Remember the Emerging Church? Many of us involved in the Emerging Church, the Emergent Church, the Hyphenateds (Presbymergent, Anglomergent, Luthermergent, etc.) considered this to be more than a program or semantic shift.
It was (and still is) a movement.
Congregations have been creating and perpetuating church programs for years: Vacation Bible School, PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), chili dinners, book groups, after-school activities, lunch hour lectures, youth retreats, Bible studies, knitting groups, hand bell choirs, yoga lessons, tutoring events. We are good at creating programs and we’ve felt good about these – often impactful – activities.
But the 21st Century Church is not about programs. It’s about a movement. Programs are activities that – at best- nourish us spiritually, educationally, socially. And at worst they simply busy us and make us feel like we’re accomplishing something.
The 21st Century Church is a movement: a movement to change the world for good in the name of Jesus Christ, a movement to bring justice, a movement to address what breaks God’s heart, a movement to help us be the people God created us to be.
I was talking with a young man last year who had converted to Islam. He was raised a Baptist Christian, but he said that he had converted because “Islam is a way of life. It’s not just about going to church.” (Note: I wonder if understanding Islam as a way of life is contributing to this.)
When I defensively responded that “Following Jesus is a way of life too!” he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. That had not been his experience: either the part about following Jesus or the part about the faith of his childhood being “a way of life.” Sigh.
A couple important articles have come out over the past few weeks addressing this question: are our spiritual lives about participating in programs or committing to a movement?
Check these out:
David R. Henson addresses why Sunday School is faltering. While Sunday School started out as a justice movement to educate poor children, today it’s more likely “about educating and ensuring a future generation of Christians or getting more warm bodies and families through the church door.” This is a recipe for shutting down Sunday School, my friends.
Noa Gafni wrote last fall that millennials are not interested in protest movements. And yet, they are – generally speaking – attracted to movements that meld “old power” (hierarchical) and “new power” (participatory), promote worthy causes, and “adapt the global development agenda to their local communities.” They want to make an impact while also growing personally.
Gone are the days when congregations grew and thrived because they offered a catalog of activities. If church offerings do not move us to deeper discipleship, they will eventually fall away (and so will our people.) But if we see our mission as one which moves us towards a way of life that brings wholeness to ourselves and to the world, we will flourish as God’s people.
Image of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking against racism and poverty at Soldier Field in Chicago on June 21, 1964.