Monday, September 20, 2004

Transitioning church in contemporary culture

7 months ago, as an emerging church pastor, I moved to a 94 year old declining conservative church in a poorer part of town. Many people thought I was mad. I was returning to what many in the emerging church are deconstructing and railing against. I was deciding to live in what many had dismissed as lifeless and immovable.

Over 7 months there have been some great encouragements;
a more open, questioning, relaxed, creative, relational approach to faith.
innovation and change
people finding faith
new people

Over 7 months I have been:

1 – Practicing my beliefs. I came to Opawa with a number of beliefs;
– Postmodernity was affecting all of society, not just 20 year olds.
– All people are made in the image of God, and thus all people are open to creativity, community, culture.
– The resurrection of Christ means new life can occur in dark, hard places.
– The key mission questions for the church in the next few years will involve transitioning what is.
(Unlike Robert Webber, while church startups do allow innovation and freedom, if we can find ways to transitioning, I believe we will be modelling a more much Kingdom enfused, pastoral and connective set of practices).

These beliefs have shaped my actions around Opawa. I have found that if I treat people with respect, if I explain things clearly, if I am well-organised, if I provide safety and multiple ways to be involved (including just watching), then in return there is tremendous freedom and space.

2 – Offering experiential learning. Instead of running lots of seminars on postmodernity, instead of preaching on cultural change, instead of setting up futures groups, I have provided postmodern ministry experiences. Doing it enables people to experience it before they judge it.

I have offered multiple choice in worship, I have provided tactile worship experiences, I have encouraging community storytelling, I have introduced moments of chaos, I have used culture at sacred moments.

From these, in time, will emerge questions, many questions, the sort of questions I might cover in courses or seminars;
Can we know God in non-rational ways?
Can we trust God in community as well as the Bible?
Do we need to control what people say?

But I have chosen to approach these through offering experiences, rather than offering persuasive head speak.

Not sure whether such approaches will come back to bite me, given that 7 months is not long. But so far all the signs are positive.

Posted by steve at 10:51 AM


  1. Hmm … an interesting move! Made me think about the notion of “church planting” and “church transitioning”. In our setting as so called small “mainline” denomination there are many “stagnat” or “declining” churches that need a kind of “breath-of-fresh-air” pastors/leaders which would be patient and creative enough to try out stuff that would really make a difference. Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by Sivin Kit — September 20, 2004 @ 1:03 pm

  2. Good on ya. What I have found in pastoral ministry is that there are a suprprising number of older people who have been waiting for something like this. Sometimes they diodn’t even know what it was they were waiting for but then they do when you do it with them. In any case many see what the future holds if something doesn’t happen. Some decide that they would rather die with their church than change some choose life …

    Comment by Andii — September 20, 2004 @ 9:34 pm

  3. i share you beliefs and your methodology. In my experience a bit of it does come back and bite you every once in a while but it can be overcome. i’m currently the small group pastor at a more traditional church while developing an “emerging communityâ€? apart from that body. Each arena has its own challenge and joys.

    Andii’s comments made me think of a Startbucks experience i had several years ago. While working on my personal philosophy for an emerging church, my Toshiba Libretto got the interest of four retiree’s at the next table. They were Christians. As our conversation continued i started explaining what i was thinking about in practical terms and not emergent speak. Their mood lifted and they just lit up. One gentleman said to me, “We have been praying for the church to wake up for the last 25 years! i’m glad to see that God is answering our prayers in these changing times.â€? The conversation was positive and very enlightening to me. Their values were emergent even if their language and expression was not.

    As our time ended these saints prayed with me. Each on prayed a blessing along the following lines, “Lord, we bless this young man in Jesus name. Extend to him and his wife double what you have done for us in our lives.. . .â€? and on it went. i wept. If these people were the majority in an older congregation then transitioning a church would be a joy. It is the practical discovery oriented approach that gets them excited. Forget the “emergent speakâ€?, just live it out. — Keep it up Bro’.

    Comment by Darren — September 21, 2004 @ 8:46 am

  4. I think part of the benefit for you is being in a position of leadership, and having a clearly articulated vision. In that context, transitioning has a different flavour to being a “youth” minister, or a visionary lay person. Keep it up, though!

    Comment by Curate — September 24, 2004 @ 4:23 pm

  5. Thank you for sharing your ideas! I wish you much success in your endeavors. May I have your permission to share your ideas with our adult education committee?

    Ellen Pate
    Midland, Texas USA

    Comment by Ellen Pate — October 14, 2004 @ 4:20 am

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