That question of how to do church is a central one to the emerging movement (which is a big reason this blog’s so attracted to that conversation). Why even think about this question? Because, as few will argue against, the church in the West is facing tough times: membership is dwindling, churches are closing their doors and Christianity faces harsh opposition. Why is that? Well, I’m pretty sure the bottom line is as articulated by evangelical (and emerging voice) Ron Sider:
The heart of the matter is the scandalous failure to live what we preach. The tragedy is that poll after poll by Gallup and Barna show that evangelicals live just like the world. Contrast that with what the New Testament says about what happens when people come to living faith in Christ. There's supposed to be radical transformation in the power of the Holy Spirit. The disconnect between our biblical beliefs and our practice is just, I think, heart-rending.That’s why listening to (at the very least) and participating in the conversation taking place among emerging folk is so important—it matters to all of us who follow Jesus. Consider these parts of An Open Letter from an Emerging Church Leader (to denominational or church leaders) by Jordon Cooper:
I'm a deeply committed evangelical. I've been committed to evangelical beliefs and to renewing the evangelical church all of my life. And the stats just break my heart. They make me weep. And somehow we must face that reality and change it.
This isn't a discussion about leadership styles, worship forms, or what kind of candles to have. It isn't about adding onto existing ministries as a program (as seen in the amount of "Pastor to Emerging Generations" job titles I have seen) but rather a desire to reach a generation that doesn’t even have the church on it’s radar. . . .So, if what we’re doing isn’t working as well as it should (some would argue, at least in some locations in the West, it isn’t working at all), how should we do church? One of the best things about the emerging conversation is that people are approaching the question from various perspectives—which helps us explore a plethora of ideas. Here are two examples I’ve run across lately:
The church seems to have failed at our mission of evangelism and discipleship. We find ourselves surrounded by empty churches that we are afraid or embarrassed to bring unchurched friends to because we know they can’t connect to a culture they have no experience in. Perhaps even more sadly, we are apart of a church that is living much differently than what it preaches. Like you, we want to change that and because our contexts are different, so will be the forms that we use to reach them.
These just aren’t issues for the emerging church. They are issues for all of us in the church. Our answers to them will be different, depending on the context but in the end the pursuit is the same.
Over at The Heresy blog, Leighton Tebay asks How should biblical principles form the structure of church? as he looks at some New Testament passages and observes:
If everyone is participating [in meetings of Christians] then it is pretty obvious that this is a small group. There is no explicit command to organize church activity as it was in these two examples. Many people today would say that the church has evolved from this point. What worked 2000 years ago won't necessarily work today. I accept these points. What then are the biblical principles that should guide our understanding and structure our church?And Bolgblog asks about doing church another way: Church clones -- A problem?
. . . . [I] agree with the point that we are different from the first century context so we don't necessarily need to return to go back to their way of doing church. However we are also very different from the 16th century context which is where we get our dominant approach to church. Luther and Calvin didn't rebuild a concept of church from scripture. They just took over the old system in certain geographic areas and revised it. Today things are different. In terms of media, education, communication, literacy, pluralism, and democracy the ground has shifted. Which approach fits our culture and context better? Which one is more faithful to the strongest themes in scripture which speak to how we should structure our churches?
We definitely have subcultures in the US, so amongst similar strata, we will have churches that look alike - this has happened throughout American history. People need to worship God from where they are, i.e. their own culture, so this is not inherently a problem. However, even with subcultural similarities, no two churches should look the same. Why is that? Any church that looks too much like their parent church runs the risk of violating the priesthood of all believers and 1 Cor.14, where everyone gets to share their gifts with one another. How so?Want to know? Follow the link and find out—and spend some time at Jesus Creed and Tall Skinny Kiwi while you’re at it. This is a conversation in which all followers of Jesus can—and should—partipate.