This is my first time at an Emergence event, but it is not my first exposure to the Emergence conversation. Not only have I read a pile of books and blog posts from this conversation, but one chapter of my DMin dissertation explores the contours of Emergence ecclesiology. Explores is the operative word, for the movement is by no means monolithic.
I am also a pastor, a young pastor, in a part of the United States that has kept the Emergence conversation at arm’s length. Amid the few internet searches and “sound bites” the Great Plains has been leery of the Emergence conversation. From my limited vantage point, I see the the church landscape in my city developing into a few of directions. First, there is an increased interest in the Neo-Reformed Christianity. Nearly 75% of new churches planted in my city have that flavor of theology and praxis. Also, there is a continual commitment to “Pragmatic Evangelicalism,” a brand of Evangelicalism that Robert Webber used to describe the second of three cycles of Evangelicalism in the 20th century- hardly academic and historical, with an emphasis on personal, private commitment to Christianity. Lastly, there is a continued commitment to variant forms of the Renewal movement (Pentecostal/Charismatic/3rd Wave) that rushed into the city during the 1970’s through the 1990’s.
Along that spectrum of Christianity, there is ample space for different forms of Christianity. Our city is similar to many others with the increasing angst of helping our young people develop a vibrant Christian faith. Many churches are closing down. Increased antagonism brews between ecclesial communities and the wider culture. This anxiety has provoked a space for creativity and dreaming.
As a young pastor, one who will serve, pray, create, and organize in my city for many years ahead, I sense the need and the opportunity for other forms of Christianity. This weekend’s conference has helped me to be reminded that Christianity does not have to underwrite consumerism and democracy. Christianity does not have to be a recapitulation of 16th Century Western European ecclesiology and practice. Christianity does not have to necessarily model the “golden years” the mid-20th century.
We are in a new day.
Jesus is still Lord.
We are still the sheep of God’s pasture.
Church practice, commitments, and values can come up from the soil and still fit uniquely within a long family history of faithfulness.
I deeply appreciate the opportunity to attend the conference, to meet other thoughtful leaders, and to share my thoughts here.
Joe Skillen is the Lead Pastor of Faith Community Church in Wichita, KS. Joe is near the completion of a Doctor of Ministry degree from George Fox University in the area of Spiritual Formation and Leadership. Joe’s particular interests include contemporary ecclesiology and Missional church. Joe’s blog can be found at joeskillen.me.