I'll be interspersing my weekly class reflection on how the reading helps a theoretical church planting team plant a missional church in a postmodern context. While the titles will be boring, the content I assure you will be fabulous!
This week we're going through Gibbs & Bolger's Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. For the sake of making an antiquated attempt to be linear, organized, and thoroughly modern, I will comment on good ideas from each of the four chapters I read that can help a church planting team :P
1. A Brief Look at Culture: "Religious behavior is not a given...religious beliefs are rooted in personal experiences rather in community identity or loyalty to historic institutions" (p. 23) How true, how true! I've given up on the idea that somehow inviting someone to church or telling them to go to a Sunday service is going to somehow answer their very personal quest for meaning and God. I think this also applies to those who come out of a churched background and especially from the immigrant church--appealing to an outside authority from self unfortunately doesn't work past childhood!
I think one way this can impact a church planting team is to realize that in conversations with others, appealing to the Bible or an instituion like the church isn't going to win too much of a hearing. We will need to be careful to understand and truly listen to people's individual stories, journeys and questions. We can not rush to give them "the answer." While I do think that learning about Jesus is best done in community, that is the answer the individual has to arrive at for themselves--and something we can share freely as our own realization and experience.
2. "Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures (p. 44)...[They] remove modern practices of Christianity, not the faith itself" (p. 29). How do we communicate clearly to our modern Christian family what this "emerging stuff" is about? I think it's important to not create needless tension and distrust on both sides, and these simple explanations gleaned from multiple conversations helps cut some of fuzziness inherent in much of the current discussion/debate. Any kind of church planting raises lots of "why" questions, and we need to be ready to answer why we're doing what we're doing, especially among detractors within the family of faith!
3. Identifying with Jesus: "More than simply offering a message of personal salvation, Jesus invited his followers to participate in God's redemption of the world" (p. 57) I remember talking to one of the Navajo kids about salvation years ago on a short-term mission, and when I asked him point-blank whether he cared about eternal life, he said "No" with certainty. If all salvation is is fire insurance, I guess I can't blame him for his answer...it shows a reductionism that really becomes a failure of imagination of what life in Christ should be about: we are invited to become part of God's work (Eph 2:10). That seems like a better way to explain life in Christ to those we reach out to.
4. Transforming Secular Space: "Emerging churches do not occupy a reactive and defensive stance in regard to the wider culture but rather seek to engage it as insiders" (p. 75). I've had to fight this tendency to want to bottle up missional initiatives and package it anew in a safer Christian version. I've thought about starting my own running club but as a "Christian" one, then realized I would just create another Christian ghetto disconnected from where most everyone else is going. So I've stayed put in the groups we run with, hoping somehow to influence from the inside. A church planting team needs to be careful not to be quick to create our "own space" that ends up removing ourselves from the culture and where people are gathering--whether it's renting our own space, or even meeting in our own homes. Thinking missionally will always challenge us from having any space that relegates us into a ghetto.