Recently I was hanging out over some commonly-excusable American addictions (coffee and tea) with a local church planter whom I was hoping to glean some insights from. As a bit of context, I am pursuing the dream of a church plant in the near future and am highly interested in hearing some thoughts on the insides of what can make this movement the healthiest it can possibly be. We spoke about this and mused about that, eventually coming around to the topic of the "emerging church."
As we chatted about things, I started to share some of my conclusions about the big secret of that many in the church world are either unaware of or seem unable to articulate. I've been on this journey for several years of trying to "figure out" the postmodern mindset, hammer out the "new way to do vintage things," and discover how to reconstruct all that I have "deconstructed" about why the old way was bad and the new way was better.
(Feel free to pick apart all of that last paragraph. I no longer believe that way but just thought I'd confess... I hear it's part of the 12-step process)
In any event, I've been at the conferences where the presenters presented, attended the forums where the gurus debated with each other (and sometimes the audience), hung out over late night options where theology (or the theology of theology) was the topic, and read the books and articles many of you have as well. Behind it all, I have sensed a genuine passion from Emergents about the church and it's future, perhaps because it's exposed them to a bit of a rugged past.
That part I totally get.
What I couldn't figure out, though, was why so many people seem mad at Emergents. How could there be so much paranoia from the modern types who were afraid we were all going to become tolerant Oprah clones or change our last names to McClaren? Why is George Barna petrified that the new movement will be to cancel church as we know it and begin a whole new revolution of postmoderns hopping into the escape pods and ejecting from the mother ship? Why have candle sales gone up... even though "it's not about candles?"
As best as I can tell, the big "secret" is that the Emergent church isn't telling anyone the right way to do church. Granted, that really isn't a secret, but it seems like there are a group of people standing around waiting for the "miracle proclamation." They tried to be all about seekers, got a bit more purpose-driven along the way, and recently have had some thoughts about house churches and video venues. Now they're waiting for the next spoonfeeding of a model...
and the Emergents aren't giving it to them.
The big "secret" is that somewhere along the way a few Emergents got smart. At least, they became wise by realizing they were dumb... or ignorant... whatever. The point is they stopped saying that there was one right way to do church and started celebrating other forms of spiritual exploration. Likewise, they got off of the main stage platform and circled up some chairs to chat with people at a round table. Instead of being about small groups they decided to become about community; instead of being about Sunday School, they decided to be about spiritual formation; instead of being about multi-site venues, they decided to be about neighborhood investment; and so on.
In short, the emergent church isn't about models in as much as it is about values.
As a potential church planter, this is good news for me. Having come off of a 16 years in student ministry I have seen the need to be fluid in my approach to reaching students based on who they are and where I served. Why wouldn't the church at large be any different? If we were committed to internal values that were biblically breathed instead of external concepts that had copyright symbols next to them, perhaps we'd "get it" and the Church would invade the church.
What will it look like for the church to be less married to a model and be more interested in the character behind the looks?
I suppose that's the emerging secret, isn't it?
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