The working title of my first great book on preaching was going to be, "The Monkey and the Asparagus: the Intentional Posture of Dancing the Sojourner Dance in the Contextual Matrix of the Post-Emergent Conversation.*" Catchy! Inclusive! Hip! Today! Then I thought to myself, one, "Who reads books anymore?" and two, "Surely someone more creative than I has already taken that title."
So rather than bite off of someone else’s wisdom, I end up with a pithy little post about what I think are some helpful attributes of "Emergent Proclamation."
Let me first start with a couple disclaimers . . . aw screw it, I am tired of justifying who I am and what I do as a Presbyterian pastor who resonates with the conversations around postmodernity and the emergent church. If you are reading this you should have some sense of my pastoral approach, but if not [Click Here].
Still . . . I can’t resist setting the context in which I dare to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I currently serve as the pastor of Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco, CA. We are a Presbyterian Church (USA) church plant of about 5 years old, 70 in worship, 90% under 35, 40% Asian-American, 40% White, 5% African-American, 15% Multi-Ethnic, educated, technologically savvy, etc. Our folks come from many church traditions, but are by and large politically, socially and theologically a little left of middle. We could safely be identified as any combination of "Bobo," "Cultural Creative" and/or the "Creative Class." For more context, visit our site and talk to the bobble heads.
So here is how this all started. This past Sunday I preached a sermon that I felt pretty good about. It wouldn’t stand up to the rigors of a seminary class evaluation (whew . . .), but it was generally effective and got me thinking about what it means to engage in proclamation in the midst of what I think is a solid representation of an urban mainline emergent congregation. These are obviously not going to be for everyone, but as I reflect on the art of Emergent Proclamation where I am, here are some characteristics that I think are valuable.
Compelling Emergent Proclamation might . . .
- Engage the Unexpected: Some kind of conversation/dialogue always takes place in my messages either through Q&A or outright interviews of participants. And I don’t just ask questions that require knowledge, but ones that elicit peoples experiences and thoughts of God. I try to help us theologize together. To do this well, one must be able to think quickly or at least not say anything harmful while encouraging honest participation from the entire community. Freaking scary sometime because I never know what people will say, but incredibly liberating for a congregation to engage in the conversation.
- Value Relationships: Just like a wedding where people can soooo tell when the pastor doesn’t know the couple, I think the effectiveness of messages at churches where there is no obvious relationship between the pastor and the community rings hollow. When we have guest speakers, the content is always solid, but the relational component is missing. In my relationship with people I am given permission to challenge and push because they know we are in relationship beyond this time in the week. In such a transient community we cannot overlook the importance that the pastoral relationship is for folks in all aspects of their faith.
- Be Thoughtfully Sarcastic: This is a generation that grew up built upon the sarcastic foundations of Chandler Bing and Jerry Seinfeld. Whereas past generations may experience sarcasm as disrespectful and sophomoric, our folks demand it. Effective sarcasm can’t be patronizing or uniformed, rather it must be thoughtful, critical and intelligent banter that not only makes valid points, but provided opportunity to laugh at and with one another in a way that builds a corporate relationship and story.
- Love the Ambiguity of Metaphors: While there are many who are inflicted with a kind of Modernity "hang-over" and really want me to give "Five Rules for Christian Faithfulness," I am pretty consistent in letting folks know that the faithfulness of their their journey must be one that is discerned by themselves with God, their community, etc. How I model that is by the liberal use of metaphor and story bounded by questions and resources. I frame the story, ask the questions then help folks to find ways to land in a faithful place. Ambiguous, vague, long yes, but when the "aha" moment strikes, there ain’t nothin’ sweeter.
- Claim Appropriate Ignorance: Today’s emergent preacher must get over the institutionally implanted need to be an expert on everything. As DJ Chuang raised in a recent post, pastoring is getting harder because in many ways the church culture has expected pastors to be experts at everything: finances, administration, capitol drives, teaching, counseling and oh yeah, Jesus. And SURPRI SE we aren’t. And while more modern congregations may discover this fact WITH us, an emergent church will discover it FOR us . . . and that just does not feel good, trust me.
- Claim Permissioned Authority: As we own not being an expert of all things, we must also not fall into the "All things for all people" trap or allow people wallow/suffer in chaos when they are looking to us to offer meaningful ways to navigate it. Yes, we allow for people to search and struggle, but we must also claim with confidence our own call to be their pastor. In today’s day and age, when it is such a risk for someone to be in relationship a church community, we cannot take lightly the magnitude of our role as spiritual guide, shepherd, sojourner, pastors, compadre, etc. This is the privilege and responsibility of the call to proclaim the Gospel. I live this out in my context as I try to balance the three-fold nature of the preacher and our call to be:
- PROPHET – challenging current ways of being;
- PRIEST – creating sacred connections with the divine;
- PASTOR – offering a presence of compassion, healing and love;
So there you have it, a few initial thoughts about preaching the life, death and resurrection of Christ in these days of the emergent church . . . Yes, there is room for critique of the model and content, but right now am feeling this is what needs to happening at this place and time on my pastoral context. I hope it might affirm some feelings or give some insights for others who are claiming (unapologetically or subversively) the posture of the emergent pastor.
Preach on . . .
* BTW – Please do not try to figure out why "Monkey" and "Asparagus" are paired in my working title. There is no reason beyond too much coffee and the fact that I think "monkey" paired with any word is just funny [example]. Also, after much research, the title has surprisingly not been taken. But in the spirit of Christian community I offer it to whomever wishes to tap into its wisdom.