Friday, May 23, 2008

Emerging?: Celebrity Death Match

This post is going to be more scattershot (if that's possible) than the two previous posts... it's Boomer vs. Buster, seeker vs. Xer, Emergent vs. emerging - it's Ministry Buzzword Death Match 2008!


The seeker-sensitive church movement started in a number of roughly parallel places - in the mid-70's in Chicago (Willow Creek) and the early 80's in Grand Rapids (Calvary Church) and Orange County (Saddleback Community Church). Each of these churches (and others like them) took different approaches to attempting to knock down the cultural barriers that kept Boomers from coming to church & hearing the truth about Jesus Christ. Some of the common elements:
  • casual dress (particularly for men)
  • use of visuals (starting with drama & slide shows, moving to the use of video & PowerPoint)
  • focus on topical preaching/teaching
  • emphasis on small groups rather than Sunday School
  • removal of small children from some or all of the service
  • de-emphasizing the offering (to counteract perception that "all churches care about is getting my money")
  • less use of hymns & a corresponding change in musical style
  • careful de-churching of language (to make the Gospel more understandable)
You can debate whether some or all of those changes (and many others I haven't mentioned) were good or bad, but in some cases they were quite successful in connecting with a generation that had walked out of traditional church in droves.

There were some churches that chose to water down the message of the Bible in tandem with these kinds of changes... but the "big-name" churches that are part of the seeker movement have never felt like that to me - I may not like their particular teaching style (Saddleback) but the Gospel comes through loud & clear.

The emerging church began (as I said in an earlier post) as a reaction to one of the great failures of the seeker movement - reaching Busters/Xers. The polished, confident, well-oiled services & structures of the seeker churches turned off many Xers, who saw the world as a darker & more difficult place... and who preferred their worship services with greater doses of authenticity (read: not all the edges sanded off) and honesty.

Here's what I used to say to traditional churches when I tried to explain why GenXers saw the world differently & therefore were tough to reach in a Boomer/Builder heavy environment:
  • my generation does not believe the government will take care of us - I'm currently paying my dad's social security with my SS payments - the system is going to break down & I'll be the one left holding the empty bag
  • my life is not necessarily going to be better than my parent's life (interestingly, I just read some survey work that indicates I was correct - the GenXers will be the first generation in U.S. history whose income - adjusted for inflation - has fallen in regards to the previous generation)
  • my generation was the first generation to live in the world of no-fault (ha!) divorce - we are the original latch-key kids... and even if our folks didn't get divorced, we watched the emotional bombs go off in the families of our friends
That's a group of folks who isn't going to buy "Shiny Happy Jesus" - but they will resonate with the truth of Scripture. This is/was a generation who doesn't balk at Ecclesiastes or the difficult parts of the Psalms.


I mentioned Andrew Jones in the 2nd post of this series - I met Andrew at Mt. Hermon in May of '97. At that time, he was living in Haight/Ashbury (San Francisco) ministering to street kids & starting churches in pubs & coffeehouses. Later that year (December of '97), we were brought together by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in the mountains of Georgia along with 20 or so other SBC church planters who were trying to reach across the modern/postmodern divide. (I still remember standing in the bathroom with him at the overly lavish NAMB headquarters when Andrew suggested that the paneling on the walls would fund one of our churches for a year or so.)

Andrew's view of the emerging church has two benefits:
  1. It's long-term... he's been doing this stuff long before most of us even dreamed about it
  2. It's global... as a New Zealander who was trained in the U.S. and now lives in Europe, he sees the whole "emerging church movement" in a completely different way than I (or most of us in the U.S.) do
So, when he puts together a comprehensive listing of resources, it's worth checking out. (Please note: Andrew & I don't see eye-to-eye on everything... but I see him love Jesus & love others & struggle through how best to nurture the global church, which just makes me admire the heck out of him.)


This is a series of posts I wrote late in 2006 for the NewLife @ Nite blog:

Words: "Contemporary"

The English language is a crock. Look, I'm not agitating for us to adopt a new language, though it wouldn't hurt for a large chunk of us to learn a bit more Spanish. (I'm pretty much limited to Mexican foods & some curse words my buddies in high school taught me, so I'm not the poster child for bilingual communication.) My problem is with how easy it is for words & terminology to shift in meaning - regardless of your language of origin.

Which makes our job that much harder when we try to come up with ways to quickly describe the upcoming NewLife @ Night worship gathering... and end up fumbling through words like "contemporary", "emergent", "emerging" (yes, there's a difference), "innovative", and "experiential". You see, nearly everyone has their own preconceived notions when they hear those particular words & phrases - notions that can cause you to envision something very different than what we're dreaming of for Sunday nights.

So, in the interests of good communication & actually getting some use out of my B.A. in English, let's take a closer look at this - shall we?


In my addled brain, this sounds like a "hip" word from the 60's... I get mental pictures of the Monsanto house at Disneyland & those funky egg-shaped plastic chairs that hang from the ceiling.

In evangelical circles, this became the buzzword of choice when describing new services in the 1980's & '90's - in fact, you still see it today. A church will advertise "traditional" worship at one time and "contemporary" at another time. In general, what they mean is as follows:
  • "traditional" - the same thing we've been doing for the last 50 years
  • "contemporary" - we changed the music (sold the organ & do more praise choruses), but otherwise the service is pretty much the same

NewLife @ Night is definitely NOT a "contemporary" service.

Words: "Emergent" and "Emerging"

Like I said yesterday, these aren't the same thing in churchspeak. Chances are pretty good you haven't heard of either of these in regards to worship or worship gatherings unless you pretty much live on the Web and/or hang out with church planters. (There's nothing wrong with hanging out with church planters - aka folks who start new churches - it's just that their conversations are seasoned with words unlikely to be used in "normal" conversation - stuff like "emerging" and "missional" and "ethos"... more on the last two of those later.)

The definition of the adjective "emerging" is "newly formed or just coming into prominence" - which refers not only to a more experiential (we'll get to that word next week) style of worship but also to a new postmodern culture & thought that is affecting more & more folks in our community.

OTOH, "emergent" (for the most part) refers to a group of folks known as the Emergent Village who are involved in planting & supporting "emerging" churches. While we can learn a lot from them, they are not all theologically on the same page as NewLife Community Church. (Yes, all of you hardcore nitpickers out there, the whole emerging/emergent thing isn't quite that simple... but this is close enough for what we're doing here in Easton, CA.)

NewLife @ Night is definitely trying to speak the truth of Jesus Christ to the emerging culture.

Words: "Experiential"

In many churches, you're pretty much a spectator at a worship service with three major exceptions:
  • church gymnastics (sit, stand, kneel, walk the aisle, etc.)
  • congregational singing (meaning the part where the guy up front urges us to sing as opposed to the music performed by the band or choir)
  • giving (putting money in the plate/basket/pouch/bucket /whatever as it goes by)
In experiential worship, the gathering is intentionally designed to involve more movement & participation on the part of the congregation through a variety of methods. These could include prayer stations, small group discussion, contemplative silence, multi-sensory experiences, and much, much more.

New Life @ Night is definitely going to be more experiential.

Words: "Innovative"

For a number of years, the church office reached me by calling my pager, putting in the church phone number, then hoping I could find a pay phone to call in. Now, thanks to cell phones, I can be reached almost anywhere (except for a short stretch of Fig Ave. between Jefferson & American). Innovation has changed communication & ministry. And I'm not exactly on the forefront of the technological revolution - no Blackberry, no text messaging, no camera in my cell phone.

When we talk about a worship gathering being innovative, we're talking about more than edgier music and/or changing the look of the worship center. What we pray will happen is that this time each Sunday night will use whatever means & methods that will best communicate the truth of Christ to a postmodern culture, whether those methods are ancient or cutting edge.

New Life @ Night is definitely seeking to be an innovative worship gathering.


This post was written back in 2005 on my blog:

Duck & Cover Drill (It's SBC Week)

Well, it's Southern Baptist Convention week, which means I have some prayer requests. (Note for those non-Southern Baptists playing along at home - Southern Baptist churches are autonomous local bodies who may choose to send represenatives to the SBC meeting each June. A number of decisions are made in business sessions, but the stuff that occupies the most column inches in the national media are the non-binding resolutions, which are primarily about current issues.)

  • God, please don't let them vote on and/or discuss resolutions that don't reflect the truth of the Bible AND an awareness that the media is just waiting for us to do something silly.
  • God, please draw the Convention together around what You've done for us rather than what we can figure out for ourselves.
And finally...
  • God, please make me & my ministry cool... or at least more cutting-edge than most...
That last one is what bubbled out of me earlier this afternoon as I read about the Younger Leader's Summit earlier this week... two of the guys who spoke (Chris Seay & Kevin Schrum) I know from my church planting/"the church @ hickory hollow" days. (I'm still not sure why Kevin was invited - he definitely is "oldskool SBC" - though he has been very successful.) I could just feel all the pain & anger & longing tumbling out of me...

God, I was cool once - or, at least, I thought I was. I had a church with rock'n'roll & candles & huge honkin' black curtains (that frankly looked like we were a coven rather than a Southern Baptist congregation.) I preached in shorts during the summer... and it was OK to try just about anything to communicate the truth about You! (One Sunday, we juxtaposed video from Prince's film "Sign O The Times" - the song "The Cross" - with footage from the Jesus film.)

I ran with the bigwigs in the Emergent church movement - long before they were bigwigs! I was one of the first "GenX" church planters invited in by NAMB back in December of '97, along with guys like Andrew Jones, Evan Lauer & Chris Seay. I ate lunch with Brian McLaren at a conference, and had him all to myself. I was on the bleeding edge of ministry.

So what happened?! Why did that have to end?Why do I spend more time now reading about Emergent stuff than actually doing any of it?

And, as you can probably guess, the pity party went on for quite a while in that vein. Double sigh.

At the heart of the matter, I'm not sure I want to be on the bleeding edge - what Erwin McManus calls a "mushroom eater." What I really want, when I'm honest enough to say it out loud, is to be cool. Well, that's not really quite it, either - what I want is to be THOUGHT OF BY OTHERS as cool. Talk about chasing the wind - sheesh.

So, I'm writing this all out today... putting it out in the open so this stuff doesn't fester inside of me. I renounce my desire for coolness (ministry or otherwise) and instead just want to serve God in a culturally relevant & thoroughly Biblical way. Somehow, I don't think it's going to be that simple. Dealing with this stuff (that I've long thought was "done" since tc@hh closed) isn't as easy as clicking my heels three times & saying "There's no place like home." It's going to be a long walk with Jesus. Not that a long walk with Jesus is a bad thing. :-)


Anonymous said...

wow. what a huge post and very enjoyable - esp. since i get a mention.

i often think of that meeting at the NAMB HQ - if you remember, it was me and Mr Young Jr that gave little speeches to teh leadership and made some recommendations. i dont think they took us seriously, or perhaps they waited for another batch of young leaders that would think more like them. who knows?

anyway . . . great post. love to hear in what areas we dont see eye to eye anymore

[sounds like a love song]


Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks for the kind words...

...and I think we were a bit "ahead of the curve" for the suits at NAMB back in 1997. Well, you were a bit ahead of the curve. I least knew a curve existed, even if I wasn't anywhere near the edge of it. The guys at NAMB back then - let's just say that the majority of them were "curve vision-impaired."

As to areas of disagreement: I think you have the ability (curse or gift, you make the choice) to embrace a wider palette of denominational & theological colors of the emerging church movement without comprimising your core belief in Jesus Christ. Sometimes I get uncomfortable with some of the things you post - and yet I find I have 145 of your posts tagged to save on my bloglines account.

Dude, you & I singing a love song would not be a pretty thing. Plus, our wives would put the kibosh on it.

shalom to you as well!
aka pastor guy

Anonymous said...

Deacon & Usher were here

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Deacon & Usher... not exactly on-topic but not exactly off-topic, either. Plenty'o'weird, though.