A Dangerously Long Comment on Fallout from the “Emerging Church”…

Here is the genesis of my dialogue, plus some. From Steve’s site. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I don’t think Steve himself is actually being attacked. And I think that Lynne’s fruit counts, and is valid.

The danger is.. that people get all caught up in it being one way or the other. There are a couple of very ‘Modern’ pastors at my church, who have read the Emerging books and now think that’s how we should do church.

Some thoughts on to Emerge or not Emerge.

Exegete the culture of your community. Who are the not-yet followers? Tell the story in their language, and celebrate the story in the language of your community. That’s what our explorations should be based upon.

We are storytellers. Employ whatever means you like to tell the story, there is no set way.. jsut know that for some people they will like to skip to the end, some like to read for themselves, some like the same story told the same way over and over. We have the freedom to do that, so long as we tell the right story, it doens’t have to be about telling the story right.

Well, doesn’t this one come close to home?

I think, read and observe, that proponents of the Emerging Church do carry this ideology close to their hearts. So it’s almost understandable how things quickly seem to become viscious and snide. It’s why the blogosphere is a great place to air ideas, but only if you have a thick hide. Much like print media, you have to accept that someone will always read and interpret in a contrary tone. So the suggestion of coffee is a good one, but the suggestion of an open forum is also excellent.. and inevitably the kind of exercise that will hopefully bring widespread productivity to these discussions.

As a relative new kid on the block in terms of ministry, theology and experience, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have anything relevant to add, but.. I am living and breathing in the generation that is meant to be delighting in their ’emerging’ nature, and I don’t really see a lot of it. My peers can talk about the ideology, but their practice of worship, community etc, remains unchanged. And I am a proponent of the Gospel, so I shall endeavour not to focus my energy on changing the way we do church, but working to ensure that however we do church, it’s relevant to our immediate context.

We are storytellers. Employ whatever means you like to tell the story, there is no set way.. jsut know that for some people they will like to skip to the end, some like to read for themselves, some like the same story told the same way over and over. We have the freedom to do that, so long as we tell the right story, it doens’t have to be about telling the story right.

In a congregation that does experiment from time to time, I count more failures in our experiments than successes. That is a lot to do with my weaknesses, for sure. But I also think it has a lot to do with the fact that a lot of so-called ’emerging’ practice isn’t simply not relevant or connective with the people I am ministering too. It’s relevant to me. But then, so is a major rock’n’roll concert. Here am I, caught in a parallel. Sometimes I like church to be like a rock’n’roll show too.

I work as part of the team organising a youth gathering that’s highly evangelical. Here’s what I’ve learned that’s still true about youth culture..

  • big is beautiful, in fact sometimes size really does count.
  • sometimes celebrating small is easier in the context of a large gathering.
  • hype is sometimes just fun, and that’s ok.
  • stages that look great don’t have to dominate the landscape of the message.
  • Stages that look great make sense to kids.
  • it’s an uplifting experience for kids to see a God who is working, real and relevant in the lives of their peers across the country.
  • Arty kids and sporty kids, extroverts and introverts can all find expression and a sense of belonging in a big kick-ass event.

In the five years between adolescence and young adulthood.. what are we really expecting to change?

My environment is a challenging one, because things are openly critiqued, vigorously so. Not much is done just for the sake of it. But it’s an open critique that has a good motive underneath it. We are responsible for ministering to, leading and opening up doors for longtime, middle-aged, newbie and no-yet followers of Jesus, and the way we tell the story must bear all of those things in mind. So we experiment, but we try and do it with wisdom.

I, for my part, respect the fact and the manner with which our national leader is engaging and endeavoring to dialogue on these issues. It seems wiser and safer to me than others who seem to delight in picking up the books, and immediately wanting to leap into implementing new worship styles. It speaks to me of being all things to all men, and a willingness to put the needs of others ahead of self. After all… there are many ways in which I can connect with God, but I care much more about how my sisters, my neighbour and my friends will connect with His Story. That is the overwhelming, pressing urge on my heart.

When emerging fits for them, that’s great. And when they go to Hillsong and love it, that’s great. And wherever they find the truth of the Gospel, that’s the answer to my prayers and the cry of the Kingdom.

For the sake of the Kingdom, we need to, and I implore all.. to humble ourselves enough to admit, we all need God to lead us and speak to us through one another.

In the States recently, I saw a lot of creativity for creativity’s sake that was more about artisitic expression, than about relevant spiritual engagement. It was as off-putting, stale and inauthentic as some of the more theologically inaccurate mega-congregations I could attend in Auckland or Sydney. And it was at one of the flagship Emerging Churches. Which throws up lots of questions for me in regards to what Emerging Church really does look like, feel like, sound like. In terms of production values, and performance intensity, speaking with some of the practitioners there revealed remarkably similar values to a Hillsong, or large-scale ‘Modernist Icon’ church.

Some of the congregations that we read about, happily denote that the success story of what they are doing is the numbers of faithful who are retaining ther faith, staying in Christian community, being discipled. But Both-And tension is so vital here, because as a youth worker I have a responsibility to communicate the importance and relevance of the Gospel for us and others, and if we do not value the numerical growth as well as spiritual growth of our ministries we are in trouble. In the ministries I have participated in, people leaving, or people sitting and not participating or engaging with the mission are signs of trouble. Celebrate the raspberries, and remember to plant lots of them.

I am in a ministry context that is experimenting with some different approaches to worship, communication and community. Some things work well and become meaningful, many do not. I am a keen experimenter, but I count more failures than successes with my work. Why? Because I read and think and talk.. and it suggests that there are ways my congregation ought to be engaging, or would like to engage.. the reality is that they don’t. When we create and invite them into those spaces and experiences.. more often than not, it doesn’t carry meaning when part of our services. It’s the same over a small but significant number of congregations that I have participated in and/or observed on a micro-level.

But we have some great sports teams. Touch teams that participate in community tournaments, smaller community groups going to the beach together, adventure sports together and more recently.. lawn bowls for young adults. It has all the elements we emerging ones love.. embracing nature, community, participation, the old and the new, it’s embracing and inviting, it’s evangelical by way of relationship.

So whilst church with candles, symbols, prayers, words, images, darkness and light works really well for me, I also have to accept that the majority of these supposedly ‘post-modern’ young adults who all connect really well with the ideology in their heads.. actually prefer the practice of community that looks more like Hillsong, or CLC or CCC. It’s simple, and understandable. It’s accessible to the masses.

Swing to the other side of the pendulum. So much of our emerging energy seems to get spent up on healing and restoring those who didn’t do mainstream church well, those who didn’t fit. Read the blogs, the books, listen to the seminars. There are a lot of church folk out there who just are looking for a way of doing church that suits them. It will always be that way, but I don’t think we will ever have an entire generation that will pick up the post-modern flag and wave it on a hilltop. And there are some people who need to stop preaching that message. And it shouldn’t ever be that way, because all of this debate comes dangerously close to pulling us away from the task at hand..

Lord, hear the cry of your Children

We are weak, we are limited in understanding

Grant us your eyes to see and ears to hear

For the sake of the Kingdom, may we strip ourselves away

For the sake of Your name, may there be nothing left

For the sake of those who do not yet know Your Love

Make us humble at the feet of our brothers and sisters

Teach us to learn from those around us

Teach us to walk in Your ways

Refocus our eyes, change our lens

Cleanse from us the sin of pride

In a world where there are many Right Ways

Simply help us to avoid the Wrong Ways.

In a world where there are many Voices

Help us to listen wisely, and to speak more so.

For the sake of the long-time, middle-aged, newbie and not-yet

For the sake of Us, the Followers

Tell us again the Story of finding and feeding sheep.

Find us, feed us again.