There comes a time when all things must be laid to rest no matter how important or vibrant they once were. Imagine if you saw your neighbors watering their tomato plants in the middle of December with six inches of snow on the ground. What if your crazy neighbor has a taxidermy pet that he still talks to and tries to play fetch with. We laugh at these images; however, often in the church we are not far off from this.
When the church was finally accepting that it was ministering to baby boomers and baby busters, it was already well into dealing with a clearly postmodern generation. And now that decent books about postmodernism in the church are finally being written, and we are finally accepting and getting a handle on it, I can’t help but wonder if once again we have missed the death of one paradigm and birth of another. Are we running in at the last moment with the much-needed transplant just as the patient is coding on the table? Are we watering the tomatoes in December?
Apart from a few forward progressive thinkers like John Wesley who stretched the boundaries in order be effective, for the most part, the church has been a day late and a dollar short when it comes to cultural relevancy.
It is the opinion of many that when you boil it all down to its absolute most basic form, postmodernism coalesces to one major idea, which is that there is no such thing as absolute truth. It is basic relativism. While I agree that this was a major theme in the culture of the 90s and while it is still taught in modern academia, it is not held by the majority of America anymore. Most importantly, it certainly does not seem to be a characteristic of the emerging church.
So the question is then, what is the new emerging church really asking and thinking about now? To answer that we need look no further that our own televisions. What is the most prevalent TV genre on right now? Reality TV. But here is the real kicker. The defining characteristic of Reality TV is that it’s not real at all. It’s just as phony and staged as Three’s Company.
Although we know at a conscious level that reality TV is not real, it has the added benefit of “feeling real.” It has a gritty, contextualized, locker room smell, kind of realness to it that is either driving the culture or reflecting it—I hardly know which. For another taste of this same idea you can watch the movie Crash, in which the theme of the movie is basically that people have become so disjointed and unconnected that they will crash into each other simply to feel something … anything.
You might be wondering what brought me to these conclusions—and perhaps that is the more interesting part.
A little over a year ago an idea was born; an idea that was born out of a question. How do you expose people to the gospel that will never set foot in a regular church? If Jesus really is the answer (and He is) then how does one present Him to those people who need answers? Furthermore, how can we be sure that we even know what questions are being asked?
What would happen if people met with the purpose of entering into genuine Spirit-inspired worship and studied the word without any of the trappings of traditional church? No pews, no ushers, no dress code, no formality, no church building, no budgets, no politics and nothing added to the word of God. No attempt to make it say something it doesn’t, only a sincere attempt to strip away all the church stuff and leave only authentic worship and the life-transforming message of the word of God. If we truly engage the culture the way Jesus did, in their language and their way, what would happen?
What I have found has challenged everything I ever thought about the emerging church. I am now the pastor/teacher of a new ministry where we are discovering that today most people have no problem with absolute truth. In fact most people gravitate toward it. What they want is a real connection and community. Realness, for lack of a better word. I would say that a defining characteristic of the post-postmodern church is that, instead of giving answers from the pulpit with a three-point homiletically prose sermon, we are challenging people to ask questions and tell the story of their “real” spiritual journey and find answers together.
It is a method that has been both liberating and terrifying at the same time. It is liberating because it frees us up to be authentic with our faith and come down off of unrealistic and unhealthy pedestals that have long done damage in the kingdom, yet, terrifying because there is no rulebook to follow, no “purpose-driven” bases to run around; only one guiding principal of coming along side people in their spiritual journey and pointing them to Christ.
In the first seven weeks we have watched the transformation of people who have never been anything but “religious.” There is one guy coming who has never been in church but is now beginning to witness to his tattoo artist. Some have “done church” in the past while others haven’t—and we are able to see them combine to become the real church. All this without benefit of a "church building." Instead we meet in the community center.
I am humbled to be a part of it. If nothing else it has caused me to keep dreaming and keep believing. Whether we like it or not, change is coming and in many ways it is already here. I can only pray that we will water the plants in the summer in time for the growing and harvesting. Let’s not wait until the next winter is already upon us.