Why is it that everything I read about Emergent gives me heartburn?
It disturbs me to find that every time a fine person such as my friend Jan at A Church for Starving Artists quotes or expands upon or further explicates Emergent thinking, I find myself frustrated or worse.
Jan has a great post about what it means to get "out there" and meet the unchurchy world. Now that I have been serving in a smaller town for four months and listening to the stories of church members about the place of the church in the community in the past, I wonder if one of the reasons we feel disconnected from the community is not because the church has closed itself off but because the church is increasingly unwelcome in the community itself?
First, I’m speaking of mainline churches, since that’s where I exist, but I want us all to think back to a time when having the local pastor pray at graduation was a given, when a visit by a church youth worker to the public school might have been no big deal, when for those of us in New England the Congregational church was the town church and when the hospital called your pastor to say you were in the hospital.
Privacy, separation of church and state, what else has marked the divide between the church and the rest of the community?
I know the members of Main Street Church are puzzled by becoming so apparently irrelevant. They don’t quite know what to do. Is it really as simple as sending the pastor to sit at Aroma Joe’s? (That’s our local excellent coffee shop.)
I imagine the kind of outreach Jan describes would actually be easier in Old Mill Town, given its size. The pastor could become more easily recognizable than in a big city, and listening for what is really going on would be less complicated, too. Church members teach in the local schools or work in the local businesses. A smaller town church can really know its neighborhood in a more meaningful way.
However…the people who sit in the pews of most mainline churches in decline show limited thinking about reaching out to the community. They still seem to believe that starting a youth group will actually make youth appear, with no effort from the rest of the congregation. They want more young families, they really do, but have they looked at the demographics in their area?
So, people who already go to church think old ways will work, while people out in the community are clearly saying they do not by voting with their feet. Mainline churches struggle with how to identify themselves. How can identity be an issue, they wonder? We’re the church on Main Street or on the hill or right downtown on the green! Recently Old Mill Town decided to buy a clock to put in front of Town Hall, since "our town doesn’t have a clock." Yes, it does! It’s in the steeple of Main Street Church!
Now, I’m doing an Interim, so my task is not helping the church to do long-range planning but rather to hold up the mirror for them about who they are now and to help them come to terms with what they have been in the past. Sometime next year a new settled pastor will arrive and begin living into the future with them. But I cannot help thinking in my own way about what may be (small e) emerging at and for Main Street Church, about how MSC’s gifts and resources might be put to good use for Old Mill Town, about what God might be calling MSC to be in this particular time in its particular place.
To me, that’s what "emerging" is, an act of resurrection, a leaving behind of the cocoon of Christendom, a spreading of brightly colored wings and a flight into a new reality.