Friday, January 26, 2007

Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren - part 4: Consequences of Emergent Thinking For Existing Churches and Pastors

The other night, my friend Aaron, who had been running with Steve Chalke most of the mornings he was here last week, in response to Chalke's comment that in Wilmore you can't get a decent piece of fish, invited he and McLaren to a fish dinner in his home. Thus, Aaron ate dinner, not in terms of some corporate event, but in his home with two of the leading post-modern Christian thinkers in the world because his wife, Cindy, can whip up one tasty piece of tilapia. He even took a picture for proof that this actually happened (notice Cora, his youngest, trying to put rabbit ears behind sister Anna...)Well, the evening was a short one, in part, because Chalke and McLaren wanted time to talk and strategize as to how to start an organization that could support pastors who begin to preach this emergent version of the Gospel I've been writing about in pieces for the last seven days.

In other words, based on their experience and the news they are receiving, pastors who begin to emphasize Jesus call for us to "enter the Kingdom of Heaven" in real ways in this world, above and beyond the historic emphasis of calling people to make a decision for Christ so that they might avoid Hell and go to Heaven in the afterlife, will get the snot kicked out of them. Many of them are being harassed by their congregations, deemed heretics in the circles or their traditions, and are losing their jobs. McLaren, who talked about this the first day we heard him speak, estimates that these kinds of fates await the vast majority of those in my profession who decide to go in this direction for the foreseeable future. It won't be until thousands of churches start practicing this kind of theology with positive consequences that "Kingdom of Heaven" theology will begin to be embraced across the western world.

And I believe him.

I give thanks for being at Shawnee. There is an openness that doesn't exist in most churches today to asking questions about the ways we've always interpreted scripture or "done church". The people there are no longer shocked when they hear a sermon challenging literalist views of the Bible, dispensationalist (Left Behind) theological treatments of apocalyptic (Revelation, in particular) scripture, and connecting the idea of service to humanity with the fundamentals of Christian discipleship. I don't think they'd be too happy if I just started taking off in new theological directions (and, quite frankly, I'm too modernist in my own orientation to do so with any kind of speed or determination), but they are willing to hear the Gospel revealed in new ways which is a liberating kind of environment to be in. I have served in a church that contained a rather rabid group looking for "heresy" in sermons (that and the chance to stomp the heretic), and it's by no means an easy, or often pleasant, place to be engaged as a pastor.

As a matter of fact, if you asked people from this particular group at this particular church what they wanted in a pastor I'm sure their "Top Ten Demands List" would include:
1) Preaches "biblical" sermons (a definition that by many can only be defined after the pastor has preached "non-biblical" sermon, but goes right to idea that Jesus dying for our sins needs to be the core message.... this has dynamics you can't imagine)
2) Says "hi" and knows every name in the church
3) Visits members of the church, sick, shut-in, or active, on a regular basis, and makes it a top priority along with preparing a sermon
4) Is available 24/7 to meet the needs of the laity and their friends
5) Worships in a style that is comfortable for them
6) Attracts new members, particularly younger people (whose ranks in the church are dwindling)
7) Keeps the budget under control while not spending a lot of money and not asking for a lot of money, in general.
8) Is Caucasian (or looks Caucasian), married and male (although female associates are welcomed, as long as they don't preach much), preferably with young kids.
9) Seeks proscriptive solutions to shore up every existing group in the church so that the people in those groups can continue their life together.
10) Has a personal and spiritual life that is in order (i.e. the needs of his family or his own needs, don't interfere with the demands of the church)

In church that demands this kind of pastoral leader, what happens when the pastor begins to preach sermons that revolved around the idea of our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven now, in terms of serving others with real needs (needs that are often expensive and time consuming)?

What if they invite people who don't exactly have their life together sing in the choir or serve communion?

What if they invite the homeless to sleep in the church building, particularly when its bitter cold, or invite a local Hispanic population to use the building on a regular basis, and damage to the physical plant ensues?

What if the church grows so fast, or the pastor becomes so well-connected in the community, that the pastor can't possibly know everyone's name, or visit everyone on a regular basis?

What if the pastor led an initiative to engage the church in community development, meaning that the budget had to be re-structured and enlarged, meaning that an appeal for more money from parishioners was necessary?

What if a pastor preached a sermon decrying violence, or the war?

What if the pastor started preaching the Lord's Prayer as its written in The Message each week?

What if a pastor invited new kinds of music, artistic expression, and drama into a worship service to broaden its appeal, and most importantly, allow the incarnation of Christ to be manifested through these different culturally-relevant mediums?

What if a pastor said that from this point on, it was the responsibility of the laity to visit the sick, the shut-in, and one another, and he would train and pray them into this work?

What if a pastor called the local synagogue and mosque, and helped arrange a series of discussions where members of the three faith communities talked about such issues as faith, poverty, terrorism, family, the Bible, evangelism, and politics... and if not one time during the dialogue the pastor called members of the other religions to repent and accept Jesus or they were going to Hell?

Some of you are saying, "Yeah, yeah... that's the kind of pastor I'm looking for!" while others of you are nervously wondering "Um... at our church?". It'll be that kind of discord that will eat pastors alive, and make it impossible for them to discern when they have made a mistake they need to atone for or are just getting abused because they've clashed with ideologies and worldviews that may no longer be valid.

In other words.... I get the feeling that Chalke and McLaren's sense of what awaits pastors (even those who don't espouse emergent ideas, but just can't meet the demands of service levied by the "Top Ten Demands" listed above) is accurate. Here's hoping they develop the resources to assist pastors in moving this direction.

And here's what I hope the "Top Ten Demands" for a pastor becomes:

1) Helps connects people with God inside and outside the worship service, by taking serious the real challenges Christians face living out their faith in every facet in their life.
2) Takes scriptural study seriously, even to the point that this leads to sermons that challenge what has been held sacred in that particular church.
3) Emphasizes the need for people to be engaged in mutual, life-giving communities that love people into strong personal relationships with God, and work in this world.
4) Finds corporate and governmental partners to lead paid and staff and volunteers both in creatively addressing the real needs of a community.
5) Believes in serving and including people in the church's ministry who are marginalized.
6) Believes it's important that all people in the world live in a safe, secure environment where opportunity and hope abound them and their children, and facilitates all kinds of ministry that works to that end.
7) Takes seriously the OT prophecies, which find full voice in Christ that someday swords will be beaten into plows, and humanity will know war no more, while acknowledging how complicated things can be geo-politically to serve those ends, right now.
8) Doesn't demonize any particular race, ethnicity, culture, or socio-economic class as being at the root of all the world's problems, but rather seeks ways Christ's message can incarnate in every grouping of people to redeem them and this world.
9) Admits the Bible is a difficult book to understand, and wrestles with that difficulty through a Christocentric lens.
10) Believes that worship has other expressions than those conceived out of 17th and 18th century Europe, and 1970's Southern California.

And that's all I have to say (finally) about that. A truly intellectually stimulating week. Thank you Brian and Steve for your time and ideas.

No comments: