The emerging church, he writes, "is attempting to turn the church into a missionary community effectively addressing the Gospel into this postmodern world. I applaud the younger people who are pioneering this massive task, often marginalized or laughed at by denominational leaders." Yet he acknowledges his pain: "I have to accept that these new expressions of the faith in the postmodern world are coming into being at the expense of the church that I love, the one that I grew up in and which nurtured me. This is the church for which I am homesick."
Richard writes with wisdom and generosity about the tension we're living into, whether we choose to or not. We are in a new world, in many senses, compared with the "glories" of Christendom. New forms, styles and language that connect with the emerging context do require letting go of beloved assumptions and practices that made perfect sense in the previous context. And this raises important questions for the ELCA and all denominational systems. How do we both affirm the ways that have worked for so many of us and bless the Spirit-led experiments trying to connect with those uninterested in the church-as-we-know-it? If in a cultural shift some congregations have to change radically and some have to affirm their traditional stance, if some have to be planted and some have to die, how do affirm this growth and change (and even death) for the sake of the Kingdom rather than focus on individual wins or losses? How do we care for the traditionalists in emerging congregations, and the postmodern in traditional congregations, and bless them to find forms that work for them rather than doom them to fight on as a minority -- or simply give up on church? How do we deal with the hurt that the needed experiments will inevitably cause?
Richard's maturity and insight is a great model to look at in starting to answer those questions. "My generation can do one of several things in such a situation. We can, for example, as is the case in most denominations, hold onto leadership and stand in the way of all that a younger generation of Christians brings in terms of richness. In many places we are doing just this" -- in the liberal mainline and in boomer megachurches. He concludes:
I know it spells the end to the kind of church that suits me best. But the Gospel isn't about what suits me best, it is about being obedient to Jesus's Great Commission so that it works for the emerging world. My kind of church is in decline, but that does not mean the Gospel is without its grace and power to transform. The baggage that I appreciate needs to be either cut away or reconfigured so that a newly contextualized faith will work in the West, even if it does not show the world the face that I would like shown.If all of us -- traditional and emerging -- could keep this focus, the Church will be the better for it.
Richard's post also offers us an important challenge. He writes that he would like to "be set free from so many of my responsibilities to stand in the background to mentor, advise, and generally be a midwife to this movement in one form or another." When I left a comment encouraging him to offer that gift, he wrote back a lament that "there is today little in the way of resources to support such a ministry. Elders, if they are to put bread on the table have to make ends meet."
It is heart-breaking to think that such wisdom and insight would be kept from the emerging church because we can't figure out how to set people free to midwife a movement of the Kingdom. Surely, Church, we have the creativity to figure out how to share resources and people in response to the Spirit's nudging. Or have our modern, "winner-take-all" roots doomed us to see this as an either-or, win-lose situation, and keep fighting until either the church Richard is homesick for dies or the emerging churches give up and leave our denominations?