I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. Psalm 34:1-9
This passage gives us a call, in how we lead a church, to boast and to be prideful, but not for our church, or ourselves, but rather for the One who deserves it, our Most Holy Loving God! To boast in God means I am confident and glad beyond measure that He is my God, I am secure in Him and I will let others know it too. It is a sincere desire to praise Him, love Him, obey Him, be formed in Him, grow in Him and so forth. So this translates to how I see Christ and treat others in and outside my church. So I will run the church He has given me to steward in such a way that seeks Him by praise and honor. And then we will bring Him, with honor and reverence, to others. Then, we will be willing to have a self-inventory and accountability to see if we are doing this right and how we can do it better. We will seek how to improve my Christian life, my leadership life, so it is lined up to Him and His precepts and call and not to selfishness, faulty trends, and misplaced desires or pride. So I can present Him fully with love and care even in new ways to new peoples. When we get Christ right, we get His children to come and know Him rightly (this is not so much about the intercurrences or particulars of doctrine, it is about the basics, who Jesus is, how we know and worship Him as revealed in His Word). Is your church doing this in the right direction of His call and precepts (Jer. 9:24; 2 Cor. 10:17)?
What is the Emerging Church?
This is hard to define, and perhaps even impossible to pin down precisely. It is like saying "what is a regular church?" In a nutshell, it is seeking to communicate the Gospel of Christ to an ever-changing culture. Usually, it is applied to a new style of church atmosphere and service that seeks out young people and the disenfranchised of our culture to share the impacting Gospel with them. Since I have been in this emergent ministry, training emerging leaders, and being one myself for thirty years, I picked up some pointers mainly from my failures. It was my uncle, Francis Schaffer, who was keenly interested in this movement and pushed me into this; I was a part of it even when I would not admit it. I participated in it, started some of it, and now seek to reform it. I have made all of the mistakes, yet I am fully aware of all the problems and thus the concerns, as I have them too. This is a movement with many voices, faces, and plans; from conservative God-honoring to the ultra liberal anything goes theology-all with the same label. Usually, it is a form of outreach including contemporary worship with a more creative bent. I helped start two emergent churches in the early 90's; one is still going strong. The one that worked is a "warehouse church" within a larger church that meets in the mid-afternoon on Sunday in a large, unfinished room in one of our church buildings. We have loud rock style music and sometimes sing hymns; we light candles and sometimes have a play. We have used couches, pillows, and seem to have a distain for pews. But we are all about the uncompromised Word of God and trying to find creative, informal ways to reach those who do not like to attend a regular church, even our really good contemporary Saturday night service or our excellent traditional Sunday services. This has been an up and down struggle that took an insurmountable effort to start. We have packed it out and have had our dry spells too. But all this has been done without compromise to reach out to others for Him. The other church I started a couple years before that one only lasted a couple of years. It was a trend-based church; we watered down gospel, seeking to attack seekers by plays, incentives, and being so creative we forgot all about Christ whom we were to share. We had some great outreaches and formats, but the main thing of what makes a church a church was absent. There is nothing wrong with trying new things. Plays are great to communicate God's Truths, but if we use plays without teaching or showing His truth, we are just playing and not worshiping. When I learned that was not good to do, and we rebooted it back to God, it was too late! We had to close our doors.
This emergent or postmodern or Emerging Church is fairly new as a movement, yet is has shadows all through church history as everything has been new at one point including the Church itself. Perhaps this emergent church is a spinoff of the "Jesus Movement" in the 70's, an inspirational application of Schaffer's influence, a journey to new things in order to catch others for the faith, or all of the above. It is a "youth church" or a "Gen X Church. It is as different as any church in any denomination is with the same name on its sign. Perhaps a definition would be this: "providing new wineskins" for His Wine. Our Wine, Who Christ is, His work, role, purpose, and precepts remain the same. But sometimes we need new "skins," a new container to display His Wonder to a confused, searching generation who feels betrayed by the mainline and conventional, religious, institutional church.
What does an Emerging Church Look Like?
This too is distinct and diverse from one another as any other church is. They seek to bring this new wineskin in a creative way. Sometimes, this is remixing some of the classic Christian and historic ideas as well as new and current thoughts. It is taking leads from the past and present, and getting ideas from the classic Christian thinkers as well as the non-western parts of the Christian world too. As I train pastors overseas, I gain as much from them-perhaps more-as they get from me. It keeps me authentic and humble. In some parts of the world, Christianity is brand new and it is a wild west of trying to find what works for each new culture, because the American traditional way doesn't always work well here and certainly will not translate somewhere else. Yet, Christ remains the same.
What an Emerging Church is not is just turning down the lights and lighting some candles; it is more than that. It is not superficial changes; rather, it is seeking to be fruitful with His Call and Word and bringing it to where people are.
God's Call to the Emerging Church
Psalm 34 is an excellent call to make sure what we do honors and pleases Jesus Christ. It is His Church we build, and our local, creative congregation is a way to show His Way to others. It must be set in the reality and functionality of the precepts from His Word and Holy Spirit. It must be always pointing to the Work and Role of Christ and never a stage for us as its leaders; rather, it is to be a place of love and care for those who need to know Him. Being creative, being cutting edge is all OK as long as we keep the main thing the main thing: being a Church of Jesus Christ, LORD and Savior! This means Christ's name is honored and His precepts are not watered down and not diluted seeking to please someone. Why? Because we are primarily His display case, His witness; we share Christ by showing Christ. We can't do that if we seek to neuter our One True God! God is the One we exhort and extol and His lost sheep are the one we shepherd to Him with kindness and care. Going where they are in love and guiding them on a voyage of life to Know Him.
This emergent or youth oriented church is to know Christ first, to be radiant as this Psalm calls us to do. This means we reflect God with joy by our sincere devotion to Him, and our authentic love and hospitality to those we reach. We show His presence by being in His presence. If we do not, we are in darkness; in the shame of our depravity and dysfunction, we try to run a church without a guide trying to show others the way when we can't seem to find it ourselves. This makes a church, even an Emerging Church, void of purpose or on a mission that is flawed, fake, and/or wrong, just what those we seek to invite do not need or are already running from. We should not seek to make more obstacles and dysfunction; they already have enough of that. We must bring reconciliation and the love of Christ instead. We must seek Christ in prayer and in His Word to make sure what we are doing or want to do is right and honoring to His name.
If we get too carried away with our ideas and miss Him, what are we really doing and who are we really serving (Psalm 31:16)?What an Emerging Church Must NOT Do
Some of the foreboding and dangerous things going on since the late 70's come from seeking to bring the gospel "down" to others. This may not seem wrong, but right-or is it? It is the "down" part that is the trouble, seeking to dilute the effect, impact, and power of our Lord and His precepts so it does not offend. This is why many of my Reformed and conservative colleagues have responded so harshly against this movement. And rightly so for the most part. Errors must be confronted, yet we do not want to throw everything away. As Schaeffer pointed out, "Christianity is not static; it is changing but Christ does not change." We need to encourage the good and rework the bad to be good, then throw out the false or misleading teaching.
We have to realize the fact that the Gospel is offensive! Christ is an offense to complacency and the fear of conviction. It is the Holy Spirit's role to convict; we merely bring His Message by our best means in love and with care. Thus, when a church seeks to distort the doctrines of the faith, or hide them, or compromise them, or play fast and foolish with them, or twist them, or seek to make up new doctrines thinking they are pleasing Christ, we have to realize that what we are doing is an assault on our Living Lord even when we think we are serving Him with good intentions. We are not to distort His Message; we merely must seek to communicate it better. And to do this, we have to know good, solid doctrine ourselves. This can easily be done; I have taught doctrine in fun ways successfully for many years to youth and to pastors overseas who have little education. If we reject classic, Christian doctrine we reject Christ because doctrine is about who and what Christ has done. It is about knowing and growing in Him. Who He is, His character, attributes, knowing Him-Is all theology. It is just like knowing a friend or a loved one. The more we learn about that person, the more we can relate to him or her and grow in our relationship. How can we know people if we refuse to get to know them or make up things that are not true or distort them? That is gossip and slander. The same it is with God; good and true doctrine is how we know Him by what he has revealed to us and how He shapes us. When we dilute His principles, we slander God and give a wrong impression about him to others who need to know Him! Our classic conservative and Reformed theology must not be overhauled or hidden; this is not needed or warranted. What we must do is clearly communicate good doctrine in love to others and with respect to God. The sad fact is, many church leaders and pastors do not know it well and thus do not communicate it well. The best Emerging Churches will always draw near to Christ by drawing from His Word, seeking ways to better commune His Truth, and never neutering or compromising it! Because if we do we neuter and compromise the Truth of our Most Great Holy God!
© 2008, (gleaned from a 1992 article by R. Krejcir for the Fuller Institute "Ministry Advantage," and then revised) R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org/