This is a printing of an article that was just published by the Association on Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) in their Quarterly resource, The Advocate. This is a mish-mash of many other thoughts I have spouted here before, but there you have it!
I am always a little wary of writing anything to do with the “emergent” or “postmodern” church because I usually find there is not enough space to lay a sufficient foundation to address questions around their meanings and implications for the church. I also find difficulty in separating aspects of an emergent church experience into areas such as community, worship, administration, evangelism, etc., so if you notice that some of my observations and suggestions can be applied across church structural lines, BINGO! With all of this said, I still use these terms because one by-product of thinking about worldview shifts in culture and church is the inevitable realization that the church in a “postmodern” context IS different than most churches today and deserves at least an attempt at its interpretation within the larger church context.
What is “postmodernity?” // My working definition is a hodge-podge of thoughts from Len Sweet, Brian McClaren and many others, much smarter than myself. “Postmodernity is a paradoxical worldview that flows from a modernist worldview and is characterized by a shift in culture that moves from being scientific, analytical, institutional, and mechanical to one driven by the mystical, experiential, relational, and organic.”
What is “emergent?” // The “emergent” or “emerging” church is simply the manifestation/s of postmodernity in the church. See . . . simple isn’t it 😉
What is my context? // I will be the first to admit that the context in which I serve, Mission Bay Community Church, is unique and not like many other PC(USA) congregations. With a full embracing of online social networking as essential to community, ambiguity as a reality to be navigated and an approach to church that reeks of cynicism if not outright irreverence, I fully understand that I am in a unique situation. Our folks do not need to have the existence of a postmodern worldview proven to them, they expect it to be manifested at all times in the church.
Again, while there are many ways to talk about postmodernity in the church, one element that I believe is essential when thinking about worship is this, the emergent church is not about methodology and the “How To’s” of DOing church, but is more about the posture of worship and the approach to BEing church. An emergent worship experience is not just about the “tactics” of burning candles, sitting on couches and wearing jeans, but about the foundational worldview that may create a natural inclination towards and an appreciation for those elements. An emergent worship experience can just as easily exist within a traditionally high-church context; it is just that at this point in the life of the church, my guess is that most churches of this ilk are grounded in a distinctly modern worldview. With this in mind, I offer a few essential “approaches” to BEing an emergent worship experience rather than a “toolbox” for DOing an emergent worship service.
Consistently be real // Nothing is more non-emergent than the multiplicities of compartmentalizing that happen in worship. From the pastor who gets up and puts on his/her “Preacher Voice” to a congregation that looks or sounds NOTHING like their website or yellow pages ad, consistency of self at all levels of church structure and personal interaction is vital.
Boldly Embrace the Grey // While most churches today try to explain away or figure out how to conquer chaos and ambiguity, an emergent worship experience embraces life in the midst of ambiguity as an wonderful opportunity to seek God’s guidance and live out one’s faith. No longer should we strive towards a life in opposition to ambiguity, but a peace of heart and mind informed by and in the midst of it.
Truly Appreciate the Other // It is one thing to have an outward image of diversity and tolerance of others, but without true cultural competency, this inauthentic diversity amounts to not much more than tokenism and window dressing. An emergent worship experience does not have diversity for diversity’s sake, nor does it simply tolerate differences in culture, class, theology, politics, lifestyle, etc. An emergent service will be able to show true appreciation for the diversity in it’s midst, an appreciation that does not always mean approval, but an affirmation that others’ journeys and context are just as valid to be part of the grander walk of faith.
Humbly Claim A Truth // Every church must claim some kind of “truth.” How that “truth” is held and perceived is at the core of any emergent worship experience. While claiming a little “t” truth – in our case a belief in the redeeming power of the life, death and resurrection of Christ – an emergent church never claims the big “T” Truth that renders all other’s perspectives false. An emergent worship experience exists in this seemingly unsettled place holding dear to the belief that it is in the humble sharing and exchange of multiple takes on truth that each one’s understandings of Truth is made more clear, meaningful and whole.
So there you have it, a few tasty tidbits for you to digest in thinking about and engaging in the whole emergent and postmodern discourse. I hope that there has been something that maybe helpful for your and your communities journey.