(I received an e-mail today, concerned as they read my blog that perhaps one of the visions for the future of NFC is to become an emergent church. As I responded, I realized that what I had written might be helpful for more people, so I’ve adapted my answer and post it here.)
The first thing I want to say is that my blog started as a personal outlet for me, a chance to think through some issues with a very limited set of people. What I have written has been with that audience in mind, and I’ve been doing it for over a year. It’s only in the last couple of months that it’s been more widely noticed.
Even so, I think it’s clear from what I have written here that it is not my desire to make NFC an emergent church. We are not a church plant, but a church with a 127 year history, a church with people who have been a part of its community for a long time. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read my post from December 7. In my mind, that very clearly shows that I love who NFC is, and that we must be who God is calling US to be. We aren’t aiming to copy anyone else.
My interest in emergent is not because I want to copy what some are doing, but rather because many in that movement are asking what are very important questions in the world that we live in. The world is changing in fundamental ways. In the last 15 years, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking and talking and praying about generational shifts, philosophical shifts, sociological shifts, and the growing gap between churched and unchurched people. It’s frightening. The church as an institution in the United States is becoming more and more irrelevant to a larger and larger segment of society.
The answer to that for followers of Jesus, I believe, is not to look for worship styles or “tricks” to appear more relevant. The answer is to look deeper, to question whether we have missed something essential in the message of Jesus. Being a disciple is about more than what we believe. It is about more than praying a prayer to be in heaven someday. It is about more than gathering a lot of people in a building on Sunday morning. It is about more than finding ways to attract new people out of the world into some kind of Christian sub-culture.
I think God is calling us to something much harder and more wonderful: to be a church that challenges and equips each other to live life completely for God. To be a church that helps people not just believe facts about Jesus, but to also know Jesus intimately and live differently because of it (“love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”). To be a church that doesn’t separate ourselves from the world we live in, but struggles with the power of the Holy Spirit to be salt and light in a dark world. We don’t just want to build a big and strong church, to measure success by numbers of people who show up on Sunday. We want to learn together to be disciples and join what God is doing in the world every day of every month of every year that we live.
End of the mini sermon. I guess I don’t want to get sidetracked by the question, “Are we supposed to be an emergent church or not?” I don’t want that to be our vision. I want us to follow Jesus and be like missionaries are when they go and learn the language and the customs and the culture of a group of people and figure out how Jesus can be shared there. We must look at the town and community we live in, understand its language and customs and culture, and figure out how Jesus can be shared here. We must each take responsibility to listen to Christ and find our place of service. We must be creative, cross-cultural missionaries who listen to Jesus intimately, who worship in community with others, and who serve and love our neighbors.
And even all that stuff, in my opinion, isn’t where we at NFC are right at this moment. God will lead us through some interesting and challenging discussions about what that will look like, I’m sure. But right at this moment, we’re wrestling with a really difficult decision about what we do as a community when we don’t have the resources to keep the same level of staffing that we have had. We’re grieving at the thought of losing a pastor who has served effectively and well. We’re all struggling to see what’s ahead and how we’ll make it.
But I am so confident in the God we serve. I am so trusting that Jesus has a way for us. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel strongly about some of the questions we have to wrestle with and our call to extend God’s kingdom to those who don’t yet know how Christ wants to change their life.
I hope this eases some of your concerns, and I hope you’ll join me in praying for God’s direction this Sunday at the business meeting and as we continue to try to be a faithful church together.