Like many of us in the emerging cultural landscape i keep asking myself: Is there more? There has to be something more to church than what i have seen. i'm tired of the glitz, show, performance and lack of depth in the contemporary evangelical expression of church.
Ironically, we in the emerging church seem to be creating our own sub-subculture within the larger sphere of Christianity. That's why the EC parodies are so damn funny. When viewed from the outside, are we really that different than those we have left behind? Let's look at a pattern that exemplifies what i'm on about.
1. We see the need for a new way of being church.
2. We talk about it
3. We start new "emergent" churches and organizations.
4. We begin to get others of like mind involved.
5. We hold conferences to teach on the subject.
6. We blog about it
7. We write books about it.
8. We market our "alternative" products to promote it.
9. We gain legitimacy as the societal "Buzz" develops.
10. We talk some more. . . .
Many of us recognize this patter from the evangelical church of the past twenty years. But these are all good things you may say. That is what the evangelical church thought as it went through the cycle over and over again. Our pattern shows that we are not immune from the cycle. While we express ourselves differently, is our theology and praxis that much different?
My concern is that the emergent transition is becoming co-opted by a market culture that would make us just another brand on the shelf to choose from. This would minimize our message and relegate us to just another subculture to be exploited for economic gain. I have lots of questions but few answers.
How can we BE the church in the emerging environment and avoid the mistakes of the church we came out from? Are we even aware of the economic co-option? How can we resist the subtle influences of a market culture? How do we foster community in our isolationist Western culture? How can we develop networks of micro-churches or do we even need to? How do we remain open to transformation? How do we connect with the church at large? What about social-justice issues? How far am i willing to go? And the list goes on.
These are the questions i live with as a pastor who is committed to the reframing of the church for a new era. i feel called to cultivate an environment where future generations will become apart of the Kingdom of God and engage their relational webs as His witnesses. How can we be counter-cultural and subversive while developing our theology and praxis without being assimilated?
There has to be something more than what we see around us. i've spent the last two years of my life exploring the possibilities. i personally don't think that a truly "emergent church" has arrived on the scene in North America. Given that my frame of reference is the States, i would concede that there may be examples outside of the my specific culture that come closer than ours. But the emergence of the church in a postmodern context is only in its infancy. i don't expect to find a truly "emerged" church or theology at this point in time. That's the joy of working in the emerging culture. But we need to remember that its not what we say but how we live.
Please understand, i write not out of a heart of condemnation, but out of convictions from a heavy heart. As a Christian, i come in desperate daily need of God's grace to be conformed to His image. i have an intense consciousness of the depravity from which i came. i am emerging into Christ likeness, yet my heart, apart from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, remains desperately inclined toward selfishness.
I have not always been on this path. Early in my own ministerial journey i preached sermons that were entertaining, topical and often reductionistic. i sought to make the people happy and grow my groups. My motives were flawed; my actions were not godly; and my lips were unclean. The thirst for prominence and position made my heart prideful, judgmental and cold. Out of His infinite grace and love, God broke me with His chastening hand to bring me to true repentance. It is that life of repentance, which is my greatest desire and my greatest failing. It is out of the crucible of these experiences that i am driven to write and speak with such conviction.
Wow! I really must have needed to vent. Thanks for sticking with me on this one.