Archive for October, 2006

Scripture for this Week

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16 NRSV

Every time I visit the valley where I grew up, I have a longing to live there again. I don’t know if it is some weird sentimentality or a sincere desire to be rooted in a place where I have a history. As a United Methodist pastor, I’m a stranger and foreigner in the places I live. It makes me think of the exiles. In Israel, all of the exiles were known by name. They weren’t just anonymous Israelites stuck in a foreign land.

Abraham left for a foreign land as well, and left behind his identity as Terah’s boy and Nahor’s grandson. He knew every back road and side street in Ur, but he didn’t know the land where God was sending him. Abram could point out every house and tell you who lived there for two generations, but he left it behind.

I’ll bet Abraham thought about the land he left behind all the time. The author of Hebrews tells us he had the opportunity to return, and we all have that opportunity as well. We could settle down on a nice piece of land and do what it takes to make a living and practice an easy faith. Wouldn’t that work?

Hebrews also tells us that these strangers and foreigners desired a better country. I’m reminded of the song, “Sweet Beulah Land,” by Squire Parsons:

I’m kind of homesick for a country
to which I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
And time won’t matter anymore

Beulah land I’m longing for you,

and someday on thee I’ll stand.
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah land…sweet Beulah land.

I’m looking now across that river
to where my faith is gonna end in sight.
There’s just a few more days to labor,
then I’ll take my heavenly flight.

Beulah land I’m longing for you,
and someday on thee I’ll stand.
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah land…sweet Beulah land.

The strangers and foreigners who are our predecessors in the faith longed for a better country and I pray that I’ll desire that country too. Their witness is powerful; no wonder God is not ashamed to be called their God.

October 30, 2006 at 9:19 am 1 comment

McKnight Emerging

Here is a link to Scot McKnight’s blog. He has a neat article on the emerging movement that will be worth your time to read. Click on the “Foolish Sage” link within this post to reach the article.

October 30, 2006 at 7:50 am Leave a comment

President in ’08?

It looks like Barack Obama is considering a run for president in 2008. Earlier this year, he said this would not be something he is interested in. I have been very impressed each time I’ve heard him speak. He is obviously intelligent and well-spoken. On that note, I’ve decided I’ll only vote for a presidential candidate that appears to be as smart or smarter than I am. Obama really impressed me with a speech he delivered to Sojourners earlier this year. I’ll end with a brief quote that Obama used to end his speech, “It is a prayer I still say for America today – a hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It’s a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come.”

October 28, 2006 at 9:20 am Leave a comment

Emerging Churches: Creating as Created Beings

Early Christians believed that Christ’s resurrection was more than simply an astounding miracle. They believed it signaled the inauguration of a new age. In fact, Easter Sunday was the first day in New Creation. In this chapter, Bolger and Gibbs explore the way “Creativity and aesthetics witness to the dynamic and the beauty of the kingdom of God (p. 174).”

Emerging churches strongly value participatory creativity. As emerging churches refuse to acknowledge the sacred/secular divide, they are increasingly involved in exploring God’s redemptive nature in the previously secular world. They refuse to leave visible reality to those who do not follow Christ, and as a result, they are comprehensively involved in celebrating believers’ role as co-laborers & creators (1 Cor. 3:9).

Kester Brewin of Vaux, London talks about offering gifts as worship, “We create because we are created. The act of creation is fundamental to being fully human…We welcome the expression of any gift: dance, writing, film, graphics, installations, meditations, etc. (p. 178)”

All churches can benefit from this emphasis. No matter what context one is located in, there are folks who have gifts and talents they haven’t used in service of God’s kingdom. Sometimes people think they can only use their gifts for God if they use them to ‘convert’ people. I have never heard churches encourage their members to use their skills and talents as an expression of God’s beauty and creativity. For instance, I have a man in one of my congregations who is an amazing painter. Yet, we have never encouraged him to use this gift as an expression of worship. In fact, I don’t know if he has ever considered this as something that would welcomed in the church as an act of worship (even if it was used outside the context of Sunday Morning worship). I hope to approach him, and others, with this concept and see what God might inspire. Who knows what might happen?

October 25, 2006 at 7:19 am Leave a comment

Emerging Churches: Participating as Producers

In Chapter 8 Gibbs and Bolger discuss the full participation of God’s people in the redemption of God and the life of the church. Emerging churches encourage broad leadership in worship, incorporating the gifts of each person in the church. Their worship services are highly flexible, dynamic, and try to incorporate the stories of each believer as fully as possible. “Emerging churches have a strong desire to provide a genuine community expression of worship that reflects the level of understanding and the richness of experience of the members (p. 172).”

Ok, I guess I get this and appreciate it. However, it seems like the emergent church (at least within Gibbs and Bolger’s selection of churches for this study) can throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Liturgy has always been the “work of the people.” When worship is practiced with intentionality, no matter the setting, it can be a highly participatory event that encourages broad participation. In other words, not everyone has to stand up and read a poem to have ‘participated’ in worship. I don’t think we have to leave liturgy behind to address the cultural concerns that the emergent church is trying to address, but I could be wrong.

On the other hand, I appreciate their desire to incorporate each persons gifts in worship. One of the encouraging things about the emerging church is the reclamation of arts in worship. Sculptors, painters, and artists of all kinds should be able to find a legitimate way to contribute to the ‘work of the people’ in worship.

Sometimes, while I’m reading this book, I think of all the emphasis on community and broad particpation and the phrase “pooled ignorance” pops into my mind. Perhaps that is because I’m clergy, and I’m afraid to have my power and control taken. Of course, God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. So….

October 24, 2006 at 6:37 am Leave a comment

Emerging Churches: Serving with Generosity

In the seventh chapter, Gibbs and Bolger begin to explore the flip side of hospitality: serving the stranger. “Hospitality is manifested in emerging churches as members seek to serve those both inside and oustide thier communities in all spheres of life (p. 135).” In giving freely, emerging churches hope to offer an alternative to the modernistic consumer lifestyle of self-interested exchange. Many within these churches decry the marketing that has defined many of the modern churches. Gibbs and Bolger then cite Alvessdon and Willmott, “Marketing is not neutral; it fosters human desire as much as it satiates it (p. 137).”

“Consumer churches present a relationship with Jesus as the answer to widespread feelings of angst. Thus, Jesus is turned into a product that satisfies needs. The problem is that Jesus won’t satisfy individual needs, for the gospel is primarily about God’s agenda, not ours. For true satisfaction to take place, needs must be reformed and transformed to correspond to the gospel (p. 138.)” The authors then go on to suggest that once ‘marketing-Jesus’ doesn’t satisfy needs, people begin to believe even God cannot help.

Thus, the opposite of marketing and targeting is loving and serving. Instead of the old ‘bait & switch,’ the church is called to serve without any agenda other than following Christ and participating in God’s reign. Evangelism is love and the great news that we can particpate in God’s goodness. It is never salesmanship and marketing.

We need to embrace this vision. Sometimes our denomination on every level thinks that branding and marketing is the answer to our decades-long decline. If we just look fresh and inviting then people will flock to us. They think we just need to offer the right program and folks will have their needs met. I think we need to abandon these approaches and reimagine our life as followers of Jesus who freely love and share the news of God’s goodness. This is who we have to be.

October 22, 2006 at 6:46 am Leave a comment

Emerging Churches: Welcoming the Stranger

Emerging churches intentionally try to model Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom. One of the key kingdom practices is inclusion. Following N.T. Wright’s model of Jesus’ kingdom teaching in which Jesus offered a counter-temple movement that signaled the end of exile, the emerging church integrates worship and welcome.

“A truly missional church integrates worship with welcome. This does not mean that such churches merely welcome people over the threshold of the church. Rather, they demonstrate welcome by identifying with people of all walks of life in their contexts (p. 119).”

“Emerging churches hold to Christian orthodoxy, affirming the uniqueness of Christ. This understanding, however, rather than being a reason to exclude, empowers them to include those of other faiths, cultures, and traditions (p. 134).”

It seems that the United Methodist Church is uniquely poised to take advantage of this aspect of the emergent church, particularly based on our embrace of open communion. We also have embraced a similar mindset in our Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors publicity campaign. However, we seem to be simply thinking in the ‘threshold crossing’ model that the emergent church hopes to overcome. Sure, we want to welcome folks in the church, but true welcome is an extension of Christ’s ministry. True welcome is going into new contexts and embodying/incarnating the gospel.

This is the real challenge. How do we do this in rural/small town/urban/suburban contexts? United Methodism is in a multitude of diverse contexts and this is just within the United States. Emergent churches, as surveyed in the book, are only in large urban contexts: Las Vegas, London, New York, Seattle. The authors talk a lot about club culture and coffee houses. What about cattle auctions and wheat farms? In order to be a faithful pastor in small town/rural settings, does one have to “go native” so to speak? Maybe. I’ll admit, I’ve been really influenced by the post-colonial understanding of missions. I’ve also been influenced by Wendell Berry’s understanding of “place.” As a result, I’m interested in indigenous forms of worship that take place and location seriously. Unfortunately this cannot happen overnight. Longer appointments are probably key to this kind of missional seriousness. This is a big question that needs some serious thought.

October 19, 2006 at 10:28 am Leave a comment

Emerging Churches: Living as Community

“The focus of emerging churches on the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ as distinct from a ‘gospel of salvation’ has produced a new ecclesiology. More accurately, it has signaled a return to an ancient ecclesiology in which mission is integral to church (p. 91).”

I welcome any shift that places mission, broadly speaking, at the heart of what it means to be the Church. However, I’m not sure I agree with the emergent tendency that the authors go on to describe, “If a church chooses to position the kingdom before the church, the the other 90 percent comes into question, and an entirely different church emerges (p. 94).” While Churches who take mission to heart will certainly look a little different, I do not necessarily think it means 90 percent will be up for demolition. For example, Alan Creech speaks on p. 99 about the way buildings and professionalism create a deformed spiritual formation. I suppose I’m uncomfortable with any ‘ecclesiology’ that rules ourt such a large segment of the universal church (from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism to Pentecostalism, and so on). Sure, our buildings and so-called professionalism can create problems, but it we truly hold the sacred/secular split to be bankrupt, then any institution – even the institutional church – can be redeemed for God’s purposes.

What I like most about this chapter is its emphasis on being what I call a committed community of mission. “In a culture in which casual relationships or contractual relationships are the norm, it is difficult to build relationships on deep foundations that can survive disagreements and disapointments. People are more prone to walk away when the going becomes difficult than to work through a crisis to the point where a new depth of understanding is reached.” When we’re in a committed community, like that described here we can live out our commitment to mission in powerful and creative ways, because we have the relational strength to keep going.

In the end, I agree with the emergent movement’s conclusion that we should shape our life as the church in accordance with the practices of God’s Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus. However, I do not believe a lack of ecclesiology makes up for the errors committed in the name of “Church” over the years. I also wonder if emergent churches, as described in this book, can be missional on a large scale. I wonder.

October 18, 2006 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

Emerging Churches: Transforming Secular Space

The fourth chapter of Gibbs and Bolger’s book is concerned with the sacred/secular divide of modernity. The modern ideal suggests that there are some spaces that are cut off from the influence and presence of God. Emerging churches deny this split. Dwight Friesen of Quest, Seattle exemplifies this in a brief quote, “Even times of coffee turned into worship and to a centering on Christ.”

For emerging churches, there are no longer any bad places, bad people, or bad times. All can be made holy. All can be given to God in worship. All modern dualisms can be overcome (p. 67).”

I appreciate the way the emergent movement refuses to “know it’s place,” so to speak. In doing this, the emergent movement seems to have the potential for transformative effects on culture as a whole. I agree with the refusal to live with the dualisms of modernity (invisible/visible, body/mind, sacred/secular), but I’m not very comfortable with the extent the emergent movement, as described in this book, seeks to deconstruct the Church. I don’t see that the refusal of dualism necessarily leads to the deconstructing process.

So…I don’t think the equation looks like this: overcoming dualistic modernity + taking holism serious = stripping away Church tradition. I’m not sure what the equation looks like, but hey what do you expect from a early morning blog post.

October 16, 2006 at 7:29 am Leave a comment

Emerging Churches: Identifying with Jesus

I am beginning to see why I feel ‘at home’ with the Emergent Church movement. Bolger and Gibbs describe the centrality of Jesus to the entire project. The focus is on imitating Christ rather than simply “accepting” Christ. Because of this emphasis, the missio Dei calls emergent-minded folks to go into mission rather than seeing mission as getting folks to come to us. I really appreciate the witness of those who are in the UK pub and rave scene seeking to model Jesus in reaching out to the least, the last, and the lost. In my setting, I wonder how this applies. Perhaps it happens when I go and have a good time with my family at the local football and basketball games. Could being a joyful Christian in public be part of the missio Dei? I think so.

I still wonder how we could take worship and gathering to the unchurched. Like most modern churches, the majority of folks we reach are the ‘formerly churched.’ Where would rural/small town churches meet to reach the totally unchurched? We don’t have bookstores or coffee houses. Is it the local restaurant? Maybe, but there’s not much connection going on there. Is it sponsoring discussion groups? Maybe, but I don’t know where. I really think this is a key area that needs some serious thought for the majority of pastors in rural/small town settings.

I like Dieter Zander’s comment about what most folks understand as ‘being Christian.’

* give a little
* do a little
* pay membership dues
* get a “going to heaven” ticket (through accepting the gospel)

He really hits the nail on the head. Zander continues, “[for come church people] Populating heaven is the main part of the gospel. Instead, the gospel is about being increasingly alive to God in the world. It is concerned with bringing heaven to earth. This really throws people off (p. 55).” He goes on to say that the ‘four spiritual laws’ are not good news – the call to participate in God’s goodness is truly good news (p. 56).

Bolger and Gibbs conclude, “The kingdom, or the reign of God, is about our life here and now, and it is concerned not just with individual needs and aspirations but also with the well-being and mission of the community of Christ’s representatives…The gospel of emerging churches is not confined to personal salvation. It is social transformation arising from the presence and permeation of the reign of Christ (p. 63).” I really feel like this is a Wesleyan distinctive. To me, the emergent movement fits well with Methodist values and emphases. The question is, however, does it fit with United Methodist ecclesiology? I wonder.

October 11, 2006 at 8:24 am Leave a comment

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