Q & R: Key issues in the emergent conversation …

Here’s the question:

I am XXXX, and I am a pastor of a new church near XXX. Back in 200X, I wrote my Senior Project at XXXX University on the Emerging Church in the United States. Interestingly, I used Cedar Ridge, in part, as a case study to highlight ecclesial shifts happening among evangelical churches even then.
Now XXX years later, I am exploring thoughts on a doctoral project at XXX Seminary in Atlanta. My question for you, to use a tennis analogy, is more like a “lob shot.” My question is: Currently, what do you think most needs to be explored and examined in the Emergent Church conversation that could most benefit the Church? Put another way, if you were thinking of writing a 35 page journal article about some aspect of the Emergent Church, what would your focus be?
Thanks for any time and response you can offer to this general question. I am grateful for the vital ministry you are carrying out in these days. As you probably well know by now, you are a strength to many of us young clergy who are living in this liminal time in Christian history.

Reply after the jump …

R: Thanks for your question … it might be a lob, but it’s not easy! If you asked about theological issues, I would have ten questions right at hand! But since you’re asking about the church itself … it’s a little tougher. Here are 3 ideas:
1. I just read a good interview with my friend Todd Hunter. He critiques the emerging phenomenon for being insufficiently committed to evangelism. I’m sure he has some good data to support that impression – but my impression is very much the opposite. In my travels, frankly, I see too little in the way of evangelism (defined loosely as “people from outside the church coming into a life of discipleship”) happening anywhere … but many of the most encouraging signs of evangelistic life I see are in communities that would (secretly or publicly) identify with the emergent conversation. So … it would be interesting to choose a few emerging churches and detail what’s happening evangelistically in them, a kind of phenomenological study perhaps.
I should add that many of these churches would be considered “mainline,” not Evangelical. Many Evangelical churches have gotten themselves into a situation where they can only evangelize Republicans – because through their public persona they drive Democrats away before they reach the parking lot.
2. Some friends recently put together an article on Christian formation for children in emerging churches (I’ll post a link if it becomes available online. Stay tuned, because they’re planning a major conference for summer 2010.) This would be another really important area for study. What’s happening? What’s needed? What are the frustrations and hopes with existing curricula, heuristic assumptions, etc? Many places are doing really creative work with adults on Sundays, but they buy what’s available off the shelf for the kids, and as a result the kids are being indoctrinated in the opposite paradigms the adults are finding so life-giving.
3. What’s the state of the worship arts – who is writing songs that celebrate a deeper and broader understanding of the gospel? Who is writing prayers and confessions (of sin and of faith) that embed emerging values in Christians during gathered worship? Who is creatively using silence, lectio divina, ignatian readings, re-traditioned (to use Diana Butler-Bass’ good term) rituals, etc? Where are the gaps?
Anyway, I’m sure there are more … but those are three volleys on your lob. When you write something, let me know, and perhaps I can post it here if you’d like …