As I am working on my thesis, I am constantly changing and refining what I am trying to stay. One of the things I am hoping to do is to describe the disconnect that is/will occur(ing) in existing churches as the culture dramatically changes. You only have to look at book titles from emerging authors to see that they believe that existing churches must drastically shift as culture does: Everything Must Change, Church Re-Imagined, Soul Tsunami, etc. However many existing churches see the postmodern Emerging Church Movement as a threat (and to some degree rightly so). And some on both sides see what I am doing as dangerous, stupid, and even a waste of time.
Before I continue a bit of a disclaimer: I know that I often harp on finding a centrist position and often depict extremes as equally unhealthy. I also know that it would be very easy to read these statements as a weak, compromising position; I strongly disagree. The easy thing is to be an extremist (in the literal sense) and call yourself right and demonize the “other” the hard thing is to hold on to a central position (Jesus is the hope of the world) and graciously work from there. It is hard because labels are avoided.
Another Note: Some who read this blog or I have talked with see what I am doing here and with the thesis as being an apology for the apostate Emerging Church, as I completely get on board with everything McLaren, Jones, and Pagitt do. Let me be clear that when I read and experience all things emergent there are things that I find compelling and things that I have difficulty accepting (or seeing them as viable for the existing church). I love the Church and as I interact with the existing church, I hope to contribute to the helpful conversation in which we learn from one another.
So if existing churches are forced to rethink many of their assumptions about connecting with the dominant culture, but if this same rethinking will threaten the congregational identity of the existing church what is that community to do?
It comes down to leadership.
Specifically some practices that are rather counter intuitive to many of these existing communities. Those leaders in a common dynamic were looked to be the chief expert, motivator, and decision maker. To navigate the necessary changes the primary leader must take the humble position and allow others to share in the responsibility, when people are able to take part in the process and own it they see its value.
People are also fearful of change not for what is said, but for what is unsaid. Leaders have to be as transparent as possible and put all fears (even the seemingly irrational ones) to rest. Do not allow that small group of the church, who is always fearful to give voice to those who hesitate at change. Over-communicate to the point of redundancy and explain to the point of boredom; not so people won’t ask questions, but so that those questions are answered and they are ready to jump on board.
An emerging church for the rest of us will not look like the church plants lead by the most visible ECM leaders, but it also will not look like the existing church. The culture is drastically changing and therefore aspects of the church will have to as well. Only through a centrist approach can leaders honor the intended nature of the church, but still communicate clearly to the dominant culture.
Don’t worry I still love Jesus, and stuffy church people, and crazy postmodern relativists.