Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A few tension points: Children, Class, Theology and Heresy #2

Few areas of exploration and questioning for planting "new/next/organic/emergent/liquid/pomo/micro church":

1. Children:
How to use same principles to grow relationships in God's spirit here in new ways? Want to get beyond "Sunday School" model, focus on helping them connect with others, to learn to be in relationship with God in the spirit of Jesus, helping them to see themselves not as consumers but producers and co-creators too, to plant the vision in them in some ways no matter how young. But there are tension points here. Emergent seems easier or at least has more experience with adults. Not a big problem. As you help adults and parents deepen and begin to grow and spread their own Spirit, children will be the beneficiaries. But for the gatherings? How to be organic here and not fall into the same default mode? So far trying to balance group time for all, with special focus on children. But as we stress it isn't a one-size fits all world or church anymore, yet the small size of these planting groups, this micro-church, pulls against that by defacto being one and all related, and different ages existing together sort of like the old one-room school house (and yet are we retrofitting to that; I hate the bigger boxier one grade for 700 kid school centers and much prefer the other model updated.) My hunch is to face that fact and go with it and when the times are intergenerational be intergenerationally related, and keep looking for ways when the Spirit will be deepened with other micro-connections even among our small micro-group. Looking at getting children together leads to notions of looking for ways of getting just women together and just men together, just this or that connected folks together. Reminds me I have to remind folks that they don't have to feel like they have to attend everything we do as we go inward or outward; that freeing themselves from that will move us from obligation to opportunity thinking and creating more. But seems like more is needed in exploring this aspect of church planting no matter the model that is being used. A big tension point. Radical solution might be to eventually move toward multiplying into a family micro-church and an adult-only micro-church and a mixed micro-church, or at least seeing how the existing group can rotate its own incarnational sense of all three. Anyone following?

2. Cultural Creatives/Economics/Pyschographics: How important is place?
Probably have written some on this before. Mentioned it during the emergent workshop at the summer church institute (see post below or in archives). It came up there. It came out of Neil Cole's Organic Church. On one hand, he is saying that the middle class suburban or yuppies or whoever thinks they have their lives on track, upward and onward forever, probably irregardless of theological bent, won't be the place to respond to church planting at least in its sense he sees it as fostering life transformation groups that multiply themselves. He says go where the people are obviously and obviously to themselves hurting, to the places known to be full of addictions, violence, desperation. Those with money have these problems but they have the wherewithall to hide from them; they are going to gravitate toward communities that help them to continue to do so.
So on the one hand going into a place where people have hit bottom gives the church planter relationship builder an advantage.

But, is there a correlation with areas or neighborhoods with high percentages of people in some kind of transition, in blue collar or unemployed areas, with high rates of high school dropouts or those who only went to highschool, with high rates of retired folks who were in blue collar jobs, and with a reluctance to be early-adapters of new ways of being new church? Is there a reason why there seem to be so many emergent gatherings in the Pacific Northwest, in Minn., or in the places where young professionals congregate no matter where the urban area? Is it a new urban thing, in keeping with many other new urban and new design patterns of living?

Sometimes I think living as I do in a place where so many have so few resources to be consumers it has made them more connected to churches that will produce "free spiritual stuff" for them to consume rather than helping them to create and produce for themselves and others. It is part of that culture of scarcity that can drive them. Now it is true that for those who do connect and do stand out and get the culture of abudance, sort of like the few that got it when Jesus was living it among them in that kind of place and time too, then the emergent way can really be a powerful experience, and that experience more than makes up for the numbers who don't won't can't get it.

Plus throw in the political dynamic of those who fall to the "left" and "right" on issues such as immigration (a key sorting issue I think and one the Precept used to use, ahead of its time I guess, in their demographic analysis) and the "culture wars.' Makes it all the more difficult to be new church in a new way in an old place. Those on the left, who feel estranged from the culture around them (around here anyway; I think the same might apply in reverse in other places) will tend to gravitate toward existing communities where they will find instant community and support and that will tend to turn them inward in terms of evangelism and church planting because of the inherent threat such new outreach brings in disruption to the homeostasis they have sought in their liberal conclaves. It makes it tough to get them to join smaller newer more mobile groups, especially ones that seek by nature to build relationships with those who are near and around them, those who hold the very political positions that cause the estranged to seek shelter in the first place. Takes a lot of "meeting Jesus" time to get beyond that inner impulse.
So, place and all that it means, is another tension point.

3. Third Tension point, especially for Unitarian Universalists, but to a lesser extent for all religious liberals, is Theology, particularly Jesus. I'll have to get into this in more detail in the future. But it is a major tension point. Can you plant if you don't have a common core theology among the leadership? I doubt it. Even if you have a common core theology, and it doesn't include Jesus in the center, can you plant a church? Yes, a church, or maybe, or even on some days I think doubtful, since I think the world is shifting away from church that is just church. What I mean is there was a time when we could plant humanist churches (or for other denominations fill in the blank as appropriate, such as theistic or world religious or inner light or whatever) and people who didn't fit into the church of their upbringing would help us fill them because they still "needed" to be in church; it was after all, a churched world at the time. They wanted community but not Jesus and it was tough to find that because the choices were so few (by the way check out Lyle Schaller's latest book, all about the context of competition and choices and conflict). But of course today the choices for community, even spiritual community of many kinds, abounds. Connectional opportunities abound, with the internet added in as well. Why go create church then in this new sense if you are only after community with others of similar values? The rewards aren't worth the conflict, the sacrifice, the money, etc. I say, however, maybe or yes, though, on most days because of experience and the world is still in flux. But, I would say no if the question were about planting churches that could plant other churches, which I think will be the key to success in incarnating into the next 100 years. I have serious doubts that you can plant those kind of church movements without Jesus in the center of your communal life. That's heretical point #2. And it cuts both ways, because I have a strong hunch that those who say they plant with Jesus in the center but who are really at heart doing it with Doctrine and Creed at heart, rather than story and action, will also fail to be able to reproduce through multiple generations in the next 100 years. And as I say all of this is worthy of much more reflection and discernment (which I will do with some thoughts that have grown out of just getting into my reading of Pete Ward's Liquid Church) and probably eating crow because of course I am biased. But then, what are biases for?

Thinking out loud here, and treading on ground that has dangerous currents in it of class issues especially. But then, this is the place for that.