Tony Jones, the man behind the plan with the cigar (Theoblogy), organized a wonderful little Emergent Cohort for us Central Jersey folks. It was a great group of 20+ who showed up throughout the evening. I showed up around 10pm and conversations were already in full steam. There were some bloggers there (LT, Tony, Todd and Jake) and others who decided they’re going to start blogging (as soon as y’all go live, send me the links and I’ll get ya linked here).
Princeton professor Darrell Guder (in the above photo & author of The Missional Church) came and spent quite awhile down at Charlie Browns with the group. There was no large group discussion, no real agenda, no “leader” per se, just a group of people coming together. Most were from Princeton seminary, but there were some pastors, others who are involved in other ministries (church, Young Life), some Ph.D. students, a very good mix for the group.
It tends to be a bit of a different conversation about emergence when you’re with a group of seminarians – those who, in some sense, are in fact going along with jumping through certain institutional hoops (ordination, paperwork, doctrinal statements, etc). There is a lot of good discussion on about whether Emergent is going to be possible within the present denominational & institutional structures or whether we need to just say “screw the denominations” (I think Tony has some very good things to say in this post, so don’t read this as I’m against Tony. I just think we’re coming from different perspectives). And that is my honest response sometimes as well. I do want to say, “You know what? It’s just not worth it. It’s not worth me having to have someone tell me they’re not going to support me or my ministry because they can’t handle the use of incense in an alt.worship service. It’s not worth dealing with people who fundamentally view the world differently than you do. It’s not worth getting into these theological & methodological arguments that just leave both sides upset with one another. So let’s just get the hell out of here!”
But there is part of me, a greater part, that feels wrong about saying that. There is part of me that things there is something wrong with pastoring a church of only 20/30-somethings, where you lack the beauty and wisdom of a multi-generational congregation. There is part of me that thinks it takes away some of of the ‘spice’ of life to be doing ministry where everyone agrees with you and you don’t have to argue, support and think about why you want to do things differently. There is part of me that wants to see the church emerge from within itself. Will that take longer? Yes. Will it be harder? Yes. Will it be better (ahh, the modern mindset kicks in!) — I don’t know.
There are some exciting ministries emerging from within the PCUSA traditional denominational structures. Nanette Sawyer is doing some really exciting things down in Wicker Park Grace in Chicago, and Rodger Sellers is getting The Portico launched down in Charlotte, NC. Al Roxburgh, who is now blogging with Chris Erdman at Odyssey, gave a seminar at the last Emergent Convention and he called it “God is Always Found in the Most God-Forsaken Places” (I have typed out some of his lecture here, go read it, it’s fabulous stuff) – and he says the most God-forsaken places are the local congregations today. Here is just a short excerpt:
God’s future is found in the temporality, materiality, locality, specificity, of particular people in particular places. In other words, there is no big answer out there that big people bring, even at these conferences. There is a confused people, and in the midst of those confused people, is God’s Spirit and God’s future, waiting to emerge.
The Spirit is waiting to emerge. Are there people who are going to want to squelch the Spirit (knowingly and unknowingly…)? Yes. Are there people who may not understand that some changes in the church could, in fact, be the movement of the Spirit (and not just our desire to accomodate to today’s “secular/postmodern” culture)? Yes, they may not see that. Is it our job to say “Screw you then!” and let them continue to be comfortable within their paradigms? I want to say no.
Let us become passionate about our desire to be committed to one branch of the great diversity of Christian expressions. Let us say that we care so much about the Body of Christ that we are going to suck it up, stick to our convictions but love those we disagree with in our church’s structures and desire to change the church from the bottom up. And let us realize it’s not going to happen overnight (no matter how much we’d like it to!). Could I be wrong on this? Sure. But for now, I’m willing to stick it out, jump through a few hoops, so that I can get out there with the people, with the Body of Christ, and help create a new vision within the current church of what being a Christian might look like…