There is lots of buzz around the church about what the "emerging church" looks like. So often in conversation it is held up as the model for the future, even though people, especially clergy, aren't quite sure what it looks like. However, there are some descriptors that are often used to visualize it including the words 'relational', 'informal', 'intimate', 'liturgical', and 'culturally relevant'. And above all else it is described as 'authentic'.
What in the world does that mean? I recently heard a young adult say he "hates religion but loves Jesus". Now that gets to the root of the challenge.
There is a movement around the American church to do away with the word 'Christianity' and replace it with 'Christ Followers'. Apparently the mental model of what a Christian church looks like carries huge baggage that a younger generation is ready to dismiss for something they consider more 'authentic', modeling and following the life of Christ in the ways it lives out mission and ministry. This movement implies that the institutional church, including our own, doesn't do a very good job at being 'authentic'. I believe in many ways we deserve this judgement. On our way to becoming an institution many of our congregations have lost their vibrancy, reflectiveness, spiritual vitality and witness. We have become quite predictable.
There are a number of things about our church that should be re-assessed to determine if the predictability is fruitful. For one, the comfort of our liturgy, knowing almost anywhere in the world you will find some similarities of rite on Sunday mornings can be a blessing and a barrier. The routine and rhythm can satisfy our souls but lull us into a state of slumber if we aren't careful. Our liturgy has the power to connect us to God through the practice of ancient rites, especially the Holy Eucharist, the very act that Jesus told us to replicate. If we are going to make inroads with a younger generation and help create a new mental model of the church we must share our worship and why we do it. We must allow it to become 'informal', 'intimate', 'relational' and 'culturally relevant' in ways that honor the basics but are open to emerging new ways of being church. We should not fear how God might be utilizing these fresh expressions to attract persons into community. The institutional church needs to open its heart to how it can partner with those courageous young leaders are are willing to take the risk to try new ways of reaching those who are searching for God. The emerging church will succeed if the institutional church opens itself to the work of the Holy Spirit in this movement. This might mean support through people power, sacrificial giving and prayer. It might mean parallel worship expressions. It might mean taking a good hard look at the way we do things. Some of our churches are doing this work as they journey into the future. Some of our churches are fearfully bound to predictability. Wherever we are on this spectrum we are called to be authentic witnesses to the power of God, individually and corporately. Working with our missionary leaders who have the courage to risk new ways of being church can be an amazing and holy journey. How are you called to be a part of this work?