what would i probably say to young (north) american emerging churches? in this present climate of constant criticism? maybe i am scribbling this more to get something off my skinny chest before the day begins, but there might be something worthwhile in there.
"I have been listening to the latest wave of criticism against the emerging-missional church in USA and I don't know if i am more angry with the critics for getting it so wrong, or angry at emerging church practitioners for either not communicating the heart of what we (the global emerging-missional church) are doing . . or not knowing it in the first place.
The emerging church, if i listen to the more extreme critics, is just about changing the style of church to attract people and keeping them happy, of accepting any wind of doctrine without critique, of finding the coolest hippest trends and adopting them in a sunday service. Of being postmodern to attract postmoderns. Of careless adoption of any ancient practice regardless of its origin or affect, of finding identity in protest against the Modern, Enlightenment or Constantinian models of church.
What the heck is that? What does that have to do with the emerging church? If there are one or two new emerging churches who have lost the plot, or never saw it clearly to begin with, and are now giving the other hundreds of emerging churches a bad name, they should be lovingly confronted with the better way of Jesus. Do it yourself before other traditions do it for you. A little yeast impacts the whole lump.
Dangitt! Some of you are giving us a bad name around the world. Young missionaries in the emerging cultures in countries you may not have even heard about have been criticized because of their use of the word "emerging" and its connection to the "emerging churches" at the end of some eloquent American man's long-winded criticism. They may not have even heard of you and yet some have lost their funding or, worse, the trust of their elders and mission institutions.
And its not because the emerging church in North America is necessarily guilty of the things ascribed to them by the critics. In many cases the critics are wrongly informed. But sometimes the only window to what God is doing in the emerging church is through these critics. The identity and definition of the American emerging church thus rests, by default, on what the critics say. If you had more of a personal relationship with the mainstream churches and institutions then some of these issues could be ironed out before the misfires hit the press.
Why isn't the emerging church getting criticized for its trinitarian missiology? Why not? Its at the heart of what we are doing and it flies in the face of an imbalanced attachment to a particular person of the Trinity at the expense of the Godhood and a whole gospel.
What about being too literal in following the incarnational example of Jesus? Of being extreme in going to his level of contextualization and yet maintaining integrity and purity?
What about someone critiquing our commitment to faith, hope and love? Our crucified lifestyles? Our abandonment of worldly attachments? Our distaste at the idolatry of careerism, gluttony in lifestyle, addiction to academic degrees?
THESE THINGS WE ARE BEING CRITICIZED FOR ALREADY BY THE WORLD. AND RIGHTLY SO - ALL WHO DESIRE TO LIVE GODLY IN CHRIST JESUS WILL BE PERSECUTED. DOES THE WORLD THEN SEE US MORE CLEARLY THAN THE CHURCH CRITICS? IF WE ARE MORE VISIBLE TO THE WORLD DUE TO OUR REDEMPTIVE RELATIONSHIPS, THEN I UNDERSTAND THE CONFUSION. PERHAPS WE NEED TO GET OUT MORE INTO MAINSTREAM CHRISTIAN CONFERENCES AND GATHERINGS, THE LAND OF DOCKERS AND WEAK COFFEE, AND START THE PROCESS OF INTRODUCING OURSELVES AND OUR MISSION.
When is someone going to chastise us for basing our philosophy on the attribute of our complex, Truine God as well as His actions? Is this not what the Missio Dei is about? Our missionary God sending us and our participation with Him?
When will the critics flame us for teaching ministry philosophy straight from the Biblical narrative and NOT from the institutions, sermons and writings of men? Our insistence on Christian character to accompany the gospel message? Our annoying habit of including the Old Testament as well as the New Testament in our teaching? And the gospels as well as Paul? The wisdom literature as well as the letters? The narrative AND the propositional? A synoptic take on Scripture rather than camping out in one corner of historical theology?
When will we get slagged for promoting the Kingdom of God and not just the church? Or not just ourselves and our ministries?
When will we get criticized for our high view of Scripture? That we see the Word of God, mysterious and yet approachable through the Spirit, far higher up the scale (above the scale) of certainty and authority than our Sunday sermons and Seminary lectures? Would we, groping preachers who see dimly as if through glass, dare to suggest our puny 3-pointed messages and worldly illustrations are even in the same vicinity as God's authoritative word? Yes we have the mind of Christ but we think like a bunch of morons and desperately need the Spirit to remind us of everything Christ taught us.
Some of the criticism is good and should be heeded. Iron sharpens iron. Don't despise the wise advice of those who rebuke you.
And some of it is not true but the question should be asked . ."Why do they think this way and how can we give a gentle and respectful answer to maintain unity and prevent error?" "Is there something we can learn from this criticism even if it is erroneous?
I know that a lot of this criticism I hear and read is NOT accurate because I have seen many your churches in USA. Some of your churches I have had a part in starting myself. My observation is that the most effective emerging-missional churches in USA do not look like traditional churches and are therefore under the radar of what goes as "church" or are not considered truly "church" at all. Which is great for your ministry and for you, but I am thinking that NOW is the time to speak out. To spell out what you have learned and what the Spirit is saying to ALL the churches, not just those involved on the front lines of downloading God's Kingdom to the emerging culture.
Sounds like the SuperApostles have risen up and are demanding that you hand over your young. Those young, pierced people you found, prayed with, helped get off drugs, delivered from dark spirits, reunited with their families, sorted out their finances, baptised in the bathtub, celebrated new life with their friends and workmates, and brought along with you to the yearly Christian festival. Those young people, after years of prayer and patience, are now part of the Body of Christ with you, in your church, in your home, in your life.
The SuperApostles want them because their numbers are down, their future is unsure, and they have forgotten how to relate to ordinary people, to poor people, to people who have not read the same books. Much easier and quicker for them to take your spoil. Especially since you have already discipled them and they are now "clean" enough to appear as one of the SuperApostle's NUMBERS without risk of potential embarrasment. They did this to the Apostle Paul's churches in his absence (read the letter to the emerging Galatian church) and they will do it to you by convincing your lambs that you do not have as sophisticated an educational system as they do. It doesn't matter to them that you are following Jesus example and are teaching them to obey in all things in a holistic way, in the law of the Spirit and not the law of man. Nor does it matter to them than your simple church structures, like those in the early church, have great potential for replicating and impacting the whole country, not despite of their simplicity but BECAUSE of their simplicity.
Beware of those who say "truth" and yet are not honest. The real truth-tellers, who you will know by the fruit of godly lives, will also be committed to telling the whole story, whether it is what their audience wants to hear or not, and they will be quick to repent if they are wrong.
Beware of those who say "truth" but are no longer approachable by people of lower standing or accountable to the wider church.
Beware of those who say "church" but have rejected those parts of the family of God that no longer resemble themselves.
Beware of those who say "God's Word" and yet preach the thoughts of humans, who very rarely allow the reading of the Bible in a public place for fear of what might happen if ordinary people encountered the Scriptures WITHOUT their particular interpretation.
Beware of those who say "holy" and are still like the world in their ways and deeds. The way of the world in USA is often to seek polarities, to refuse friendship, to embrace hostility, to see the rest of the world as either allies or enemies. Wars are waged on worldly thinking like this. Lets not be the same as the world. The way of Jesus is not always the way of James and John who thought fire-blasting the opponents of their Lord would be a satisfactory alternative. Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold. Imitate Jesus.
My advice is to go back to the Scriptures, again and again, and back to the way of Jesus. It will get you in trouble, as it did Jesus, and you will be called a heretic, as he was. But you will be confident of His approval, if you imitate Him, for as the Father sent the Son, so He sends us. And you will also find the kind of success that the Father desires. "
and thats what i would probably say to young american emerging churches. but the fact is, in a few days i am jumping on a plane to Johannesburg and one of the questions in my mind is . . what would i say to the young south african emerging churches?