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They like Jesus but not the Church

Last weekend I was in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual National Campus Ministries Seminar (now the Connect Conference). As usual, it was fantastic to meet up with a whole nationwide network of campus ministry leaders I have gotten to know over the years and spent several days together talking about what we all love most.

This year was particularly great because of our featured guest, Dan Kimball. Dan is one of the foremost leaders in the world of Christianity and emergent culture, and one of the greatest experts on the emergent church. He is the pastor of the Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California. Dan is an interesting character to behold, because his appearance is that of a ultra-Californiaized uber-hipster (complete with superslicked dyed blonde hair), but when he starts to talk you realize that he is an extremely thoughtful, humble, soft-spoken, incredibly intelligent guy (and surprisingly theologically conservative!). And what he has to say about the place of Christianity in a world of emergent culture should be taken seriously by EVERYONE.

Essentially, the Christian subculture no longer has a relevant place in larger society and organized Christianity and the church has lost almost all of its credibility with emergent culture, which no longer has its base in the Judeo-Christian worldview. Thus, the church is essentially a relic. But it doesn't have to be - and there is tremendous hope, because the person of Jesus actually has tremendous interest in postmodern society. This is actually the subject of the latest in a series of books he has written - They Like Jesus but not the Church. What he is pointing out here is absolutely true, even among postmodern Christians. To the world outside of the Christian subculture, Jesus as a historical, philosophical, religious, and worldview leader is actually fascinating, but Christianity is seen as the antithesis of what Jesus really was about. And, in many ways, they are right. Dan's book addresses six of the major perceptions that participants in emergent have regarding the church that is very different from how they see Jesus. Dan's presentations, plus his book, are a tremendous challenge to those of us who live squarely in the middle of the Christian subculture and have a hard time, or even an unwillingness, to break through the thick boundaries and actually engage the real world.

In one of his presentations he performed a shadow puppet demonstration of the circumstances he felt campus ministers were in as those who are charged to be cultural and generational missionaries. It involved the campus minister venturing out of the subculture bubble into the emergent sphere and realizing that things have to be much different, and then going back into the bubble to report these things to his leaders only to be essentially lorded over to conform. Soon enough the pressure becomes too much and suddenly a church plant appears. HMMM!!!


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Blogger not so zen momma - 10:46 AM

My sister recently was baptized at LIFE Church in OKC. We attended the baptism and service, and I was really put off by the "ultra-hip" slick styling. Just because everyone is wearing hip graphic tees and sporting funky streaked haircuts, mean that they are giving messages of substance. Plus, the kid space was more "playtime & childcare" than really teaching.    



Blogger Gabe - 10:55 AM

Dude,

What a fantastically relevant post. Stacey and I have been observing and particpating with "other" christians for awhile now (you know what I mean). A very good "non CoC" friend of ours has directed my attention to the "Emergent Church" concept which we really identify with. Many of my "CoC" buddies have, coicindentally, identified the same trends with themselves and others "CoCers" of similar age. Let me tell you, the undercurrent is exactly as you describe, and is stronger than I had ever realized....and I'm estatic about it. Identifying with Christ and not the "organizational church" is the mantra of so many enlightened believers. I think it ties directly into, or stems from, the new culture of the Architecture of Particpation, Web 2.0, The Wisdom of Crowds and other community concepts that go against western culture's normal tendency for Command and Control - Hierarchical organizations. I think they go hand in hand which is why I try to discuss both Faith and Religion and organizational concepts over on my blog. I'd love to discuss it with you sometime to gain your perspective and share my own from our travels and communion with other groups of christians.    



Blogger Gabe - 12:43 PM

"I believe that there is a collaborative step that they are just beginning to glimpse. Church will sooner or later be a collaborative effort of believers rather than a business-based, layered organizational structure.
"

Amen to this my brother...you've pretty much nailed what I've been trying to impart to my fellow christians. I have a little problem with credibility because most people don't understand why or how I'm relating seemingly "secular" stuff to our "spiritual" life. I'm trying to convince folks how much undue influence 19th century, Henry Ford style command and control have influenced our church "organizational thinking" and how ineffective and hindering to spiritual growth it actually is. Why do elderships and congregational boards have to decide what ministries to pursue instead of entrusting to the people this ability...to pursue the ministries they see fit? And consensus is not necessary...Jenny wants to help the homeless, here's some money; Ed wants to start a soccer outreach, here's some money. Free the church to pursue the ministries they're passionate about and enable them to do so (and get out of they're way) and watch the floodgates open. Confine them to this and that, and kill their desire to shine.    



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