I sat in the seminar room watching the young and articulate woman across from me explain how she was serving as pastor to a church in what is called the “emergent” stream of Christianity. This young, energetic, vitally alive woman described how they meet in rented facilities on Sunday evenings, all go out to dinner together afterward, and then hit a pub or bar in the area and often have conversations that take them into the next day. How alive! Such energy flowing through her! Such lack of child-care responsibilities!
I looked around the room at the other seminar participants. A couple of those there, in this case all United Methodist clergy, were near the age of the presenter. Most of us were considerably older, and had many years of experience, both in church life and in life-life. I would guess from the vantage point of the presenter, we were a bunch of old geezers, too stuck, too set in our ways, to uninformed to possibly understand how her generation feels and wants to “do church.”
Let’s see–I grew up in the generation that said, “never trust anyone over 30.” At least we said that until we ourselves turned 30–somehow that phrase just magically disappeared then. And I also remember being sure that my generation had discovered Jesus in a way that no other generation before us could possibly have done. Clearly, we were the ones divinely appointed to actually save the world. Those going before us simply had no clue, were too old, too stuck, too set in their ways to possibly understand our we felt and how we wanted to “do church.”
With age does come some wisdom, thank goodness. I finally learned that I knew what I knew and believed what I believed because, and only because, others had gone before me. Those others had also sought to discover Jesus, and it was on their shoulders that I stood, not terribly firmly, to be sure, but stood nonetheless. I have also learned that those coming after me must have a voice, and a strong one, if the church is to stay alive and do its subversive work of transforming the world.
While the world around us changes radically, human nature does not fundamentally change. We still need to be connected to one another in God-honoring and mutually accountable community. We still need to learn to worship a holy God and recognize how dramatically each of us falls short of the ideal so we can live together in tolerance, forbearance and forgiveness as we work out our salvation together. This young pastor’s primary way to stay in touch with her church members is gmail chat. I’m still using old-fashioned email (I preached a sermon a few years ago on the topic, “Email is for Old People”) and snail mail, although we’re slowly moving over to Facebook connections. No matter what the method, we still need to connect.
She and her community worship and celebrate the sacraments of baptism and holy communion in rented facilities that may change every few years. My community has been worshipping and celebrating the sacraments in the same location for 80 years now–although that will soon change. Nonetheless, when we do move one mile down the street, we have every expectation of another 80 years in that location.
Her community places a high value on confrontation and fluidity. My community places a high value on mission and nurturing children so they will grow into mature and godly adults.
We both base our life and authority on the revealed word of God, although we may offer radically differing interpretations of the Bible.
With all these differences, we do indeed worship the same God. So I say to her, and to all of this next generation coming forth: I thank God for you. Thank you for your energy and your arrogance and your ability to articulate your faith and your courage and your willingness to live lives of powerful sacrifice because you do indeed love Jesus. Come, stand on my shoulders just as I stood on the shoulders of others. Let me help you as I also hand off the reigns to you, because you are indeed the hope of the world. May your voices be heard . . . for the church will not move forward without you.