Wrestling with the Emerging Church

Robert E. Webber would call me a "younger evangelical." I definitely don't fit the old evangelical-fundamentalist paradigm. And I've been moving away from the modern seeker-sensitive megachurch paradigm for at least a decade now. What Webber refers to as younger evangelicals are those who tend to lean toward the emerging church movement. And I am one of those who leans toward that movement.

But not entirely. Sometimes I think I still have a foot in the modern seeker-sensitive church paradigm. And sometimes I get a little annoyed at the new "christianese" that seems to be developing in the emerging church movement--expressions like "missional living," "embodying the Kingdom," "authentic spirituality," etc.

Don't get me wrong. I think "missional living" and "embodying the Kingdom" in our lives and communities are great things! But I sometimes get the sense from those involved in emerging churches that there's a new right way of being the church. And if you're not being the church in this way, you're not really in tune with how the Holy Spirit is moving in the world today.

The emerging church movement also seems to generally believe that churches have to be small in order for them to be truly transformational for people. That's why so many emerging churches are small congregations that spend a lot of time together--learning together, growing together, doing missions together, loving their neighbors together.

Again, I think these things are awesome! But I, personally, really love big churches. I love the energy of a big church. I love the buzz that's in the air when a big church gathers to worship. I love the big events and big missions that big churches can do.

But, as a younger evangelical--and as a pastor--does that mean that I shouldn't seek to grow my church into a large church?

This is a question I've been struggling with for the last several months. For a while, because of my attraction to the emerging church, I've thought that I need to move away from wanting to grow a large church. But then I was encouraged by a couple of things. First, Mars Hill Church, led by Rob Bell, is an emerging church with 10,000 people in church every Sunday! Second, I read something in An Unstoppable Force, by Erwin McManus (pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles), that really encouraged me. Here's what he said:

"There is a growing sense among many that small is always better than big. In fact, we could go as far as to say that, many times, big is equated with evil and small with good. While we like what big can provide for us, we want to access it in small ways. We have created an unconscious dichotomy between quantity and quality" (68).

A couple of paragraphs later he goes on:

"However, the very same people who abhor the idea of a church getting large are the same ones who are both connected, inspired, and mobilized by the unique ministries that emerge through critical mass. There are things that only a large church can do. Mosaic mobilized over four hundred people to serve the underprivileged communities of Ensenada, Mexico. It's really hard to do that if you're a congregation of fifty. Over one hundred actors, dancers, set designers, producers, directors, and writers mobilized to create a theatrical production in the heart of Los Angeles that touched thousands. It would be really tough to do that with seventy-five people" (68).

Yes, yes, yes!! That expresses exactly how I have been feeling about this supposed "dichotomy" (to use McManus' word) between the emerging church and being a large church. I love the theology of the emerging church, but I want to live that out with the excitement, passion, vision, and resources of a large community of believers!

And now I understand why I'm drawn to large churches. McManus' says that momentum is created by mass and velocity. Large churches have mass. You can't get a lot of momentum with a small church. Of course, not all large churches have momentum, but that's another issue...

But, as for me, a large church with momentum--a church that's going somewhere and has the velocity and mass behind it to powerfully reach out to a hurting world with the love of Jesus--that's what I want to be a part of!!


Back Home--oh, and Evangelicalism

Been in L.A. now for a couple days--and I'm loving it! Seeing some of my old favorite places, some of my old friends, family, etc., etc., etc.... My 14-month-old son, Micah, had his first taste of In-n-Out yesterday! And tomorrow night--drumroll please--gaming night!! Woohoo!! Hours and hours of Warcraft 3 with my old buds!

Also came across an interesting series of reflections about Evangelicalism (to which I would say I generally subscribe) on a site called Gathering in Light. Pretty interesting stuff worthy of consideration.

Here are the five parts to this series:

Part I - Reflections on Evangelicalism
Part II - What Evangelicalism Is
Part III - Critiques and Possibilities - Biblicism
Part IV - Critiques and Possibilities - Spiritually Transformed Life
Part V - Evangelicalism as a Subculture


A Vacation Lesson

Woohoo!! My vacation has officially begun!!

Robin, Micah, and I fly to Los Angeles tomorrow morning where we'll spend almost a week hanging out with Robin's family, my family, and all kinds of friends. Next Thursday, we fly to Maui for Robin's brother's wedding where (believe it or not) I'll be officiating! This is gonna be my first wedding! Then we'll fly back to L.A. on the 23rd, and then back to Cincy on the 24th.

So, I'm really excited about my vacation. But here's the weird thing about vacations: it seems like there's so much to do before and after a vacation just so you can have the freedom to take some time off. Hence, I spent several hours in the office today trying to wrap up all my loose ends so that I could enjoy my vacation and not worry about any unfinished business.

One thing that I'm learning (partly through this whole vacation preparation thing) is to delegate. I'm convinced this is one of the keys to good leadership. My personal tendency is to just do something myself because I can do it better and more quickly rather than letting someone else do it, giving them the opportunity to learn and grow.

One of the things I had to do this week was delegate out almost all of the youth events for the summer. I've got "point people" for some of the events, but not all of them yet. But I really believe that for the youth leaders to grow, it's gonna require my inability to do everything--and them discovering that they do have the ability to do some (or even all!) of this stuff.

That, of course, goes for all areas of ministry (or any leadership position, for that matter). A growing, healthy church must learn to share the responsibility for ministry.


A New Thing

One thing I haven't mentioned in my past couple of posts is that Chuck, our Senior Pastor here at Union Presbyterian Church, recently resigned. In fact, last Sunday was Chuck's last.

That made today my first Sunday as the only pastor at our church! And I made it!! Whew...

Today was also Pentecost Sunday, so I took this as an opportunity to talk about the "new thing" that God is going to be doing in our church. And I really believe that.

I believe that God is always planning to do something new. The thing that the church needs to do is "perceive it" (Isaiah 43:19).

But that can really be the hard part! The ability to perceive the "new thing" that God is doing requires a certain level of openness and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.

So the question for our church is, "Do we have that kind of openness and sensitivitiy?" I sure hope so. I pray that I and the rest in our congregation might have that kind of sensitivity and openness.


The Church of David Blaine

So I was watching this show last night on A&E called Criss Angel: Mindfreak. Criss Angel is basically a Generation X illusionist who does some pretty cool tricks. Yesterday he levitated from one building to another in plain daylight. I don't get how guys like him and David Blaine do that kind of thing!

And speaking of David Blaine, I had a thought a few weeks ago as I was watching his TV special where he tried to hold his breath for 9 minutes. I was thinking about how David Blaine was the new David Copperfield. David Copperfield is out; David Blaine is in. And here's the difference...

David Copperfield was still in the old style of magic where you have a stage and an audience and exotic props and foofy costumes. David Blaine (and now Criss Angel) is the new style of magic. Where you walk up to someone on the street and do a really cool card trick or "mind-reading" trick or whatever. David Copperfield was a flamboyant showman. David Blaine is anything but flamboyant. David Copperfield comes across as a performer. David Blaine comes across as just a regular guy.

Here's why this is interesting to me. David Copperfield (the Baby Boomer) is the equivalent to the Baby Boomer megachurch. David Blaine (the Gen-Xer) is the equivalent to the postmodern emerging church.

The Baby Boomer David Copperfield megachurch is all about putting on a great performance for a large audience. It's about being attractional. It's about getting as many people as possible into your church building. It's about lights and excitement and stage presence.

The Gen-X David Blaine postmodern emerging church is all about going out into the street to meet people. It's about being incarnational. It's about meeting people where they are--on the street. It's about talking with someone one-on-one and letting them know that they are loved and that they belong.

Don't get me wrong, the David Copperfield church is still great and meets a lot of peoples' needs and does help people grow in their relationship with Jesus. But I have a feeling that these emerging generations will find more of a home in the David Blaine church--where real people say to real people, "Hey, I want to show you something..."