Pentecostal “versus” Emergent, Missional, New Expressions, Fresh Expression Churches…. ??

Today I attended The Brehm Lectures at Fuller Theological Seminary, with guest speaker Shane Hipps. I also led in the worship team this morning in our earlier chapel service, so I my head is buzzing with ideas. And so, dear reader, you get… A POST! I know… who would have thought, even on a wordpress site – a post (this is sarcasm). 😉

It was great to hear the speakers (Ryan Bolger, Shane Hipps, Barry Taylor) share their thoughts on the Digital Age, and its current and potential impact upon the evangelical church. I’ve read Bolger’s and Taylor’s theses, but I haven’t read Shane Hipps books yet (primarily because of my rather large interests that have become my official PhD reading list, which, from my mentor’s face I know is bewilderingly generalized).

This isn’t really my first rodeo, I guess. I’ve read quite a number of missional/emergent/fresh expression books. The first one I ever read that moved me towards this stream of thinking was Sally Morgenthaler’s 1998 book ‘Worship Evangelism’. Well at this time, for me, the idea that worship could be used to explain the gospel to unbelievers was something profound – and more profound was the potential of worship for discipleship. The thought that wherever your people started their journey, you could work with that – an absolute antithesis of modern Christian worship programming that promoted popular models. For me, I guess, it was a way of embracing deeper values of the faith without having to attend the state church, where every first verse of a song addresses Adam, second verse the Fall of Mankind, third verse the Cross and the fourth verse gets us to some vision of the heavenly realm which is hopefully also sung louder, and more triumphantly, which signifies the end, and a scholarly sermon.

This book suggested that worship leaders could include newcomers into their worship – i.e. their very center. It articulated that we could address each congregation as a people – some of whom had deep understanding of God plus the newbies, but who all could move together into a new truth or understanding. In this way, we are all being “evangelised” each time we enter the worship space, as the presence of God transforms and “disciples” us. So then, the ritual moment where we raise our hand or fill in a membership card or walk down the front is superfluous. By the time we gain the formal invitation to the party, we’ve hung around the host long enough that we are well aware of his character. This is is surely the aim of any Christian leadership – to make the character of God known.

Well, once I began to change how I thought about worship, I began to question my earlier assumptions. This quickly developed into a cynicism about evangelism as worship, or worship as evangelism. This was partially because much of the depth came from written prayers, and the activities themselves. The idea that we could just stand there and sing and hope that everybody “got it” wasn’t really working for us. My next breakthrough from the emergent/ missional/ fresh expression discourse was a critique of the attractional church as the only method of spirituality. This was something that I realized partly from a follow-up book called “Emerging Worship” by Dan Kimball.

Oh my goodness. To say that I loved this book is an understatement. It became a manual of sorts I used to help me think more creatively in planning worship services, and in framing what worship was. By this time, I was in a team of worship planners, programming for a service of 1,000 Australian young adults aged 18 -25 years old who attended every Friday night at our church building in the Hills District. As a team we completely bought into Francis Schaeffer’s idea that the church in Handel’s time had been the creator of culture but we were now the tail. We reminded each other that we could no longer hide away in the church auditorium and expect our university/college aged youth to bridge the increasing divide between church culture and the life they lived outside.

So we decided to conquer our fear and bring the outside in. We used secular, “relevant” songs each week, drawing from young adult culture around us, using these elements to talk about God in the language the youth already used. We wrote sermon series on radio songs, we danced hip hop style, we sought out the absolute best of the lighting guys in the district and installed television screens, mimicing the sets of some of the world’s biggest bands  – Matchbox 20, Ace of Bass, and a million others that I don’t want to mention because it was the late 1990s through early 2000’s, and it’s now long, long gone.

We borrowed so much from secular culture that most of the surrounding churches decided we were non-Christian – but we had always been considered a cult, so we didn’t really mind that much (our church hosted Rock musicals in the 1980s, when drums weren’t OK to have in church).

From this point, I desired greater understanding of liturgy, and floated towards theological training, enrolling myself in a Masters of Theology. Radical, actually, at the time. But I was heavily influenced by the Ancient Modern movement. I loved the idea of recapturing some of the amazing truths held in the pre-Reformation texts, and hey, even the Reformation texts. Perhaps that was the Vintage Christianity book I read, or the seminar I went to with Brian McLaren and Mike Frost.

In fact, it was the idea of ‘green space’ within the book “The Shaping of Things to Come” which was cool enough to encourage me to apply for a PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary, in the Intercultural Studies Department. Frost and Hirsch suggested that perhaps we needed ‘middle spaces’ for theological conversations. I guess to understand that one, you’ll need to read the book.

And, these are just some of the books I’ve enjoyed from this community – while programming worship for Pentecostal churches and organizations.

Interestingly, now I get to read missional ecclesiology not as the side reading I pour over in my free time, but as a part of papers I’m writing. I’m expected to be up to date on certain parts of the conversation. But as the “missional/emerging/ fresh expressions” churches have continued to mature, I’ve started to notice something  recurring, which is a reiterated thought that these Christians are embracing these worship expressions because mega churches are full of dumb people, and oblivious to the emergent/missional/fresh expressions movement. There’s a continuing polarization of big versus small, with Pentecostalism standing for big, bad and unchangeable. Pentecostalism has become “the man”.

And yet, in the Pentecostal literature, I’m reading about small innovative, yes, missional Pentecostal churches springing up in all parts of the globe: Africa, Latin America, Asia. In fact, I know some emergent Pentecostal pastors serving in SoCal. I’ve read how many of them, similar to the missional/emerging/fresh expressions movement, blur lines between sacred and secular, the inside and outside, and believe that if God is God, then it follows that God’s presence, values and being can be found in the deepest darkest of the forest in Papua New Guinea just as readily as in the lyrics of a secular song by U2.

And more recently, just as many missional theologians continue to rail against Pentecostalism, likewise, prominent Pentecostal authors and speakers now rail against missional theologians. Sometimes, it’s like tennis – I’m just waiting to see who’s “serve” it is today.

Well, today on my reading list is Bourdieu, and I thought his critique of new cultural movements was apt enough to mention in this post. Maybe all these ‘bits’ are unrelated. Maybe lines and labels are more blurred in the ‘real’ world and I just notice because I’m in “Headquarters”, as my friend Stephen likes to say. But I think perhaps there’s a place for a more feminine Pentecostal, collaborative missional movement that seeks to revitalize church structures and leans heavily on the Spirit AND also a masculine, rail against “the Man” type of new frontier movement that understands the radical nature of Christ.

Maybe these two traditions can both forge new ground in dialogue with each other – each different, but gaining the reflection possible through honest and open friendship. And, with that thought, here are the words of the prophet Bourdieu:

“‘Making one’s mark’, initiating a new epoch, means winning recognition, in both senses, of one’s difference from other producers, especially the most consecrated of them; it means, by the same token, creating a new position, ahead of the positions already occupied, in the vanguard. (Hence the importance, in this struggle for survival, of all distinctive marks, such as the names of schools or groups – words which make things, distinctive signs which produce existence) The agents engaged in the struggle are both contemporaries – precisely by virtue of the struggle which synchronizes them – and separated by time and in respect of time… …. more precisely, the history is immanent to the functioning of the field, and to meet the objective demands it implies, as a producer, but also as a consumer, one has to possess the whole history of the field“. – Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production.

Is this true? In making a mark, do we have to possess the whole history of the innovation of the church, all over the world today? Because that sounds exhausting. Maybe we can just marvel at the ways in which God uses our story to make Himself known, and leave it at that.

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