Following up on this past Monday’s emerging church panel experience, I wanted to address a couple of questions that had been posed. Through the second session, I sat with a paper napkin (or “serviette” to some) with two questions written on it, these having been given by one of the pastors in attendance to Gerry shortly after the lunch break. It kept Gary curious, I think, but we had enough discussion material that we didn’t get the chance to address them. I had a few thoughts to share at the time, and have a few more thoughts now to add to the comments that have already been made here. To recap, the questions are:
- Is it working? i.e., are people coming into the Kingdom of Christ through emergent-driven ministry? Or are your â€œcommunitiesâ€? filled with disenfranchised christians?
- Most of the panel have broken out of traditional settings to launch their own ministry expression. Therefore, can a traditional church be transformed into emergence? Or do the emergents need to leave?
I think I’m going to join the group that is saying we don’t call ourselves “the emerging church” anymore, and start calling ourselves “the church that is emerging” instead of even “the emerging church conversation.” Just because.
First off, in order to respond to the questions two questions, it first seems appropriate to understand what seems to be behind them — not because there’s any hidden motive or agenda, but because there seem to be some presuppositions which inform the question.
It may be bad form to respond to a question with a question, but… “Define ‘working’?” Actually that’s clarified, but I think the church that is emerging would challenge the implied definition of “working” that says this means “gaining converts.” The church that is emerging would say that sucess isn’t measured in numerical terms… if anything, it’s measured more in relational terms. “Are relationships growing within the community?” Yes. The alternate definition of “not working” seems to be implied that the community is filled with disenfranchised christians. Again, I think the church that is emerging would challeng this assumption. Disenfranchised christians need community as well… if they’re bound to the institutional church, many of them risk the death of their faith.
These believers are going to be disenfranchised, and the institutional church is not going to be able to get them back. I’ve described it previously as a “crisis of ecclesiology” which preempts a crisis of faith. These “disenfranchised” christians are in a period of what we’ve come to call “detox,” as in (and don’t blow a gasket on this), Detoxing from Church. This is simply a stage through which the disenfranchised must pass. As described it previously,
There’s a line in the classic movie Lawrence of Arabia where the American journalist Jackson Bentley asks Lawrence, “What attracts you personally to the desert?” Peter O’Toole, as T.E. Lawrence, looks away, off into the desert, and says, “It’s clean.” In essence, what he meant — and someone who spent some time in the desert and who loves this movie explained it to me — was that the desert isn’t crowded with the distractions, concerns, trappings, and immorality that is common to western “civilisation.” This to me is a picture of detox. Despite the unappealing concept to those who haven’t been there, it’s incredibly cathartic and leaves one feeling a new sense of clarity. Mentally and spiritually, this is not unlike the parallel physical feeling one has when fasting for a week or more. And though we know the “dangers” of the desert, it’s simply something that must be done, something to be preferred over sitting and staring into the desert, waiting to die. Again from the movie, there’s a scene when the desert must be crossed. As the caravan is about to strike out across it, they pause, and Sherif Ali explains, “There is the railway. And that is the desert. From here until we reach the other side, no water but what we carry with us. For the camels, no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.” To this Lawrence replies, “There’s no time to waste, then, is there?”
This is tricky. There’s a lot to consider in this one, and probably no comprehensive answer. I think that attempting to transform a traditional church into an emerging church is in most cases a mistake. The first step is to understand the answer to the question, What is the Emerging Church? The chief point in this is that the emerging church is not a new form of seeker-sensitivity; it’s not accomplished through the addition of couches, candles, and coffee. It’s a mindshift, something that can’t be copied from the outside in… it must be birthed from the inside out. This suggests to me that a traditional church may be encouraged to ask new questions, to discard outmoded cultural practices by dis-entwining them from the practice of the christian faith, to re-consider what theological tenets are being held based on culture or tradition and not on the Bible and the life of Jesus. If these questions are pursued with no cows held sacred, the church may well become a “church that is emerging.” The best part of this is that it’ll be birthed from within, it’ll be genuine, and it’ll be the movement of a community rather than the leading of one person or a small group of people trying to “herd” the community in a particular direction. It won’t look like a copy of anything else, it’ll be an expression of what’s in the hearts of the people of the community.
Now, there will be churches who do not wish to ask these questions, who have decided to be happy with the status quo. In these situations perhaps the emerging-minded believers do need to leave… they are or will become the “disenfranchised” ones in the first question above. There’s a point — and when I reached it I knew it was time to leave the church I left behind — when staying and pressing for change within a system that doesn’t wish to change stops having any positive effects and has only negative impact on you and on the people around you who are quite happy the way they are, thank you very much.
To sum up, we don’t have a lot of examples of successfully transforming a church community in this way, at least not yet. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s not impossible, just that so far there aren’t many who have qualified themselves by experience to speak on this particular journey.