging models. I don’t think that’s his point though, I think he’s confusing two different animals here, mostly based on his concern that the gospel is being watered down. If the church described in the article is the yardstick, I’m with the Rev. Gilley… but a common problem that we’re going to continue to see in emerging critiques is the misconception on the part of the critic that they’ve got the breadth of the emerging church figured out, and that’s the issue here.
No, this is the main point: the emerging church is about changes to fundamental core issues of structure and practice (if not doctrine as well) and is not merely cosmetic. The cosmeticians may not uncommonly be running an “emerging service” which still says to me that they don’t “get it.”
Either the fundamentals are being reshaped, or we’re probably not really talking about an emerging church… so as the title says, “seeker-sensitive” is not emerging.