Emerging Through The Ages

Tony Jones has been staying at the house for a couple of days, and Tony always sets me to thinking in new and different ways.

Last night, as I was engaged in the spiritual discipline of mowing the yard, I began to think about what it means to be categorized as “emerging.” Generally, this movement (or whatever the heck it is) has been seen as a young adult movement. This is about ministry with “postmoderns,” who (in our desire to put things in boxes) are Gen Xers and younger (with a smattering of baby boomers here and there). Much of this movement has focused on doing things in new ways. It has become a gospel of innovation; even the return to the ancient traditions of the church is presented as innovative. Thus emphasis is given to those who are doing new and exciting things, the church planters with “cutting edge” ministries.

However, most of us don’t live in that reality. Most of us in ministry are in churches like mine — traditional, old, somewhat resistant to change. Of course I believe that new paradigm churches will fall into the same patterns as my church with its 130 year history. We already see signs of that in the reluctance of Bill Hybels and others to look at new and evolving ministry patterns at Willow Creek, thinking (as we all do) that our way is the most valid way.

Anyway, as I was on the lawn mower (riding . . . provided by the church with the parsonage) I began to think about my church. By most definitions it wouldn’t be called “emergent.” In fact, when some of my emergent friends have come to visit, I find myself almost apologetic, not out of shame, but simply recognizing that we’re not particularly innovative here in Antioch. Our worship is traditional anglo, middle class, white bread, United Methodist worship. We don’t light a bunch of candles nor video screens. I robe on Sundays, as much to keep from having to buy clothes as tradition. We do what we’ve done for a bunch of years.

We’re not an “emerging church”, right?

But I’m not so sure. Sure my congregation is older (the average age is probably around 50) but they are willing to think critically about who God is and what faith means. This year I have preached on the nature of faith, the story we find ourselves in, and looked at spiritual practices. I have even used “Dogma” as a sermon illustration (giving, of course, proper warning about the language content of the movie). Folks have been willing to ask hard questions of faith, and for the most part, they haven’t been attacked when they ask those questions.

I started a Sunday School class for the younger adults in our midst. We are doing weekly lectio divina, reading through the gospel of Luke together. As the class has evolved, we now find ourselves as an intergenerational group, bringing a wide variety of perspectives to the table.

Once, in my soft peddling my church to a young couple, I remarked that we were primarily an older bunch and that we were trying to grow our young adult ministries. But contrary to conventional wisdom, they didn’t care that we had specific young adult activities. “We’re around young adults all the time,” they told me. “It would be great to be around some older folks.”

I am convinced that being “emergent” is not a technique, a demographic, a worship style. Being “emergent” is a mindset. It’s a willingness to embrace a holistic understanding of faith that isn’t afraid of hard questions and difficult conversation, but wraps everyone in the reality of the beloved community. Although many critics disagree, it is fully a Biblical expression of faith, one that takes the whole of scripture into account and not just those verses that prop up a simplistic mindset.

One of the goals for those of us in the “emerging” thingie must be to present a vision of church that goes beyond the young adult centered church plant. There’s nothing wrong with those churches — frankly a Solomon’s Porch or Ekklesia sounds like a lot of fun. But they represent one slice of the community of faith. The question that we are left with is what does it mean to be emerging across the generations, being faithful to this calling that God has given us.

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