Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Emerging?: 13th Gen to Pomo

In the last couple of weeks, I've been asked by two different folks (my mother-in-law & a good friend from the boardgaming world) about the whole "emerging/emergent church" movement... so, over the last two days, I tried to answer those questions in a series of posts to an e-mail group.

A not-so-long time ago in a galaxy not-so-far away, some ministry folks who were working with the children of the Baby Boomer generation woke up and realized that this particular group of folks dealt with life VERY differently than their parents. In the secular culture, books like 13th Gen began to analyze the "Slacker Culture" - which, frankly, was always a lousy & cruel nickname for a generation that chose a new way of dealing with work.
  • Builders (born 1925-1945) & Boomers (born 1946-1963): "live to work"
  • Busters (born 1964-1982): "work to live"
Yep, that's a monstrous generalization. (And I'm still gonna make it.) Leonard Sweet was one of the earliest thinkers/teachers inside the church to talk about this stuff - I heard him speak about it in '95 to a group of TN pastors who basically looked at him like he had three heads.

The response inside the American church (and please understand, I'm speaking about all of these issues from a very American perspective) led to the realization that we were dealing with a significant culture shift - and that led to four different reactions:
  • a certain number of churches buried their metaphorical heads in the sand & pretended that nothing had changed
  • many churches began GenX services in addition to their regular services - these usually had the "trappings" of GenX appeal (candles, lots of visual imagery, video, casual atmosphere, coffeehouse feel, etc.) but were essentially the same kind of service as the 11 am prime time service at the church "dressed up" to attempt to appeal to GenXers
  • other churches started what was/is called "church within a church" experiments... allowing staff members to create almost self-functioning churches that utilized facilities & finances while operating separately of the main congregation. Some of these were very successful (Willow Creek's Axis or Santa Cruz Bible's Graceland) for a time - but neither of the examples I listed exist in that form today. (Axis was closed recently and Graceland was the nucleus for an independent church named Vintage Faith.)
  • finally, a lot of us in the GenX movement felt that the best alternative was to plant churches... and we did. For a variety of reasons, the failure rate of GenX church plants was even higher that the failure rate of the average church plant (I'll deal with that in a later post), but that didn't stop some pretty amazing things from happening. The most famous of the GenX church plants was UBC (University Baptist Church), which is the church that sparked the David Crowder Band, Chris Seay & Kyle Lake.
There were some pretty important gatherings of pastors, church planters & thinkers in the mid-to-late 90's, organized by Leadership Network. I had the privilege of attending two of those (Mt. Hermon, CA in 1997 and Glorieta, NM in 1999). Some denominational executives even attended, although completely out of their comfort zone, trying to get a handle on this new movement.

At Mt. Hermon, we were blown away by Mark Driscoll's analysis of the collapse of modernity - not just his brilliance but also how "in-your-face" he was. (Those of you who've heard Mark Driscoll since know what I'm talking about.) There was conflict - and Christ-like reconciliation - between those from the seeker church movement and this new breed of "pomo" church planter/leader. And, for those of you who know some of my story, God used this event to finally break the hold that pornography had on me & my ministry.

Two years later, the gathering at Glorieta had a decidedly different tone - this was my first real introduction to Brian McLaren, who had just released his first book (Rethinking the Church, which has since been republished as The Church on the Other Side), the Gospel & Our Culture Network and a greater variety of expression in worship than I had previously seen. Brian has since become "the voice of the emergent church" (though I'll be the first to tell you he does NOT speak for me) but at that point, he was small potatoes enough that I ended up eating lunch with him - a modestly successful church planter from TN, for crying out loud.

Of course, by the time you put together events as big as these, you're simply documenting where the movement has been & giving some pointers as to where it going - and the direction was "postmodern". By the meeting at Glorieta, it was obvious that the movement was splintering in a variety of directions - at that point, based primarily on the response to postmodernism.

I'm going to stop writing now & break this thing into parts - there's a lot more I want to say & this post is already WAY too long. Please note that this is MY particular take on what happened... this is what I saw, and when I assign causation to particular events, I may be making connections that aren't there.

There was a lot of stuff written about GenX ministry - most of it has dated pretty severely, but if you were going to go back & get a really good picture of what was going on, the two best books are: Thanks for reading... questions & comments are welcome, but hold off on attacking Mr. McLaren and the Emergent Village (if you even know what I'm talking about) until we get to that part of the story!

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