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Archive for the ‘Donald Miller’ Category

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In the famous School House Rock commercial “Conjunction Junction” the voice sings, “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?” The conjunction responds clearly, “Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.” He simply knows why he is there. So I began to ask, what is the purpose of the Emerging Church? What is it really doing?

If you read enough of my blog, you’ll eventually realize that I consider myself part of the emerging church. There are many reasons for this and a lot of good people I can thank who invited me into that space. I think to a great extent it is also the natural progression of the person I am and the larger era I find myself in. I have always been a risk taker and entrepreneurial. I like art and seeing new expressions that show the beauty of life.

We are in a time of great change and exploration. Some would call this the “liminal period”, or time in which everything is being scrutinized, prodded, and looked at. Liminal periods are rare in history because as human beings we like stability. Our bodies crave homeostasis. We don’t like change if we don’t have to.

It is my judgment, but fairly obvious, that this liminal period was created by the explosion of information age, much in the way the printing press did centuries ago. Our catalyst was the unprecedented access to constant streams of information through the Internet. This explosion has allowed our world to begin to reevaluate what we have been historically fed. For much of the last 1700 years, the church essentially controlled what people digested. You see, as little as twenty years ago, there was no Information Age, no world-wide-web, and no email. It’s funny to think that ten years ago there was no Google, Flickr, MySpace, or Youtube and yet these are now staples in our lives. In order to really critique the message we had to go down to the library to do our research. This was ridiculously prohibitive in terms of capacity (microfiche anyone) and the cost of doing so. This limited critical review to the scholars who critiqued for a living, who we had no choice but to trust. This lack of access helped support control of the message. There is value in controlling the message but this control is almost impossible now.

The Internet changed all of that. Email gave us ways to connect over long distances in almost instantaneous ways. The web essentially became our library as a depository of information. Sites like Wikipedia meant we no longer had to shell out a $1000 for a set of books that was outdated the moment the ink hit the page. Critical review was now possible for the masses. But it was the creation of blogs that I believe was the “tipping point” for the emerging church, allowing it to becomes a mass conversation. Blogs became depositories for that critical review. Suddenly everyone could comment on their own journey and experience and others could share or critique that view. And because of the nature of the web, anyone with access could join the conversation and provide a different point of view. This dialog, I believe, is one of the healthiest things to happen to the church. Suddenly people began to have ways of connecting to like minds in communities of dissent from the norm. There is something powerful in knowing that we’re not alone and that others feel like we do. But it is hard to do when we are dealing with the church.

We also have to thank The Leadership Network for starting the movement. They had the insight to recognize that emerging generations no longer resonated with old forms of church. They had the wisdom to gather new leaders together and look for new ideas and thoughts. But blogs allowed us to take part in that conversation as well. We weren’t interested in simply deconstructing the message, which never really changed. We were interested in looking at new forms that would communicate in context, that would reach those who felt they could never step inside of the traditional church structure. We were interested in fresh perspectives that unleashed the Gospel from its historic shackles.

But some misunderstood this as the changing the message. It was not. It was exploring the message and asking questions about deeply held beliefs that even the church could not agree on. This questioning was an attempt to be honest about what we were experiencing in our faith. Brian McLaren’s book, “A New Kind of Christian” could be considered one the beginning dialogs on being honest about some of the issues people wanted to talk about. Donald Miller’s, “Blue Like Jazz” could probably be considered the second. Dan Kimball’s, “The Emerging Church” was the third. There are probably other’s you’d add but these books resonated on a level that is rarely seen. They took an honest look at the spiritual experience and asked hard questions. And this honesty released people to say, “I agree. There are cracks in the facade. Maybe we should take a look at what’s wrong.” I commend Brian, Don, and Dan for taking these risks, for which they have come under severe scrutiny.

Will some people get it wrong? Sure. But what if we get it right? What if this process produces something the world had been crying out for over the ages? What if the church discovers being the church takes place over a seven day week, not just on Sunday morning? What if we discover our identity as children of the Living God, ministers designed to bring love to the hurting? What if we discover our capacity to transform the world around us? What if we discover a message and a form that reaches into the spaces of each context in a way that speaks life? We’ve been content with good for so long that we’ve forgotten what great looks like.

To a great extent a liminal period can appear like an attack. Well meaning people, who really do love Jesus and want to see His kingdom be made real to people, have created forms that are their expressions (read: denominations/school of thought). Over time these expressions become traditions that have rich meaning and serve a great purpose. For a certain group of people they really do connect people to God in a way that is potentially the fullest realization of their faith. But the problem comes when these forms no longer fit the context for other people and those who created or espouse these forms assume the critique is a personal attack. I get this. Critique can often feel really harsh even when it is true. And when the form is a validation for the person who invented it or even espouses it, then it really gets confrontational. When these forms have existed for generations, even centuries, they becomes virtually impossible to tear down. To do so would be to call them into question.

And therein lies the rub. Progress sometimes looks like regress to some people, which is why I believe the Emerging Church is so valuable. We need people who are willing to take steps into the wilderness and look for what will speak to the emerging generations. We’re aware that the world has shifted to a global perspective. We’re aware that trust is a big issue and that authenticity is demanded. Pretty packages and emphasis on “show” only reveal a lack of belief in the message. We just don’t have time for phonies anymore. We can spot him six miles away and have a critical response in three minutes work on Google. Don’t expect us to simply fall in line because we now know we don’t have to. We live in an age where freedom of expression is expected. And these expressions exist because we’re each wired differently. Our expressions of faith don’t invalidate yours. It reveals the beauty of diversity. God created us differently. We have the thumb print to prove it. This is our creativity.

We’re informed about other religions for the sake of communicating with our neighbors who are Buddhist and Islamic or even atheists. We no longer connect to our grandparents belief that this is a Christian nation. It really doesn’t have to be because we know that God is bigger than our president or who ever else is in power. We know that His Kingdom is more powerful than anything we can create or legislate because His kingdom is built on love and redemption.

And central to all of this lab work is that we know our function. To engage God’s mission of restoration to all of creation. The emerging church, from my perspective, is serving much like a company’s R&D department. (This is a metaphor people, so don’t go postal on me about bringing business ideas into the church.) We’re in the lab looking for the forms that reveal our function and connect to our generation. We not afraid to explore the fringes of our faith because we’ve completely bought into the idea that we’re forgiven and living in grace. And this forgiveness allows us to live in the world but not be of it. It allows us to explore what it means to love our neighbor without worrying that he’s going to corrupt us. We’re more likely to restore him because we recognize how important he is in God’s creation. We’re not afraid that we’re going to fail because we know that is part of the process. But our mission defines the development. We’re looking for forms that communicate redemption and restoration. And central to the message is and always will be Christ birth, death and resurrection.

But we’re also going to succeed. We’re going to find the essence AND form in context of what it means to Love God and love our neighbor as we engage God’s mission of restoration. We’re going to be part of something bigger than ourselves as we bring love to a hurting world. We’re interested in restoring ALL of creation; our brothers in Africa and the people next door who are homosexual, or goth, or just like you and me. How we do this is still in development. But why we do this is never up for debate; because He chose to first love. He is bent on restoring what He started. And that is something I want to be part of.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

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I love Rick McKinley. If you haven’t heard him. You should. And you can. His podcast is exceptional at Imago Dei, and this audio session from Catalyst is a good start to really get an idea of the person his is. He’s also the pastor of Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz.

But if you listen to this session from Catalyst, he asks a really good question. Can we effectively do the “how to” if we don’t have the “want to”? And how many people do we know who truly have the want to if they were really honest?

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