Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Welcome Development?

Over the years, as the "emerging church" conversation became more and more popularized, it has tended to lean in the direction of style over substance. And I'm not sure it's out of the woods yet. But there are signs that something new is happening. For example, has teamed up with North Park University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary to sponsor a summer conference here in Chicago that might be worth checking out. Although, from my perspective, it still leans right (in fact, at least one member of the conversation - see link below - believes that, eventually, "emerging church" will fold into evangelicalism just like all of the other renewal movements of the past decades) this conference does feature a diverse line up of speakers, including women and people of color (although, interestingly, no Lutherans!) addition to the usual suspects. But here's the best part. This is from the web site describing the event:
You don't even have to be especially "emergent" to attend. "Missional" is a much broader term than "emerging", and we've invited speakers from a wide spectrum of belief and practice. All you need is a conviction that the church is at its best when it's giving itself away, and a desire to learn how to do that better in your own context.
"The church is at its best when it's giving itself away..." & our job is to "learn how to do that in your own context." Now, I would say that the church is ONLY the church when it's giving itself away...but I'm not going to be too picky. This is good stuff. The contextual piece (which was at the core of the early emerging conversation, even if it sometimes seemed to get lost along the way as emerging came to be identified with a particular way of worshipping) goes way over the heads of many mainliners, who still think everybody ought to be using the same hymnal. And we may be able to learn some things by listening in on this part of the conversation. (Note to conference planners: We'll learn the most, of course, if you're walking the walk and not just talking the talk. That means, among other things, practicing love and respect for those who come from congregations filled with little old ladies, pick-up truck owners, and migrant farm workers...and helping them understand more deeply what it means to "give themselves away" in their contexts.) But what's even more exciting to me is the emphasis on turning "the church" itself inside out. I'm increasingly convinced that "church" is what happens when we realize we can do more TOGETHER than we can on our own. It would be a good thing if that remained the driving force behind the emerging conversation...and within every faith community. I stuck a link to this conference over there on the right. What seems to be happening here is an interesting and possibly creative convergence of multiple "church renewal" streams. If it's for real, this would be a welcome development. Let me know what you think and if you plan to go. P.S. One of the profs at North Park had an interesting article about emerging church in Christianity Today a few months ago. It's worth a read.

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The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14