Posts Tagged ‘Emergent Christianity’

Can you see the 11 Point Buck?

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Walking through a local water shed recently, I stopped to take a moment to look out into the woods to a creek beyond.  A hawk was in a tree.  And there strolling through the woods was an 11 point buck (male deer).  For those not raised in countryside of Western Pennsylvania, that is a BIG deer, a patriarch, a trophy.  Can you see the buck in the photo?

I saw the buck plain and clear.  Snapped numerous photos.  Went home.  Downloaded the photos and realized it is almost impossible for someone looking at the photograph to see the deer.

Being a church trying to struggle forward in fits and starts with a new paradigm within its denominational setting is similar. It is hard to get others to see it.  It is hard to “show”, hard to explain.  And yet it is there.

“Church” is moving far beyond buildings and denominational labels.  In a recent interview with George Barna, Barna spoke of a new generation far more interested in being the church than going to church.  He noted some statistics that point to this demographic shift.  In 2000, 60 to 65% of people experienced/ expressed their spirituality through conventional church environments.  5% gained that experience through other small groups – i.e. 12 Steps Programs, Mother’s Groups, as well as 5% who experienced it via the media.  By 2025, if current trends hold, 30 – 35% of people will experience/ express their spirituality through conventional church environments.  30 – 35% will express it through alternative small groups and another 30% will experience it via the media.

Do you see it?  Can you see the figurative buck in the photo in terms of a new vision for church?

See right there imbedded within those demographic shifts  could be our call to serve as a church.  For example, look at our ministries.  Currently Strength, Women’s Ministry, and A Course in Miracles are all hosted by NCL but not created or run by NCL.  We have folks who attend these programs who do not and may never attend a Sunday Service.  A second example are our online programs.  More people join us online than in person.  For the vast majority, they tune it, watch parts of services, and then move on.  Are they forming small groups?  Sharing links?  Probably and we will never know the full extent of sharing.

I think as well to the Wedding Ministry.  Last week I officiated at a 4th funeral that grew out of the wedding ministry.  That would have been unthinkable 10 years ago because a pastor served his congregation, not those outside of it. That to me now sounds deeply archaic.  I think pastors will serve wider and wider audiences many of whom will not be directly involved in the church.  The definition of congregations is widening dramatically.

What then of the Sunday service?  Of the institutional church know as NCL?  Those will be critical I believe in the same way the “hub” of  a wheel is significant.  Those elements will collect and equip a “core” that in turn will help grow other new and exciting ministries.  And for those of us who constitute that core, we will be called to take a deep service orientation towards our work.  If we focus myopically on attendance as the sole barometer of performance of bring people in vs. us serving out, we will miss the very point of how we are trying to serve.  What we will need is to be willing to dedicate time, treasure, and talent to creating that strong “hub” or “core” that in turn will allow us to better serve God going forward in this new and exciting era.   Christian New Church theology calls us there – a foundational belief in spiritual freedom shaped around core principles, and a profound respect for the individual’s spiritual journey.

Look at God’s Word from Isaiah:

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me?  Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?”

He is speaking to a rather expansive view of the Church!




“Love Wins”

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The changes in Christianity are immense.  Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins”, may just be as this author notes a “game changer.”  I love that idea because Bell’s concept so clearly resonates with many of the core concepts of New Church Christianity.  There is a bigger picture.  Change is occurring in the New Church and throughout Christianity.  It is a change to be embraced.

A Game Changer

May 04, 2011 by John M. Buchanan

When an attendee of Rob Bell’s congregation said that he was certain that Gandhi is in hell, Bell responded, “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?”

Some of Bell’s evangelical brothers and sisters are horrified by his wavering on the doctrine of hell, and Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theo logical Seminary, says Bell’s new book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, is “theologically disastrous.” “When you adopt universalism . . . you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross. . . . This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism.”

But Peter Marty, who writes about Bell in this issue, believes that Bell is on to something important—maybe even something game-changing. And as Bell himself says, “[I've] long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian. . . . Something new is in the air.”

Something new is happening. Denominations are struggling to discover new ways to be church. New partnerships are formed between different Christians who share a common sense of mission, and people of every faith are struggling to relate to people of other faiths in a world that has brought us into closer contact than ever before. Within Protestant Christianity, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are examples of leaders who graciously reach across the old conservative-liberal theological divide to make common cause with others concerned for a just society and an authentic, respectful evangelism.

It distresses me when people on my side of the divide are accused of arriving at our theological and ethical positions out of a desire to be politically correct instead of out of vigorous study of scripture and theology. It’s also a mistake to lump conservative evangelicals together and accuse them of narrowness and bigotry. I come to my positions on ordination and sexual orientation, reproductive choice, health care and relations with people of other faiths not in spite of scripture but because my study of scripture leads, nudges and prods me. Maybe both sides need to stop relying on generalizations and unkind accusations and give the other the benefit of the doubt, assuming that he or she takes scripture and biblical authority seriously.

Rob Bell is accused of universalism when he imagines Gandhi in heaven. Any of us is subject to the same kind of accusation whenever we suggest a little less certainty and judgmentalism about whom God finally favors and blesses. The point is that when some of us come to that new openness it is not because we ignore the Bible but because we are compelled by scripture’s certainty about God’s steadfast love, the amazing grace of Jesus Christ and St. Paul’s assurance that in Jesus Christ, God intends to reconcile all things.

When the great theologian Karl Barth was charged with being a universalist, he reportedly denied it, but then quoted 1 John: “Christ died for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” If you are worried about universalism, said Barth, “you had better begin worrying about the Bible.”

Moving NewChurch LIVE Out There

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Church growth pulls towards strategies of promotion.  ”If only we had the right sign” or the “right add” or the “right music” or the “right preaching.”  Yet we live in different times.  Church growth no longer centers solely on promotion.  Like 12 Steps Programs, church growth will come more and more to focus on attraction.

The promotion strategy does on occasion work.  But when it works, it can actually lead us to the wrong conclusions.  As one author noted…..

Many of us have a story about someone who stopped, looked, listened and came in. (Attracted by a sign or an add) That person is now chair of the church council. But there’s a danger here: when a story becomes an anecdote to justify a strategy, it soon becomes a deterrent to congregational efforts at becoming truly missional. The few who are attracted by the sign reinforce the church’s behavior. They are like pigeons pecking on a lever that rarely rewards them with a grain—but all it takes is one grain in a thousand pecks for them to keep pecking at that lever.

What then of “attraction”?  The terms “attraction” needs definition. It is not the attraction of a beautiful church filled with smiling faces.  It is the attraction of a church whose members actively engage themselves in the world around them.  The congregation’s members then becomes the attraction – not from a deliberate endeavor to draw people via person magnetism but by the compelling, quiet witness of lives lived for a higher purpose, lives lived for others.  Church is a matrix, an environment supporting that journey.

We will NOT grow by traditional means as the church has over centuries come to understand it.  Doctrinal debates and proofs will attract some but serve few.  Beautiful buildings will attract some but serve few.  Even emotionally moving services will attract some but serve few.  (My two favorite Pastor’s – Andy Stanley and Rob Bell – are masters at being a calm, understated presence in the pulpit.)  What will attract many is the serving of many.

That does not of course mean the Sunday service is done, is over.  We need the magic of Sunday.  It is the critical pivot, the “foyer” as one famous minister characterized it. But sustained growth, growth beyond just the surface, will depend on co-creation that travels far beyond the Sunday experience.  It is the co-creation – deep partnering – that brings the Church to the world, that shares the suffering and joy of others, and supports people in cultivating their dreams as God gives them to see them, and refining those dreams into ministries.

Last night I was asked by a friend how NCL planned to grow.  Well, that is it.  Co-creation/ deep partnership/ ministry is not a complex strategy but it is effective. I find myself constantly pulled by the desire to “do more” to “add more” – to make it more complex.  And yet there is this quiet and sure knowledge that growth does not lie in what the preacher does or in the sheer volume of offerings.  It lies in what the Church does, what the Church creates, how the Church partners with others.

Each of you has a dream my friend, one given you by God.  Live into it.  Christ is there as a loving partner and witness to your bringing it to life.  That was His intention in creating the spark that is you.  Not all dreams are realized.  But so what.  His gift is the journey – through blessings and breakings – the gift and holiness of life.  That is growth.  Even failures in that context are life giving.

Such an orientation forces us as a Church outward.  It forces us to serve by going deep.  That is tough terrain yet it in doing that, I think we begin to speak the language, one to another, that is the heritage of Christianity, a heritage not of exclusion but of inclusion, a heritage of life lived for others, a heritage of care for the spirit, a heritage of love and wisdom realized in service. The soul of the New Church.

Emergent Christianity

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Emergent Christianity is a fascinating movement occurring in Christendom.  The name grows out of the belief that a re-focusing on the core of the Christian message “emerging.”  This emergence is not marked by sectarian or doctrinal divides but a by a deep agreement on what matters most.  Swedenborgian thought clearly saw this as key to Christianity as well as well as other denominations: “The Lord’s Church is not in this particular location or in that, but, it resides wherever people lead lives in keeping with the commandments.”

Listed below are several key components.  This movement is well attuned to New Church theology.

Less Appeal of Biblical Literalism:  This trend should be regarded as extremely favorable to the New Church.   Individuals moving from a literal-factual orientation to the Bible to an orientation that is far more comfortable seeing the Bible as historical-metaphorical. [1]

a.     In 1963, 65% of Americans reported believing in the literal letter of the Bible

b.     By 2001, only 21% reported the same.

Focus on here-and-now of service vs. then-and-there of salvation: More Christians appear to be focused on the here-and-now of transformative Christianity that calls them to a more hands-on relationship with God and others vs. an individual approach focused solely on Sunday church attendance and personal salvation.

a.     Don’t want body of belief but a way of salvation/ healing.   Not about set of propositions about ultimate reality but showing a way, a life that fixes the problems that they see.  Therefore about “living out” Christianity.

Christ as Model vs. Christ as Salvation:

a.     Christ as teacher, example, master and we are to be disciples.  Therefore imitate the example of Christ.

Increased interest in Spiritual Disciplines and Sacraments: In NCL this trend while anecdotal is very interesting.

a.     Large Interest in the broader culture around spiritual disciplines Yoga, Meditation, the study of Buddhism, books like “The Secret” etc…

b.     Clear interest in the sacraments of Marriage and Baptism

c.      Clear interest in the spiritual disciplines of Meditation and the 12 Steps as measured by our two most successful small group programs

As these concepts gain mainstream acceptance, it should be a fun decade ahead!

[1] Borg, Marcus J. “The Heart of Christianity”, Harpers, 2003