Churches of Christ and the Emerging Culture

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As I read Dan Kimball’s book on the Emerging Church a few things stand out to me that I thought I would mention here:

1 – There is a cultural shift that is taking place and more people are unchurched in America. We are one of the largest mission fields in the world. Missionaries will tell you that if you are going to reach people in another culture you have to contextualize yourself to that culture. You cannot expect to take our models of ministry and map them onto other cultures. So what do we do when the models for ministry and worship we have are based on a modern culture while the culture in America that is rapidly growing all around us is post-modern? Wouldn’t it make sense that our ministry models would reflect the growing culture around us? You see this lack of understanding of cultural transitions and the opportunities they open up when predominantly white churches are located in a neighborhood that is undergoing what some people have termed “white flight.” Those churches that turn themselves into a fortress and protect against their neighborhoods die while those who make the transition and continue to reach out to the changing culture around them can thrive. We have to taking the surrounding culture seriously in how we reach out to them. It is a lot more obvious when it is black/white/asian, etc but a lot more subtle when people of our own race live with a dramatically different worldview and culture that we do. This is clear on the mission field but is often unclear in our safe haven worship environments where we have tended to do things the same way for a couple hundred years.

2 – People want authenticity. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that the world needs to see faultless Christians. Because that is impossible and presenting yourself that way a fraud, people have labeled Christians hypocrites. People don’t need to see flawless Christians. People need to see that we mess up in a lot of the same ways they do but the important thing is how we feel about that (remorse) and how we let God deal with it through repentance and forgiveness. This allows us to be genuine about our sin and about a God who is able to deal with sin and forgive us. This shows people God can forgive them too. This also breaks down the old stereotype that Christians think they are better than everyone else and are “holier than thou.” At the same time, preachers who seem to flaunt their sin to show they are like everyone else just won’t cut it either.

3 – Churches of Christ have a lot going for them in reaching the emerging post-modern culture. Kimball makes the point that seekers don’t want seeker sensitive services (removing religious imagery, taking down the crosses, etc). They want an authentic and ancient forms to bring in an experience with God. They want something with roots that go back to the beginning. They want people who take Jesus and his teachings seriously. They want people who are kind and compassionate. The Church of Christ has been like that for years. I think we have a lot going for us in reaching the lost. Kimball writes, “How ironic that returning to a raw and ancient form of worship is now seen as new and even cutting edge. We are simply going back to a vintage form of worship which has been around for as long as the church has been in existence.” (Emerging Church, 169). He says earlier in the book that “post-seeker sensitive” worship and ministry will be more of a back to the basics and earlier forms…”This approach is really nothing new at all; in fact, it is simply going back to more of a raw and basic form of ‘vintage Christianity.'” (26).

4 – Churches of Christ have a transition to make in order to reach emerging generations that relates to point one. We have to realize that worship as we currently has components that are a product of the modern culture that the church of Christ came about. Singing is still singing and praying is still praying and preaching is still preaching, etc. Those things will always and should always be. But the linear format of 2 songs and a prayer does not speak the language of the culture we are immersed in. The order of worship (2 songs and a prayer, 2 songs and a scripture, Lord’s supper, 2 songs, a sermon, invitation, closing song, and closing prayer) is a product of our modern culture and also a product of needing order in the assembly. When the tradition becomes law we have a problem and turn ourselves into Pharisees if we are not careful. We have done this for so long that some people think it is the only way to do it. Some people get upset if the invitation isn’t offered even though the vast majority of people who are reached don’t happen at the invitation time.

This leaves us with a couple of questions:

1) How do we get people to understand which parts of our worship are scriptural and which are based on tradition?

2) What would missionaries coming to America from another culture do to contextualize themselves to our culture? How would they combine that information with biblical forms of worship to reach people in America today? What would keep us from doing the same thing?

3) How important is the worshiper or the seeker’s opinion of the worship? If God said we had to worship standing on our heads and humming would we do it or would we say that is just silly…we want to do it sitting in pews?

4) What ancient forms of worship are still appropriate for today? What would make an ancient practice no longer appropriate for worship today?

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