This is part 4 of my reflections from The Emerging Church Conference in Albuquerque and Phyllis Tickle’s presentation on The Great Emergence.
For some time the rage has been “church planting.” Statistical data is often used to support the contention new churches grow more rapidly than existing churches. And, in an ever-increasing consumer-celebrity culture the hottest preacher draws the biggest crowds. So, the pragmatic move is to get that popular communicator in front of as many as possible by any means necessary.
Anecdotal stories about supporting these new “latest and greatest” foster good introductions to faith – or so it goes. But, some of the longing for more “depth” leads some right “through” these large churches on their way to whatever is next. Inevitably a contentious dichotomy ensues. Older, established churches feel maligned as beyond hope and newer churches get little respect for no proven sustainability. The polarization is both un-necessary and un-fortunate.
Phyllis Tickle described this situation as indicative of major transitions in the history of the church. The new and the old of the same faith become adversaries rather than allies. Tickle contends this is in some measure a re-enactment of the 1st century. She referenced Ray Anderson who noted these transitions take on a Jerusalem-Antioch expression.
The Gospel Good News movement expanded beyond its city borders of origin. Word traveled something was going on in Antioch. Investigators were sent to Antioch from Jersualem to determine the veractiy of the movement. Despite some cultural differences and the natural skepticism that comes with new expressions, the guests determined a move of the Spirit was indeed taking place. And, according to the Scriptures, they (Jesus followers) were first called “Christians” in Antioch.
This week a large number interested in church planting will fill the Exponential Conference. I have friends there. Some involved in church planting networks and others hoping to provide training for those convinced church planting is their vocation. Those of us in “established churches” should applaud the move and disregard the often painful rhetoric that these new communities grow faster as if our work is somehow less important in the grand scheme of the Kingdom of God.
Instead, we should take a queue from young men like J.D. Greear. He has been providing a series on “church revitalization.” He offers some good insights and suggestions. I admit to thinking from time to time, “I should have written that!”
The pathological divisivenss need not be fostered by our uncharitable rhetoric.
All over the country there are stories of Jersualem and Antioch. And, if we are honest we do need each other. Unless some sort of metaphysical change occurs those new churches will one day be Jersualem for a host of new Christian communities around the world.
The story of Jersualem and Antioch reveals a love and appreciate for both new and old expressions. Leadership support came from Jerusalem. Financial aid came from Antioch. Rather than continue in the same world opposed, they found unity in the faith even if they did not exhibit uniformity.
What are your thoughts?