6.14.2006

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!!