The Emerging Church: A Ministry Perspective

REPOST 12/26/12 from Fall 2010 article

This is an article I was asked to write for publication in the September issue of “From the Mountain,” the quarterly magazine University of the South, School of Theology.

Emergent – Before Seminary
Before entering seminary at the University of the South in 2007, I spent two years serving a large parish as both Administrator and Lay Minister for “Gen X Ministries.” The “Gen X ministry” at Lamb of God Lutheran-Episcopal Church in Fort Myers, Florida came into being because of several discussions with our parish leadership. After much discussion, it became evident that the age demographics of our parish did not reflect the demographics of the community in which we were planted. We were located in an area where the average age was 45, and the average age of our parishioners was closer to 65. It was becoming more evident that there was an entire generation not attending worship at our church on Sunday mornings. Why?

The quest for this answer came early in my new lay ministry when I began meeting with several colleagues who were ministering to young adults (singles, couples, families) in the Fort Myers area. We developed a “cohort” of sorts, who met monthly to discuss generational differences, programs, theology, and to discuss ways in which we might help each other reach out with the
“Good News” of God in Christ.

Soon after the cohort began meeting, myself and a team of ten other committed people from Lamb of God Church, developed a multi-level ministry, which included an alternative worship service, a homeless outreach ministry, a coffeehouse discussion group, and a campus ministry at the local university. It was through these multi-level connection groups that we focused on ministering to that generation who were not in our parish on Sundays. The key to our work was that we met people where they were. It was through this ministry that I personally began discerning a call to the priesthood, and it was through this ministry that I would eventually find myself serving as the soon-to-be Priest-in-charge of a local parish in the Diocese of Southwest Florida.

The Class: “The Emerging Church: An Anglican Perspective”
During the first two years of seminary, I noticed that we had not yet addressed the “Emerging Church” movement in any of our classes. Sometime in 2009, I expressed to Dr. Brosend my interest in an elective that would explore all things “Emergent” within the context of our Episcopal tradition. Dr. Brosend developed the curriculum and the result was an elective offered in the spring of my senior year that featured lectures from several well-known speakers on the subject. Through campus presentations and class lectures, The Rev. Thomas Brackett, Rev. Becky Robbins-Penniman, Diana Butler Bass, and Robert Bozeman brought their experience and vision of the “Emerging” conversation, as experienced in our tradition and in communities outside our tradition.

Dr. Brosend’s class provided the participants with new insights about the dynamic shifts taking place in the church today. The class challenged us to imagine Christian community in the coming years effected by rapid advances in technology, influenced by post-modern thought, and responsive to the demographic and cultural shifts in Western society.

The future
As a recent graduate of seminary and recently ordained Episcopal priest, my fellow graduates and I face the challenges of ministering in a very dynamic time. It is important for our leadership, our seminaries and our parishes to be aware of the cultural, technological, and societal shifts that are occurring today. Following the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations, requires us to recognize these shifts and to respond. We must meet people where they are in order to witness to the saving grace of God in Christ. In the Acts of the Apostles, we find a unique example of meeting people where they are in order to proclaim the “Good News.” At the Areopagus in Athens, Paul, proclaimed the Gospel to some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers and did so marvelously, by recognizing the cultural influences on the people to whom he preached.

“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the market-place* every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ‘What does this babbler want to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.’ (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.’ Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new. Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (NRSV – Acts. 16:17-23)

Ministering in a dynamic time is challenging, and responding to those shifts with new ideas and approaches, may be necessary to proclaim to the world the “Good News” of God’s saving grace.

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