Q & A

Here’s a question that I thought would be worth sharing …

I want to first thank you for your willingness to publish, speak, and be an effective church leader. I remember reading “A New Kind of Christian.” … I can remember being like Dan Poole, wanting to swing a stick at you… trust me that is not the case anymore, for the most part. I have heard you speak at YS Conventions, Willow Creek (Shift 2008) and appreciate you generous nature you bring to the pulpit, and gracious spirit you have for those who have criticized you.
Ok, to my question. I find myself in trouble in my local congregation because I have read and taught from your books. I was recently called a heretic recently …
HOW, does someone who finds herself as “emergent” exist in a local congregation that is more comfortable with closed systems, black and white answers, rigid orthodoxy and legalistic orthopraxy? I love my church, but feel I am no longer a fit, the problem is, in searching for another system, there are not many churches that have progressed, if I may use that term, to this more “generous orthodoxy.”
I have now read all of your books, and while I don’t always agree with you, I always respect you. What does someone who is “generous” do with a church that is “ungenerous”. Basically, what I am asking, how does someone who thinks like you, agrees with you (mostly) and wants to dialogue more than dictate exist in the modern church in America?

OK. For a reply …

First, I need to tell you that you’re not alone. I hear from so many gifted young leaders like yourself who are facing the same struggle. You’re not only not alone now, but this is a common experience back through church history. For example, imagine what it would have been like …
– to have accepted the unconventional pattern of St Patrick or St. Francis in a church that considered them to be extremists.
– to have believed that Copernicus and Galileo were right about the earth not being in the center of the universe …
– to have accepted ideas of the Reformation in a church that wasn’t yet on board.
– to have become an abolitionist in one of the vast majority of churches that were pro-slavery in the 1830’s or 1840’s.
– to have believed that Dr. King was right and Jim Crowe laws were wrong in the 1950’s or early 1960’s here in the US, or to have believed that Apartheid was wrong in white South African churches through the 1980’s.
– to have resisted the agenda of the Religious Right in churches that were accepting it hook, line, and sinker in the 1980’s and 1990’s and early 2000’s …
I know that doesn’t solve your problem, but I hope it gives you some perspective. To be faithful to Jesus is a rough go more often than not.
Second, I’d recommend if you find some of my ideas helpful, you don’t quote me. Root what you need to say in Scripture … I believe that anything worthwhile that I say can be validated in the Bible.
By way of practical suggestions, here are a few. I wish they were easier and better!
1. You may need to go to your church leaders and simply come clean, taking a risk and being vulnerable. Share with them your honest questions, beliefs, and changing views. Then ask, “Would you rather someone like me leave? And if so, how could we do this in a charitable, God-honoring, and mutually respectful way?” They may want you to stay – and you could explore ways that could work.
2. Short of #1, you may need to simply do your job in ways that satisfy your employer and don’t violate your conscience – for a time at least. For example, you don’t have to preach on “emergent” subjects that disturb the congregation: you can focus on topics that are mutually acceptable. Then, in your free time (off the church payroll), you are free to invite people from outside your church over to your home to discuss things in a freer context. In other words, in the short-run, you might be able to see your church job as a kind of “tent-making” where you prove yourself an exemplary employee – extraordinary would be even better than exemplary. If you were a nurse or engineer or bus driver or school teacher, you’d have to do the same thing … fulfill your job description without bringing in a bunch of “emergent” stuff that your employer isn’t interested in.
3. You may find it best to start something new. God knows we need a lot of new works! Perhaps this could be done within your denomination, but if not, there are several denominations that are really interested in innovative new expressions of church.
4. You might find another church that is dying to find someone like you, because they’re trying to “emerge” but need gifted staff to help them. I keep hoping that emergentvillage.com will find a way to facilitate this kind of employment match-up … maybe someday.
In the meantime, it’s so important that you have some friends for mutual support, encouragement, exchange of ideas, and prayer. You may be able to find or form a cohort in your area (see emergentvillage.com for help in this) … This is a chance to deepen your roots in Christ and to strengthen your character. But it’s full of pitfalls and dangers and temptations too. Don’t go it alone.
My prayers – and I hope the prayers of readers of this blog – are with you today.