People ask all the time about Emergent Village and the emergent conversation.* They are disappointed/concerned that it is too cynical, too white, too male, not organized enough, not powerful enough or not theologically conservative enough.
I only get 1000 words a week so let me just make two quick points and then I will tell ya what I think that bigger issue is.
to listen to the Podcast of this click [here] or go to Itunes “Everyday Theology”
- Even if the critiques are true – aren’t we glad at some level that white guys are talking about this kind of stuff (making changes, challenging the status quo, etc)? My thought is that if 85% of pastors in America are male… then of course the demographics are going to reflect that starting point. We all start somewhere. You never start from scratch. We all makes the best out of where we begin.
- The emergent conversation is really something that has come up in just over a decade. With the 24 hour news cycle, the blog-o-sphere and Twitter… things take on an immediacy in our ‘plugged in culture’ that is unprecedented in human history (the dissemination of information). But have you ever tried to change something at a church? Most of the time it does not change that quickly! For example, just to be ordained will take my friends 6 years before they can even serve communion!
I have a greater concern: I have broken them down into 3 sets of 3.
Generation: A lot of attention gets paid to the overall changes in the 18-35 year old window. And it should. There is definitely something going on.
I am not sure that most churches are going to be able to bridge the gap that is about to come. That is not a knock against the church – it is an acknowledgement of how difficult the task is going to be and how wide the gap is going to become.
Most churches are funded and/or led by the Boomers and WWII generation. But who those churches are most set up to reach is Parents (35-50) who are generically known as ‘shoppers’. They are looking for a church that meets all the needs of their family.
I am not speaking negatively here, I am trying to sketch out a changing landscape. Here is what I am nervous about: when this Baby Boom / WWII generation retires / passes-on (respectively) in the next 10-20 years… there is going to be a finical and leadership vacuum in many local congregations. We will not be able to keep doing ministry the way that we have been doing ministry.
The problem is that the 18-35 generation is not interested in just doing ministry the way that it has been done – they are not going to just faithfully serve without question or input (for the most part). The expectations are different, the questions are different, and the frameworks are different.
Context: I am very interested and concerned with the Rural, Sub-urban and Urban triangle. I am a huge proponent of contextualization. This is a huge difference from Islam (as I understand the situation) Judaism and even Christendom. The gospel is meant to be (designed to be) contextualized. The gospel of Jesus Christ is incarnational. It looks different in every different place.
Unlike Islam you don’t have to face Mecca when you pray, you don’t have to make a trip to the holy city, and -most importantly- you don’t have to read the sacred text in its original language (Arabic in Islam, Hebrew in Judaism, and Greek for Christianity). Our Bible is meant to be translated!
So we have a contextual gospel that is meant to be incarnated in each locale in a fresh way. This is one of the great distinctions of Christianity that is often overlooked.
In America, however, we have a Consumeristic mentality and so we often like to buy, import and replicate instead of contextualize and incarnate. (if you think that I am overstating it go to a website like Oureach.com and click on “Fireproof” or any other theme and get ready to buy mailers, bulletins, news sheets, powerpoint slides, banners, t-shirts, and a six week sermon series).
I am not being critical of websites and services like Outreach.com, I am simply saying that I am concerned that in my lifetime the gap between Urban, Suburban and Rural is going to increase – especially for the church of Jesus Christ.
(I have had this conversation with Mainline, Pentecostal, and Evangelical leaders. I don’t think that it is unique to any specific style or creed).
Race: I am so intrigued by the Civil Rights movements of 50 years ago. But I am more fascinated by what is coming in the next 50 years. Studies are saying that by the year 2048 there will be no white majority in America.(Canada is in a completely different situation – I will have to talk about that some other time) Soong Chan-Rah [link] says that it will be true of the Church by 2042 – due to the nature and makeup of Charismatic and Evangelical churches.
Black, White, Yellow, Red, and Brown – these are us.
What is the church doing now or planning to do in the next 20 years to get ready for this? I don’t know. It seems to me from all the stuff I come across, listen to, read, and discuss that race and ethnic diversity might be lucky to break the top 10 in concerns.
And this it the great concern of mine and what I would hope to address (to a degree) with the Everyday Theology project. Generation, Location and Race is a triangle that I think about everyday. So here is my three fold make-shift framework that I am employing in my studies to get ready to be a part of the change: Philosophical, Theological and Congregational.
- To be Philosophically credible to the world that we are trying to reach and participate with. My hope would be for an internal coherence – that what we do and say is logical credible and is believable.
- To be Theologically faithful to the Christian tradition.This includes an awareness of the good and bad of Christian history, so that there is a congruence that avoids disorientation and that provides a continuity that brings some level of orientation.
- To be contextual (incarnational) as a Congregation. That each local body would be empowered to have a authentic expression that was appropriate for their community (so that it is not an alien expression that is just imported and implemented or imposed on a community).
My concerns are Generation, Location, and Race… My solutions are Intellectual, Historical, and Incarnational.
That is what I think awaits us in our generation and is our task as we walk forward as global christian who are hoping for a brand new day.
* I usually preferred “emergence” without the strong “T” at the end. That “T” is what makes it a proper name or title that people often see as a brand.