Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Hesitantly learning

As someone who has become interested in the emergent conversation over the past year, but so far only as a listener, I must express my main gripe with many of the things I have read and heard.

Leonard Sweet refers in Postmodern Pilgrims to the television commercial popular a few years ago in which a man at the opera is talking, rather loudly, on his cell phone. A frustrated diva finally hurls her spear at the man, hitting the phone and knocking it out of his hands. He then begins texting the words: "Opera Just Got Interesting." Sweet asks, "What does it take for church to 'get interesting' to postmoderns?"

Indeed, that's a main question which this conversation seeks to address. And while I am enriched by many of the style changes and provoked by the theological dialogue overall, I can't help but feel that we're stopping just short of where God wants us to go.

House churches, small groups, social projects, prayer meetings, and many other aspects of the emerging church have been lifted, not from church tradition, but straight from Scripture in the book of Acts. Yet what made all those things interesting is unmistakable -- the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus proclaims it in chapter 1, verse 8 and it is the focal point of the next 27 chapters. More than anything else, the Holy Spirit is what gets people interested in the message.

Somehow in the whole emergent conversation, I don't hear many people talking about being intent on allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through believers. In chapter 4, after being threatened by the ruling powers, the disciples regroup and come together to do the only thing they know that works: pray. In their surprisingly short prayer, they ask God to "stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

Their prayers are heard and answered, as the author notes that "after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." Miracles, especially through healing and deliverance, abound in the story of the early church. But where are they now?

Scott Bader-Saye, while analyzing the emergent matrix, asks, "What will become of this movement at the end of the day when the fog machines and video projectors are packed away?" Candles are cool, and stained glass slides are lovely, but where's the power of the Holy Spirit? Are people being delivered from oppressive spirits and being healed of all kinds of cancer?

If we can't legitimately offer what Jesus and his disciples offered, then whatever is emerging is far less than what Jesus intended.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I've been gaining some insight from Randy Frazee's The Connecting Church, which is hailed by Dallas Willard as "the best corporate plan for spiritual formation and growth that I know of in a contemporary setting." Frazee comments that Scripture suggests that "embracing a common belief and purpose built on the teachings of Jesus and the apostles was, and still is, a requirement in order to be called a Christian community." He goes on to say:
Most churches today have not been able to seize this simple idea of rallying around a common purpose because our culture of individualism does all in its power not to let it happen.

I agree. I'm not sure that 20th and 21st century culture bear the whole blame, though. I believe church leaders over the past few decades (and centuries?) have failed to convey through teaching and preaching the same message of the kingdom of God that Jesus conveyed. By not doing so, what other choice do believers have than to believe, yet conform to many of the same values of the society in which they are already entrenched?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Slouching toward Armageddon

I'm sure this means something in the grand scheme of eschatology, but I'll leave it to you to decide exactly what.

Off we go

Yesterday I cast the vision which I believe God has given our congregation to impact our community. It included several programming changes, but requires large shifts in our mindsets.

First, we decided that our mission should be the same as the mission of Jesus Christ, as he expressed while quoting Isaiah in Luke 4:18-19. Worded succinctly, we have stated our mission as follows:

To bring the healing and hope of Jesus Christ to people in Greene County and beyond.

Our purpose is effortlessly lifted from a suggestion by Brian McLaren in The Church on the Other Side:

More disciples, better disciples.

Everything we do over the next two years (and, ultimately, as long as we are biblically minded, I believe) must be directly connected to our mission and our purpose. I'm convinced that the ministry of Jesus and of his disciples and the apostles is the ministry model for today, although in many circles it's still taboo to talk of miracles, signs and wonders. But I'm not interested in impressing religious circles (praise from men). I want the praise that comes from God.

I outlined to our congregation that there are five key components (a five-spoked wheel) we must thrive in to remain faithful to the vision. First, and foundationally, we must become people dedicated to prayer. We must also be commited to building relationships, first with one another, and then with those who do not yet believe. Further, we must commit ourselves to worship, learning, and sacrifice.

What does all this boil down to? A passionate commitment to allow the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. Is that a lot to ask of a group of 17 or 18 folks? I believe it's precisely what Scripture not only asks but expects of believers.

Of course, these changes will not happen overnight. We're beginning 2005 with 50 days of focused prayer and fasting -- including the always dreaded media fast. I believe there's no better way to let God (and the enemy) know that we're serious about impacting this community.

The immediate programming changes that we'll make as a result of this vision are challenging, to say the least. We are changing the name of our congregation from First Apostolic Church to CrossRoads. The name change is based on two primary thoughts. "Apostolic" is an unfamiliar word to most people, even believers, and, as a result, is extremely hard to pronounce correctly. In addition, for a variety of reasons, the name has connotations which distract from the vision and message which we want to portray.

We are also doing away with the age-old tradition of having a Sunday evening service. While one-service Sundays have become more common in recent years, we do it not to follow a fad, but rather to focus more on building relationships. At least two Sunday evenings each month will be devoted to spending time with unbelievers or with believers in small group settings.

Finally, we are switching classes (learning times) to Wednesday evening and making the Sunday worship gathering a family-focused, participatory affair. How will we accomplish this? That remains to be seen, but I believe it's something we must strive for to be relevant to those who would join us each week

Wish and pray us Godspeed.