A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a dear friend who observed that many of the new mission churches seem to be working pretty hard to present themselves as cool.
In a well-meaning attempt to reach out to the post-modern Christian crowd, these “emerging” churches set up their worship style, even their message, as being more relevant, more fun, maybe even reformative. As difficult as this is to hear, I know what my friend is talking about. As one who has been cast into the emergent crowd and not having a clue how I ended up here, I wonder along with him if this big push on all things post-modern isn’t just one more angle for marketing the church, and somewhere we’ve forgotten that at the heart of what we all do–mainline, rural, urban, emergent, whatever– is the preaching of the crucified and risen One.
When people ask me what is going on with the church, I can only shrug. I know something is changing, but I can’t even be sure about that. I know that a lot of people feel like the church will never be their home. I know that the overly-virtuous religious right–as well as the strident and earnest left–feel foreign and inadequate for too many.
I know that pastors at all kinds of churches, regardless of worship style, are simply trying to be faithful to their calling in whatever ways they can. I know that whatever is happening, people want to be who they were created to be, who they are called to be, to know they are valued and needed. And I know that in all this diversity, people long to hear that it is true; grace through Jesus Christ is real.
But what is most heartbreaking is that this dear friend with whom I had this conversation is one of the most talented and gifted people to walk this earth. He has a profound and deep faith. And he also happens to be one of the coolest people I’ve ever known in my life. And so it is heartbreaking in that awful ironic way that he doesn’t feel at home in the church. In all the variety worship styles, in all the varied expressions of how church can manifest, he, one of the people the church needs the most, finds himself shut out. It turns out that he doesn’t want cool or relevant or anyone’s political agenda. He wants to hear the gospel, and he doesn’t, at least not in a church pew.
How we worship, what we call church, will always morph through history, adapting itself to the culture, language, and traditions of particular human communities. But what cannot change, what must always be, in whatever way we emerge or manifest, is what is core to all of us: the gracious work of God in Jesus Christ that continues to this day through the Holy Spirit.
One day the hope is that my friend finds himself in a pew somewhere, and his heart is fractured by grace, even a little bit. And what breaks through, is an unyielding disclosure and awareness that in this broken world, this broken church, he is needed, and he is loved. It is the hope for all who do what we do.