In Uncategorized on December 15, 2005 at 12:59 pm

occasionally, even I get tired of satire

from my perspective, the emerging church is, in large part, a missional reorientation of the church. i believe this emphasis is readily evident in our language as we speak of ourselves as people who do not merely have a mission, but are a mission to the world. moreover, our missional bent is evident in the emphasis we place on contextualization (people started using coffee and candles as well as liturgical elements in worship for a reason) as well as the manner in which our ecclesiology has been influenced by churches in other cultures. in regards to the latter, the current emphasis on home churches has been deeply influenced by the preponderance of “ecclesiolae in ecclesia” or small worship “groups of twelve” in latin america as well as the strength of home and relational church models in south east asia. in addition, the non-institutional tendencies of christians that are developing in the hindu and muslim world are now quite evident among us as well on a popular level (in the last year, how many people have you known that have want to eschew the name of Christian or disassociate themselves from the local church, while still retaining a deep – and perhaps even radical – commitment to a life of discipleship? i’ve known quite a few. in sum, as the emerging church we see ourselves as an ongoing mission to the world and this self-understanding has deeply influenced our theology, ecclesiological structures and engagement with the people of the world.

if we assume this missional orientation is true, we have to ask ourselves why many emerging churches (yes, i’m including s & s here) are not “growing” very rapidly or are not as effective at “making more and better disciples” as we would like. i’ve turned this question over a time or two in my head and have produced a couple of provisional conclusions. as always, i would really appreciate your thoughts and reflections on this matter as well.

i think many emergent churches and communities are not “growing” very rapidly or making “more and better disciples” as we would like because:

most of our communities opt for a shared leadership structure.

instead of being clearly defined and/or strictly creedal, our theology is constantly evolving.

instead of imposing a statement upon the church or definitively defining values, many churches believe that their agenda is as diverse as the number of people who are in their community. as doug pagitt once put it to me, “every time we add a member to our community our agenda expands. conversely, every time we lose a person our agenda shrinks.”

our soteriology (def: concerning salvation) is more progressional than punctiliar. that’s a fancy way of saying that we aren’t fond of drawing a line in the religious sand and demanding that people cross the line or telling them exactly what they must do to cross from one side to the other. instead, we understand salvation as something which was accomplished in Christ, but is experienced by us as we continue to submit our lives to God and pour ourselves out in service to the world.

our eschatology (def: concerning the end times) tends to emphasize the here and now rather than the sweet by and by. another way of saying that is that our eschatology is more realized than future in its orientation. i suspect that a future eschatology, especially when partnered with punctiliar soteriology, tends to produce a kind of “salvific angst” in those inside and outside the church. those who are inside are tortured by thoughts of their friends and family going to hell and guilting them with the ole heaven’s gates and hell’s flames credo (“why didn’t you tell me???), while those outside feel the need to hedge their eternal bets. please note, although i am speaking with my tongue planted in my cheek in regards to the latter understanding, i respect those who hold it and even believe that they may be right.

so that’s what i’m thinking. i honestly believe that if sinners and saints appointed one primary leader (a “first” among equals who negates the very concept by calling almost all of the shots), clearly defined our theology, and embraced a soteriology and eschatology that manufactured a little religious angst, we would grow more quickly and make more – though perhaps not better – disciples. however, i have serious doubts whether that would provide the best way forward for our community. i believe that what we are doing is good, beautiful and true. moreover, although s & s may very well seem irrelevant to the world, and to our brothers and sisters who embrace a very different ecclesiology, i think that our little experimental church is quite relevant to both the mission of God and the invaluable lives of those in our community.


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