Have you heard this term? It seems to be cropping up in many circles. I am not certain as to the totality of the meaning that phrase might encompass, but essentially, it seems to be the catch phrase for a new way of “doing church”.
It’s not necessarily a generational thing, though it does seem to have some foundation in the genuine relational aspects desired by the generations after the so-called Generation X. It’s not about the “Seeker-Driven” services made popular by the mega-churches, like Willow Creek in Chicago. It’s primary focus, it would seem, is in equipping believers to live life every day with Jesus and to go out into the world and make disciples, like the Great Commission says.
That’s all great! I am so for that! I love the fact that God is moving people’s hearts to long only for him, and a familial relationship with his people that transcends any building, or meeting, or pre-planned program. The church is far bigger than any box we can build! And it’s so much more than just planning great, engouraging, life-infusing programs and seminars that encourage people, but only leave them wanting more.
But. (You knew there was a but, now didn’t you?) 🙂
When I heard the mission statement of an indie Christian band today that included a line specifically referencing “the Emerging Church”, I became a bit flustered. While I love the heart of what people (and I believe, God) are doing with the renewed vision for what the church can be, I was so deeply saddened at the recognition of yet another reality we are attempting to capture in a catch phrase.
We have seen the previously mentioned “seeker-driven” mentality, where the focus of believers is (correctly) on the people who have not understood the Good News of the gospel. That’s great! We need to have eyes open to people around us who need to drink deeply of Father’s love – who have never understood that before. But, once we had a name for it, it became a formula, and now thousands upon thousands of churches emulate each other in planning perfectly honed programs that focus on those in attendance who have not yet trusted their lives to Jesus.
We have also seen the various “worship” movements. The transition from hymns to “choruses” and now the full-blown modern juggernaut that is Christian Worship music. The infusion of life, and real, honest lyrics, and modern music that the culture can relate to (somewhat akin to the seeker services) is a great thing, and brings the reality of our Father to a new level. Some really great fruit has been produced through this modern wave of change. My wife and I have seen some of that first-hand. And yet, when it has taken on a name, (such as “the modern Worship Movement”, or “Worship Evangelism”, etc.) or been passed along in outline form at a convention of Christian leaders, or written in countless books – it takes its place as another attempt to bottle something that can’t be contained.
I do believe in the emerging church. I have seen it. We have toured the country (in our musical travels) and visited so many churches in so many forms. In many of those locations, if not all locations we have seen God doing one main thing. There is a disdain for not just the old, or the traditional, but the institutional. There is a hunger for genuine relationships amongst believers. Various ways at achieving this have been proposed and even attempted. From changing the lighting or the furniture arrangement at a corporate gathering, to changing the name or the format of that gathering. In some cases, even the gathering itself was eliminated, and believers met at various times through the week in various places. However it is being fleshed out, the hunger in people’s hearts seems to be for an authentic, daily relationship with the living God, and with his people.
I know I personally can’t stop us from taking another great thing God is working in his church and trying to package it. I can’t. I won’t even try. Perhaps though, as you read this, the hunger he is building in you might be stirred? Perhaps you know exactly what I am talking about because our Father is drawing you to himself in a similar way. That doesn’t mean you and I should try to trace our steps and prepare detailed instructions to pass along to others so that they too can follow our step-by-step directions to achieve similar results. And no, it doesn’t mean we should give it a name! 🙂
Whenever we name something, I believe we have birthed a new entity, which, in the end, will only become a substitute for what we were initially hungering for – a realtionship with the real Living God.
Consider these words from an online book I have mentioned here before. This is from the most recent chapter posted last week:
“That’s what happens when an institution tries to do what it cannot do. By providing services to keep people coming, it unwittingly becomes a distraction to real spiritual life. It offers an illusion of spirituality in highly orchestrated experiences, but it cannot show people how to live each day in him through the real struggles of life.
“… in the first days of a new group forming the focus is usually on God, not the needs of the institution. But that usually fades over time as financial pressures and the desire for routine and order subvert the simplicity of following Jesus. Relationships grow stale in routine and when the machinery siphons off so much energy just to keep it running, it will grow increasingly irrelevant.”
I have seen this so, so often. Friends who give their entire lives to the furtherance of an institution because in so many ways it represents their own relationship with Father. It indeed, in a very subtle way, has become a substitute. Not by their own choice, or even usually, by their own admittance. But it has. All of their life and energy is devoted to maintaining the systems they have created – whose noble purpose is to encourage people’s relationships with God.
But no matter how noble the intentions to start, whatever system we might create – and whatever we may name it – always siphons the energy from us and ends up becoming our master. It demands our time, and energy and committment. Only God is deserving of that. And only he can fulfill the hunger in us – no system or institution or movement can satisfy that. Not one.
Organizing is not bad. Names are not bad. But in the end, there is only one name under heaven by which we can be saved. Only one name, of one person.
No, it’s not Wesley, or Luther, or Presby. (There really is a Presbyterian minister named Presby. Really! I’ve met him!) It’s not Mohammed, Buddha or Joseph Smith, either. It is not the Seeker-Driven or Purpose driven church that will save. It’s not the Emerging church or the Missional church. It’s not the House Church movement, or the Relational Church movement, and it’s definitely not the Bowel Movement. 🙂
If you’re looking for a name for your daily journey with God…
His name is Jesus.