I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. Psalm 34:1-9
This passage gives us a call, in how we lead a church, to boast and to be prideful, but not for our church, or ourselves, but rather for the One who deserves it, our Most Holy Loving God! To boast in God means I am confident and glad beyond measure that He is my God, I am secure in Him and I will let others know it too. It is a sincere desire to praise Him, love Him, obey Him, be formed in Him, grow in Him and so forth. So this translates to how I see Christ and treat others in and outside my church. So I will run the church He has given me to steward in such a way that seeks Him by praise and honor. And then we will bring Him, with honor and reverence, to others. Then, we will be willing to have a self-inventory and accountability to see if we are doing this right and how we can do it better. We will seek how to improve my Christian life, my leadership life, so it is lined up to Him and His precepts and call and not to selfishness, faulty trends, and misplaced desires or pride. So I can present Him fully with love and care even in new ways to new peoples. When we get Christ right, we get His children to come and know Him rightly (this is not so much about the intercurrences or particulars of doctrine, it is about the basics, who Jesus is, how we know and worship Him as revealed in His Word). Is your church doing this in the right direction of His call and precepts (Jer. 9:24; 2 Cor. 10:17)?
What is the Emerging Church?
This is hard to define, and perhaps even impossible to pin down precisely. It is like saying "what is a regular church?" In a nutshell, it is seeking to communicate the Gospel of Christ to an ever-changing culture. Usually, it is applied to a new style of church atmosphere and service that seeks out young people and the disenfranchised of our culture to share the impacting Gospel with them. Since I have been in this emergent ministry, training emerging leaders, and being one myself for thirty years, I picked up some pointers mainly from my failures. It was my uncle, Francis Schaffer, who was keenly interested in this movement and pushed me into this; I was a part of it even when I would not admit it. I participated in it, started some of it, and now seek to reform it. I have made all of the mistakes, yet I am fully aware of all the problems and thus the concerns, as I have them too. This is a movement with many voices, faces, and plans; from conservative God-honoring to the ultra liberal anything goes theology-all with the same label. Usually, it is a form of outreach including contemporary worship with a more creative bent. I helped start two emergent churches in the early 90's; one is still going strong. The one that worked is a "warehouse church" within a larger church that meets in the mid-afternoon on Sunday in a large, unfinished room in one of our church buildings. We have loud rock style music and sometimes sing hymns; we light candles and sometimes have a play. We have used couches, pillows, and seem to have a distain for pews. But we are all about the uncompromised Word of God and trying to find creative, informal ways to reach those who do not like to attend a regular church, even our really good contemporary Saturday night service or our excellent traditional Sunday services. This has been an up and down struggle that took an insurmountable effort to start. We have packed it out and have had our dry spells too. But all this has been done without compromise to reach out to others for Him. The other church I started a couple years before that one only lasted a couple of years. It was a trend-based church; we watered down gospel, seeking to attack seekers by plays, incentives, and being so creative we forgot all about Christ whom we were to share. We had some great outreaches and formats, but the main thing of what makes a church a church was absent. There is nothing wrong with trying new things. Plays are great to communicate God's Truths, but if we use plays without teaching or showing His truth, we are just playing and not worshiping. When I learned that was not good to do, and we rebooted it back to God, it was too late! We had to close our doors.
This emergent or postmodern or Emerging Church is fairly new as a movement, yet is has shadows all through church history as everything has been new at one point including the Church itself. Perhaps this emergent church is a spinoff of the "Jesus Movement" in the 70's, an inspirational application of Schaffer's influence, a journey to new things in order to catch others for the faith, or all of the above. It is a "youth church" or a "Gen X Church. It is as different as any church in any denomination is with the same name on its sign. Perhaps a definition would be this: "providing new wineskins" for His Wine. Our Wine, Who Christ is, His work, role, purpose, and precepts remain the same. But sometimes we need new "skins," a new container to display His Wonder to a confused, searching generation who feels betrayed by the mainline and conventional, religious, institutional church.
What does an Emerging Church Look Like?
This too is distinct and diverse from one another as any other church is. They seek to bring this new wineskin in a creative way. Sometimes, this is remixing some of the classic Christian and historic ideas as well as new and current thoughts. It is taking leads from the past and present, and getting ideas from the classic Christian thinkers as well as the non-western parts of the Christian world too. As I train pastors overseas, I gain as much from them-perhaps more-as they get from me. It keeps me authentic and humble. In some parts of the world, Christianity is brand new and it is a wild west of trying to find what works for each new culture, because the American traditional way doesn't always work well here and certainly will not translate somewhere else. Yet, Christ remains the same.
What an Emerging Church is not is just turning down the lights and lighting some candles; it is more than that. It is not superficial changes; rather, it is seeking to be fruitful with His Call and Word and bringing it to where people are.
God's Call to the Emerging Church
Psalm 34 is an excellent call to make sure what we do honors and pleases Jesus Christ. It is His Church we build, and our local, creative congregation is a way to show His Way to others. It must be set in the reality and functionality of the precepts from His Word and Holy Spirit. It must be always pointing to the Work and Role of Christ and never a stage for us as its leaders; rather, it is to be a place of love and care for those who need to know Him. Being creative, being cutting edge is all OK as long as we keep the main thing the main thing: being a Church of Jesus Christ, LORD and Savior! This means Christ's name is honored and His precepts are not watered down and not diluted seeking to please someone. Why? Because we are primarily His display case, His witness; we share Christ by showing Christ. We can't do that if we seek to neuter our One True God! God is the One we exhort and extol and His lost sheep are the one we shepherd to Him with kindness and care. Going where they are in love and guiding them on a voyage of life to Know Him.
This emergent or youth oriented church is to know Christ first, to be radiant as this Psalm calls us to do. This means we reflect God with joy by our sincere devotion to Him, and our authentic love and hospitality to those we reach. We show His presence by being in His presence. If we do not, we are in darkness; in the shame of our depravity and dysfunction, we try to run a church without a guide trying to show others the way when we can't seem to find it ourselves. This makes a church, even an Emerging Church, void of purpose or on a mission that is flawed, fake, and/or wrong, just what those we seek to invite do not need or are already running from. We should not seek to make more obstacles and dysfunction; they already have enough of that. We must bring reconciliation and the love of Christ instead. We must seek Christ in prayer and in His Word to make sure what we are doing or want to do is right and honoring to His name.
If we get too carried away with our ideas and miss Him, what are we really doing and who are we really serving (Psalm 31:16)?What an Emerging Church Must NOT Do
Some of the foreboding and dangerous things going on since the late 70's come from seeking to bring the gospel "down" to others. This may not seem wrong, but right-or is it? It is the "down" part that is the trouble, seeking to dilute the effect, impact, and power of our Lord and His precepts so it does not offend. This is why many of my Reformed and conservative colleagues have responded so harshly against this movement. And rightly so for the most part. Errors must be confronted, yet we do not want to throw everything away. As Schaeffer pointed out, "Christianity is not static; it is changing but Christ does not change." We need to encourage the good and rework the bad to be good, then throw out the false or misleading teaching.
We have to realize the fact that the Gospel is offensive! Christ is an offense to complacency and the fear of conviction. It is the Holy Spirit's role to convict; we merely bring His Message by our best means in love and with care. Thus, when a church seeks to distort the doctrines of the faith, or hide them, or compromise them, or play fast and foolish with them, or twist them, or seek to make up new doctrines thinking they are pleasing Christ, we have to realize that what we are doing is an assault on our Living Lord even when we think we are serving Him with good intentions. We are not to distort His Message; we merely must seek to communicate it better. And to do this, we have to know good, solid doctrine ourselves. This can easily be done; I have taught doctrine in fun ways successfully for many years to youth and to pastors overseas who have little education. If we reject classic, Christian doctrine we reject Christ because doctrine is about who and what Christ has done. It is about knowing and growing in Him. Who He is, His character, attributes, knowing Him-Is all theology. It is just like knowing a friend or a loved one. The more we learn about that person, the more we can relate to him or her and grow in our relationship. How can we know people if we refuse to get to know them or make up things that are not true or distort them? That is gossip and slander. The same it is with God; good and true doctrine is how we know Him by what he has revealed to us and how He shapes us. When we dilute His principles, we slander God and give a wrong impression about him to others who need to know Him! Our classic conservative and Reformed theology must not be overhauled or hidden; this is not needed or warranted. What we must do is clearly communicate good doctrine in love to others and with respect to God. The sad fact is, many church leaders and pastors do not know it well and thus do not communicate it well. The best Emerging Churches will always draw near to Christ by drawing from His Word, seeking ways to better commune His Truth, and never neutering or compromising it! Because if we do we neuter and compromise the Truth of our Most Great Holy God!
Reforming the Emerging Church
Are you willing to do unto others what Christ has done for you? What about others you fear or do not like? What is your call in this?
The Church itself was emerging after Christ's resurrection and call to the Disciples to build His Church and make disciples. The Church was emerging during the Protestant Reformation as they sought to bring His Bride back to Christ and the Bible. The Church is now emerging again, trying to fill a gap in the apathy end emptiness that countless people feel in many of today's churches. The call during the Reformer's day was to point the Church back to Christ and His Word and away from bad traditions, false teachings, bureaucracy, pride, and apostasy. Now, the times of the Church have seen more than its fair share of apathy and dysfunction. Many of today's churches-even good ones-are moving away from Scripture and embracing bad trends that do not honor God or build His Church. Many of our people do not know the Word or what they are to believe to grow in faith and maturity; they seek only "feel good" messages, "sermonettes for christianettes" and not Him. Young people and many others are seeking something better, more real, more effectual and impacting. They are bored and see no relevance to real life in Church! It is no wonder, since many of us are bored and see no real impact in our lives from our churches! This is why we must reform or die!
Many people outside of the Church are hostile to us. We should expect this (our Lord warned of this in Matthew 10), but of those who grew up in our midst too? Yes! "Organized" religion has its many flaws as it is run by pride and sinful desires while our true Savior and call are ignored. At the same time, many people today are more and more interested in Spiritual things, perhaps more than any previous generation. Yet, many of our churches have nothing to hold onto or share. The Church, for the most part, has left its young outside in the cold to fend for themselves. Today's church has become boring and is no longer the social and personal impact it once was. It is the Holy One we come to and worship each Sunday! How dare we bore His people to the Great Wonder, LORD, and Savior of the universe! How dare we circumvent the precepts of Jesus Christ for faulty traditions or lapse into apathy and complacency! The church does need Reforming, but that reforming must point to Christ, His Work, and His Precepts un-compromised and applied into the lives of our local church and us. We must find delight in Him with joy, see His wonder, and be impacted so we can impact others.
What is the Emerging Church to Do?
Bring Him on! Taste and see that the LORD is good and show Him, all of Him including the joy and life change you have experienced to others! This is being real and personal, putting Christ first and foremost before we seek to do this with others. This, of course, is a struggle of our faith and practice; we will not always get it right. It is our genuine effort to know and grow so we can go and do and meet people where they are. We are to know and live out the goodness of God the best we can so we can share this goodness of God. Our call is to be the people of God before we do the work of God. So, when we are seeking new and creative ways to build our church and worship services and outreach events, we can make sure we are primed correctly to His Prime-know for whom and why we are doing this. There are all kinds of great ideas we can glean from visiting other churches, from the Internet, and networking with other pastors, books, and conferences as well as other emergent leaders. But, the bottom line is that we are responsible to do this right to the best of our ability and situation. God demands and deserves our excellence-not our carelessness and apathy.
The call for us is to love, as also stated in many other parts of the Bible; we are to love authentically and with sincerity. We are to love our fellow Christians and others around us without hypocrisy. This is what all people need including and especially the new generations such as Gen X and Millennialists, or whatever names and labels there are for them. This means we are not to come against others, manipulate them, or seek to control, subvert, or be jealous of them; rather, we are to encourage and spur one another on in the faith, to cooperate one with another, and by synergy, together further the Kingdom of God. We are to do this with vigor and earnestness in an active pursuit from our heart that is in Christ. Pretending cannot do this; it has to be real, as we are called to be real in all that we do and in the stricture of His love, and to do so because of what Jesus has done for us. This is the formula for building a successful authentic emergent church or any church (John 13:35; 1 Cor. 13; 1 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 John 4:7-11)!
This is a call to present Christ to a postmodern culture that has rejected conventional "churchianity" because of our failure to be relevant and show Christ in a real, powerful, and purposeful Way. We have a God who is still here and wants to be honored, and who calls us to worship Him! We, as leaders in His local church, must realize we are the containers of His grace and the display cases of His Love and principles. We must do a better job at this. We must accomplish our mission to know Him and make Him known, while not compromising His Truth so people can see, feel, and know Him for themselves. We are called to do this; it is our job as pastors, church leaders, elders, or deacons, or as a Christian is called to be His Church in the lives of His children. Thus, this Emerging Church is about presenting Christ to His people and those who do not know Him in a more relevant and impacting way without compromising His message and precepts. We must find ways to navigate our culture, contextualize the Gospel (make it better understandable and comprehensible) and capitalize on our ministry as a local church in a Christ honoring way.
The postmodern generation seeks true spirituality; they want to know who the real God is, and how to know and relate to Him. We as Christians have this truth and reality for them. The problem is that in our pride or dysfunction, we tend to hide Him so Christ is not communicated correctly or passionately in love or in truth. This generation needs people to come along side and help them though the trials and travesties as well as joys in life.
Remember, this is not just about new ways of origination and structure or how to tell His story. It is about bringing Christ to people in a real way without concession of His Truth and precepts. Our God is timeless! Our culture is ever changing. The Gospel is the same and our Lord is the same; the only difference is how people see and perceive. People's experience of the Truth of our Lord may change-Its application is flexible-but He remains the same. Thus, we are to communicate His Treasures and create a new package for His Truth without compromising the Contents so others can see it.
Who is in Control of your Church?
What gets in the way of our doing a successful new church start or service or new approach? Our misdirected desires and pride that just seeks the idea without the Lord! And then there are the "others." The enemy of a successful Emerging Church-or any church-is complacency and the unwillingness to give up the command and control of the church, resulting in an unwillingness to move forward in Him and for Him. This usually comes from those who fear change, or new people, or those people with tattoos and earrings, weird hair, and piercings. Keep in mind, that what seems disgusting to some can be God-honoring to others (I do not get this about tattoos, but many do). What are our hang-ups and how do we get rid of them and still honor God or so we can have a loving and friendly church? Pride, self focused will, personal agendas, and fear of change or the fear of new people will drive any once great church into the ground of failure and dysfunction or hinder one from arising when it is so needed. Who is in control of your church? If you are thinking of a pastor or key leader, you are way off. Why? It is His Way that is in the lead, and when we do not get this essential fact, we fail Christ's call. Let's not do that. We will have problems, fears, and it is scary to wonder who these new people are who may come. What will be their problems and situations? Can we handle them? Yes, we can when we are in Him!
I was on staff at a church once where they refused to grow because they said they did not have the right facilities. That was hogwash, I thought! I had been to churches five times their size with far less building space. The only space limitations I found there, and in other churches like it, were the empty spaces in the leadership that faith should occupy. God calls us to reach out to young people, to the discouraged, disheartened, disenfranchised, and the people outside the loop of life and Church as well as the successful images we desire to have in our chairs, couches, and pews. We have to reach out our hands as Christ's hands so they will have someone to grasp. Your church can be His hand; all you need to know is Him and to think outside the box of how you have done things before. Just being fruitful and hospitable is prime real estate for a person seeking a church home or one who has been hurt by another church. The biggest piles of dust to be removed are our attitudes and reactions; be welcoming and open, smile with sincerity, and be involved in the lives of others. This goes farther than any program or new way. No new program will work unless real faith is working from our being in Christ with sincerity and in joy.
Building an Emerging Church
Building any successful church is not about seeking some fad or trend. It is all about seeking Him first, finding His Truth First, and then finding a way to communicate that effectively in life with passion-being creative without disrespecting Christ. Remember, He is Holy!
It all begins with our passion for Christ and then getting a heart for people, and a willingness to bring Christ to them. This is knowing and honoring the Great Commandment as well as the Great Commission (Matthew 22:34-40; 28:16-20; Mark 12:28-34; John 15). We are also to be holistic as a church-not the "new age" thing, but making sure all aspects of being a church are there-such as real worship, authentic fellowship, effective discipleship, ministry that connects people to Christ, and evangelism. We are not to focus on one thing and ignore the rest. Too many Emerging Churches just focus on one aspect, such as worship, and not the rest, the result being that they do not teach at all, or teach very poorly, or have a great laidback facilities but nothing to share, open doors but not open hearts, and so forth. We have to take responsibility for our faith and call and for the people at our door, to share the Lord. This also requires a good attitude about doing an emergent ministry from those in authority in the church-both official office holders as well as the behind the scene powerbrokers. We must all be on the same page of Church life and purpose. Being an Emerging Church and doing this right is simply honoring our Lord, His call, character, and precepts as we do it. When all is said and done, what matters and echoes into eternity is have we tried our best? Did we proclaim the Word in truth? Did we share the love and care that our Lord has given us? The situations, fads, customs, contexts, and cultures will always be changing; but God and His Word remain the same. It is He whom we are to know and share; let's do this well for His glory!
It is all about contextualizing; this means taking what we have done that is not working or is not reaching people and find out how we can make changes so it does work. We have the call to lead people to Christ and His precepts. We can't make them drink, but we can set the tone and example so they will know how to. This is so essential in an ever-changing world. This means we create a map from His Word to people's lives: Where are they? What are their interests? How can we as a church body be inviting to them? These are the questions that will help hone your ministry effectively. We do not rely on our conventional thinking about how we have done things before, especially if it has not worked well. Nor, can we just do what we like to do or see; we have to honor our Lord and reach out even where we fear and do not like to go at times. He is at our side; this is what faith is all about. This is what the Reformers faced and what we face too. The Church has become bureaucratically ineffective for many people; we can do it better, and Christ is here to empower us to do so.
Taste and see that the LORD is good… Glorify the LORD with me!
Questions to consider and pray about:
- What fears do you have about new people? What are some obstacles for people in your church? How can you overcome them, see and hear His call, and have a heart for this ministry?
- What is your image of Jesus? Is it lined up to Scripture? How can you communicate it more effectively to those who may fear your church?
- How have you seen bad attitudes in your church today? What can be done about it?
- What can you do to set up a plan to practice real, authentic worship in order to draw nearer to God? Will you commit to this?How can this be more attracting to outsiders?
- What is something new you can try without compromising His Message, that younger people may find attracting?
- What can your church do better to honor its peoples and traditions that are good and still reach out to those who are disenchanted with the Church?
- Remember your job as a church is to honor, reverence, and worship Christ, disciple the ones He brings you, and make Him known to those around you! How are you accomplishing this? How can you do this better?
When you see other churches do something that seem exciting, be discerning and in prayer. If it can be a good thing, give it a try a bit at a time. Do not try to do too much too soon. And remember: what works at one church may not at another. Seek Him in prayer; what does He want you to do? The best plans are simple, such as just be friendlier and welcoming in sincerity; do not be stingy with the Gospel of our Most Holy LORD:
Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. "Eat and drink," he says to you, but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments. (Prov. 23:6-8)
Do not be a stingy church; rather have your heart in Christ and things will go well for you!
© 2008, (gleaned from a 1992 article by R. Krejcir for the Fuller Institute "Ministry Advantage," and then revised) R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org