I have been leading an "emerging church initiative" for the Chapel Hill Bible Church for the past five months. Sadly, I occasionally lose sight of the significance and gift of this opportunity. The Chapel Hill Bible Church has been an extremely unique and effective church in a collegiate community for more than thirty years (they made some decisions in the 70's that even courageous church today might forego). It is rare that churches that have a legacy of effectiveness are willing to consider new paths of ministry. But CHBC has been willing to allow me to reshape my time this year to imagine new trajectories and possibilites of community and mission. This is truly a gift.
In February, I pulled together a fairly diverse group of twelve persons to begin dreaming about possibilities and new horizons of ministry for our community. Our initial thoughts were very different. But, over time, it has been truly exciting to see some consensus form in this group. Tonight we meet to discuss and probably affirm a ministry proposal for CHBC.
This ministry proposal blesses a series of partnerships with our initiative and existing ministries in our church (trying to avoid make the emerging church initiative as a new thing that competes with rather than complements our ministries). The proposal also challenges our fellowship to move into new ground in areas of mission, spiritual formation, community, and worship (hopefully striking a balance between all of these critical components).
Who knows — these ideas could certainly fail. Not a day passes that I do not contemplate some of the huge differences between some of the thoughts and practices that have formed in emerging church circles and some of the presuppositions of existing churches like ours. I have written often (and hopefully gently) in this space about some of those differences. But ever the optimist, I am drawn to the possibility of churches like ours (churches with a history of risk-taking and innovation) helping to mark the path of change for Christian community as our culture rapidly transitions into a different era. I don't consider us necessarily the leaders or trailblazers in this transition. But, nonetheless, I believe the path we could mark is a significant one.
The Christian church, flaws notwithstanding, has had a history of Spirit led transition and adaptation. I still have confidence in the church. I also feel the need for folks like myself (who have been in the "emerging church" and before that the "postmodern church" conversation — who knows what will be next! — for some time) to bless and affirm the existing church. Innovation, creativity, and transition are not antithetical to affirmation of the historical narrative of Christian community and its impact on our society. In truth, I believe that a blessing of the past is a critical element of appropriate change. One of my entry points into the emerging church conversation was its passionate interest in the historical church.
In leading our initiative in Chapel Hill, I have become aware of how frustrating and even insulting the term "emerging church" can be for some. It can sound like a brash critique of the church's ancient and recent legacy — some naive trumpet blast proclaiming that "we have invented something new that can be disassociated from its roots!" I have had this experience numerous times in professional meetings — hearing a new idea being championed that we had practiced for many years. The tone of innovation and change can be abrasive. I certainly apologize for the ba-gillion times that I do this! But, transition and innovation are truly exciting. When it is all said and done — I wonder if we (we, the church) will realize how many times we oppose or at the bare minimum badger Spirit-led changes. I am enthused beyond any expectation that I had twenty years ago to see how the church in our culture is adapting. I am more confident in church now than I ever was as a teen in the 70's or a young pastor in the 80's. Much good lies ahead. Many new paths and thoughts are springing before us. New opportunities abound. It is good to be on this path.