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.
Regarding question 1, I think you’re onto something. If the emerging conversation arises out of a crisis of ecclesiology, then the key question is not whether emerging communities are GROWING, but whether they are AUTHENTIC. If people who are on spiritual detox are finding ways to breathe – or even thrive – again then, yes, its “working” – if you have to use a word like that.
Leave the numbers games to the megachurch folks.
The other point I would want to make myself here is that EC “pockets” exist within existing, “traditional” church structures. I am a part of one such pocket. In a sense, to the extent those like me are contributing in a menaingful way to the mission of Jesus in those places as a result of our involvement in those “pockets”, it is also “working” – even though the “results” are probably going be credited to things that APPEAR as if they are a result of traditional church structures/programs.
Ohmigosh, Bro! itâ€™ll be the movement of a community rather than the leading of one person or a small group of people trying to â€œherdâ€? the community in a particular direction. It wonâ€™t look like a copy of anything else, itâ€™ll be an expression of whatâ€™s in the hearts of the people of the community.
I had lunch with a pastor from the church I left behind. They had a leadership retreat to try to identify a direction and identity for the church (odd topic, I know). I tried to communicate this to him–instead of setting a direction, listen to the hearts of the people who go there; that’s what you are. If more leaders could get out of their board meetings and do this….
1. Depending on how you interpret #1, it could either be about “numbers” or it could be about what the surface wording suggests: evangelism. Meaning, is the Kingdom advancing through the emerging church, or is it a comfortable bless-me club of disenfranchised church-goes with no interest in those who don’t know Jesus?
I’m seriously OVER-STATING that one, I know, but it might be a legitimate question to look at among ourselves. “Authentic community” is a worthy pursuit — I’ve always been a proponent of community versus “meetings”, but is it possible that authentic community could turn into an idol that prevents us, as apprentices of Jesus, from doing what He actually apprenticed us to do: preach the Gospel, heal the sick, drive out demons, teach new apprentices (disciples) what Jesus instructed, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirite (Matthew 28:18-20)?
Could it be that in our attempts to correct the lack of transformational community (discipleship in a Body context), we might end up as a pendulum swing too far to the other exteme?
2. Could existing churches change? Yes, of course they could, but are they willing to pay the price? They will offend and upset many people in their congregations that like the status quo, and who are threatened by anything that upsets the comfortable “church norm” that they’ve come to expect (nay, demand).
The leaders of said churches will have to lead more strongly than ever in order to break the old paradigm: by that, I mean these leaders will have to (1) make a group decision to divest themselves of their positional power, (2) teach the congregation what the Bible says about the Body and follow through by radically removing anything in the current church structures that prevents them from reaching the goal of Body life, and (3) recognize that it will be difficult to lead strongly for change that means that they won’t be leading strongly anymore, if they’re successful.
The larger the church is, the more difficult that will be, I suspect. Large churches have large budgets and bills, and too much change too quickly could result in causing much pain to the Body, as well as financial hardship for the directors. The leaders of these larger churches will need to be united in a steady, systematic dismantling over a longer period of time than a smaller church would have to.
So, it’s possible, but frankly, I’ve seen few examples of large church leaders even noticing that change might even be on the radar. I’d be really encouraged to hear if anyone knows of some churches who are attempting this kind of course correction, and how it’s unfolding.
robbymac said… â€œAuthentic communityâ€? is a worthy pursuit â€” Iâ€™ve always been a proponent of community versus â€œmeetingsâ€?, but is it possible that authentic community could turn into an idol that prevents us, as apprentices of Jesus, from doing what He actually apprenticed us to do: preach the Gospel, heal the sick, drive out demons, teach new apprentices (disciples) what Jesus instructed, and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirite (Matthew 28:18-20)?
interesting idea, robbymac. maybe i’m crazy, but my idea of authentic community would actually not prevent this because authentic community recognizes that our community doesn’t end at the meeting house door, or with our “fellowship”, but extends across all of humanity. perhaps i am far too idealistic, but the kind of authentic community i want to be involved in sees community in our jerusalem, judea and to the ends of the earth. it sees the bum on the street, the hungry in our city, the hungry in africa, the sick in asia, the victims of earthquakes in pakistan – all of them – as part of the community. in my perhaps naive view, authentic community would not just be interested in expressing God’s love tangibly to those nearest us, but to those all across the world.
of course, what i see often left out of the discussion about authentic community, is that God, all of his three persons, are part of the community as well. God gives us the heart for all that He loves: His community, that He lovingly relates with worldwide, including the citizens of earth, her nations, her creatures, even the earth herself.
Does it really matter if it’s classified as “Emerging” (as in what falls under the Emerging Movement/Church/Conversation)? It probably won’t fit in a certain structure: God doesn’t fit in a box (I’d say the Emerging movement has a box – it just has fuzzier edges than the traditional church box). It won’t be quantified or classified as our Renaissance minds want to.
What shows that the church that emerging, that God has called His people to, is working? If it’s bearing fruit. If people are being healed and lives are changed. If we are responding to God’s initiations rather than trying to be like God and initiate ourselves. If we look around on the larger scale and see that we’re participating in what God’s already doing.
When the foundations are being destroyed,what will the righteous do? Psalm 11:3
George Barna stated in his book, “Revolution,” that there are 20 million disenfranchised Christians. Many of us are strong, on-fire Christians, involved in ministries who are seeing our foundations being destroyed. We have gone to our church leaders and been re-buffed, accused of not being on board with the purpose driven or growth based programs our church leaders have found to try. Until we can first seek God’s will for our churches and not man’s, we are merely “playing church.”