This was originially posted on Tue Jun 22, 2004 4:51 pm on the EmergentCHBC forum
I just had lunch with Steve Nicholson. Steve and I have become friends this winter/spring. He and his wife Amy (you may occasionally catch them slipping into CHBC on Sunday mornings) have been working to develop a church plant in Durham around 9th St. over the past two years (Reimagine).
Their experience in Durham offers a valuable insight about community formation and spiritual formation in a post-Christian world. This experience also challenges/informs the conversation about evangelism.
So often our discussion of evangelism is decision-centered and event- centered. We hope those who are seeking Christ will come to events where they can make a decision for Christ. Much energy is placed in creating such events as well as inviting friends to "conversion events." The typical "target" for such events are folks who are ready to make that decision. Is there anything wrong with this time honored model of evangelism? Absolutely not — except when this is sole basis of evangelism and spiritual formation in Christian communities. When this is the sole emphasis of evangelism and the primary goal of spiritual formation, we run the risk of describing the gospel as an "event" and developing worshippers who move from one event to another (this is one of the roots of consumeristic Christianity). Retreats, conferences, and Sunday worship gatherings can be reduced to the "next event where the gospel happens."
If we have learned anything about evangelism and spiritual formation over the past few years, we have learned that many in a post-Christian world choose to participate in a Christian community long before they make commitments to the values and beliefs of this community. We have also learned that the process of spiritual formation begins long before one "makes a decision" or commitment of faith and continues long after this decision. These two assertions are unoriginal and dated. But they have radical ramifications on the Christian communites that we create. Ponder some the following potential changes —
•In at least conservative Christianity, we often work hard to limit the participation of "non-believers" before they make a commitment of faith. I would suggest that this participation before commitment is part of critical process of embracing faith.
•In all types of churches, we are tempted to offer a "lowest common denominator Christianity" (devoid of too many Christian symbols and practices) for those who are pursuing faith. In reality, many of those who have begun the process of spiritual formation want to experience the realities and rituals of Christianity in order to continue a journey toward commitment.
•Often our energy in evangelism is for programs that focus on the "point of decision." Typically our efforts of spiritual formation are reserved to helping folks immediately after making decision. Perhaps, we need to expend considerable creative energy in developing communities who create environments and opportunities for spiritual formation all along the spectrum of the Christian journey. Our corporate worship should include practices and languages that embraces this full spectrum.
Steve and Amy Nicholson have developed a community in "Reimagine" that offers a safe and creative space for people in our community who are in the earliest portions of consideration of the Christian journey of faith. They have been creative, honest, warm, and sensitive to those in culture who no longer begin their quest for spiritual meaning with Christian assumptions, language, or expectations. I truly wish there were more ministries like this in our community.
For those of you who are reading about and praying about the emerging church initiative here at CHBC — one possibility that our vision community is considering for this fall is a partnership with Reimagine. Steve has invited us to consider this option. In many ways, this "so" fits the DNA of CHBC, where we have have been quick and enthusiastic through the years to support the Christian community outside our programs and institutions that we lead/control. When I share about our fellowship, I am quick to brag about how we have shared our space and belongings so radically through the years and how we have been committed to building the broader Christian community in Chapel Hill/Durham rather than our own "kingdom." This is rare, unfortunately. Steve and I have committed to spend a day together in July to imagine what this partnership could look like. I'll keep you posted if this develops.
Our vision community continues to pray over and consider many other trajectories of action (we will likely recommend more than one). We look forward to broadening this discussion by sharing our ideas very soon. We also look forward to building our conversation on this site and the discussion boards.