Eagle's Wings Community Church

Final Emergent Church Project Thoughts

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for Final Emergent Church Project Thoughts and the 5th theme of space not covered in the written portion of the blog.  Plus you get to see me with a sunburn and a beard!

 

I’m continuing my series on my Emergent Church Project.  If you’d like to read the posts in order, click Emergent Chuch Project, then My House Church Visit, then My Mega-Church Visit, then My Catholic Church Visit, and then My Emergent Church Visit.

By way of introduction, I’d like to reiterate an earlier statement that I do not claim to be an Emergent.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  (Ha.  Seinfeld anyone?)  Actually, I’m none of the churches I visited.  Rather, I’m some of each of them.  For this project, I wanted to visit various churches to better inform my own group’s church project revolving around diversity of thought.  So, I attempted to observe the valuable church practices as well as the areas of concern as I see them for each church.  Ultimately, my hope is to house multiple theological views under one roof to show the world the unifying power of Christ.  To me, this is one of the largest, if not the largest Godly abilities that has gone unused.  In other words, God has the ability to unify, but humans have done next to nothing, at least in terms of our church bodies, with it.

What I’d like to test, with the EWCC church plant, is the idea that promoting a diversity of thought can go some ways towards making that vision a reality.  In the recent past, it seems to me, churches have focused largely on the ethnic/racial aspect to achieve diversity yet our churches remain horribly mono-ethnic.  There are a few that can claim some level of success but even with their success their model doesn’t seem to be very duplicatable, given the fact that they are the exception.  More importantly, even when ethnic diversity is achieved, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of natural flow towards bringing God’s Kingdom people together who hold diverse theological views.  If EWCC achieves community despite differences in theology, maybe that will set the stage to be able to have community despite all the other kinds of differences, such as age, gender, ethnicity, status, and socio-economic diversity.

For that to happen, some of the major emergent themes will have to take place within the EWCC community.  Perhaps the most important one would be epistemic humility.  It’s fine to have theological convictions, but what many in the Emergent Church seem to recognize is the way we should hold those convictions.  If we never bother to hear someone with different convictions, and we only listen to those who hold our own we’ll never discover the areas where the other’s arguments are strong.  Screaming your own view makes it nearly impossible to hear another’s view.  If nothing else, I can at least listen to another view on a journey towards strengthening my perspective.  Along the way, I may be faced with the fearful reality that my view is inferior and needs to be changed or dropped.  This was the thinking when I sent this tweet:  https://twitter.com/eagleswingscc/status/224375861837709312

Conversation was the center piece of things from the first step towards making EWCC a reality.  Our logo represents a table and chairs from a sky view.  Our plan is to learn from the seeker friendly church and have messages on Sundays that stay Christ, orthodox faith, centered.  Since that isn’t the focus of this blog I’ll save the details of what all that means for another blog.  For now, it’s enough to say Sundays will be seeker friendly.  However, other gatherings will be conversation heavy, as stressed by the Emergent Church.  These will be people gathering in smaller numbers to have conversation.  These gatherings will have much more room to delve into deeper things, debatable things, and intimate things.  We will find relationships in what Kathryn Tanner (1) has called a “genuine communities of argument.”. When she says this, however, she intends that the dialogue be done in a way to ascribe worth to our neighbor, remaining in fellowship even after disagreements, rather than the customary division.

Opportunities to participate will come in the usual ways.  However, it may be that there will be a greater number of them because of the heavy emphasis on conversation.  The dialogue groups will be guided by pre-selected people but they will not normally be lecture style.  They will be round-table style discussions much along the lines of what happens in the Emergent Church, House Church, and Mega-church small groups.  What may be a bit different is that the dialogue groups held in homes, restaurants, and coffee shops will be the primary gathering that is focused on rather than the Sunday service.  It will not be another ministry in the church featured occasionally in our announcements.  It will be focused on in every large group gathering.  Church ministry may be promoted and found through the dialogue groups rather than the large group.

In my view, there were no truly decentralized churches that I visited and I doubt there ever will be any that last.  The talk around this theme sounds really good but I don’t think it’s actually happening.  Sure, some of them were able to achieve more decentralization than others, eliminating the big fancy headquarters in Orlando or something.  However, centralized leaders were emerging (ha!) one way or another in every church I visited.  So, the difference to me seemed to be that one organization had a larger hierarchical depth chart with more people, one large facility, and many smaller facilities, while another had a smaller hierarchical depth chart with less people and one small local facility that also served as the main meeting place.  If this is true, then like so many things in life, there are positives and negatives with each model.  Anyone, including the Emergent Church and the House Church, claiming their church has done away totally with centralization is doing it by comparison versus by total self-analysis.

My final, final thoughts on the Emergent Church, at least in this blog series is this.  The panic reminds me of fear sales techniques.  I’ve watched a number of YouTube videos and engaged in conversations about the Emergent Church and some of the warnings are over-the-top.  It is true,at least in my estimation, that some of the popular proponents go too far and make claims about scripture that I would disagree with.  However, I can probably find things about any of my favorite theologians that I disagree with, so what’s the difference?  One might say, the frequency is the difference.  To that I would just say that I disagree with some theologians more than others.  Ones I disagree with too frequently, I don’t spend much time with.  In my readings for this class, I didn’t care for lots of Peter Rollins while I really enjoyed Merold Westphal and Kevin Corcoran.  However, I’m glad to have read them all.

My biggest critique isn’t the questioning nature of the church or the different doctrine some of its members and leaders hold.  My biggest critiques are that for all the supposed emphasis on epistemic humility, it’s seemed to me that the liberal voice had pushed away the conservative voice.  I wondered if grey areas eventually became just as fundamental, only on the opposite side, for those in the Emergent Church.  For all the emphasis on social justice, there don’t seem to be many poor and uneducated in their churches.  In fact, as Tony Jones (2) has pointed out in his book, over 71% of the Emergent Church members he surveyed have finished college.  Either they are doing an outstanding job getting those they serve an education or they are not attracting to the poor when it comes to church gatherings.  But the greatest disappointment, which got way too little attention in Jones’ book, is the lack of ethnic diversity.  If you have a burning theological question, and you crave the opinion of a minority, one of the last places you should look is the Emergent Church.

Overall, I have learned a great number of things from those in the Emergent Church and it’s likely that I will continue to do so.  Their perspective is valuable because it is often deeply reflective, carefully studied, and it is not my own.

Be sure to check out my next blog series on Women In Ministry!

1.  pg. 123 Theories of Culture

2. pg. 80 The Church is Flat

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!  (This is not related to the class project.  This is our standard insert at the end of all of our blogs as we build our community at EWCC.)

Brian Bram August 29, 2012 1 Comment Permalink

My Emergent Church Visit

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Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for My Emergent Church Visit and HERE for my hilarious story about the love-seat!

 

I’m continuing my series on my Emergent Church Project. (1)  If you’d like to read the posts in order, click HERE, then HERE, then HERE, and then HERE.

It might be good to note, for those one or two people who may someday stumble on my blog, that this post is one in a series of posts for a school project.  My structure is to explore four major emergent themes in the blog and one more theme in the video.  So, to get a full context on my thoughts regarding the emergent church, one would really do better to follow the series in order, at least skimming if time is short.  This isn’t a diabolical plan to get you hooked on my undiscovered, unpaid, writing talent but an effort to be known in full context.

Events

I arrived at the emergent church 10 minutes prior to the service time.  The outside was a typical looking, old, downtown church other than the member tended gardens that surrounded the church giving off a vegetable smell.  The inside was nothing I’d ever seen in a church before and I’ve been around.  In the center there was a swivel chair.  In somewhat concentric circles around that there were living room style couches and chairs. (2)    I found a spot on a love-seat (how ironic in the house of God).  After a few minutes the lead pastor, or whatever his actual title is, greeted me, obviously recognizing that I was a visitor.  He offered some snacks and a free book in the adjacent room.  The band rehearsed.  People chatted until the band started about 10-15 minutes after the posted start time.  Everyone stood for a group reading.  An un-preselected person was expected to volunteer to read the parts that said Anyone and the rest read the All parts.  The crowd was encouraged to chat with their neighbors while the younger kids exited to their area.  Predetermined announcements.  “Pop-up” announcements made by anyone who wants to announce something.  I didn’t announce anything.  Since summer is a bit different, there is no sermon by the leader.  Instead, “Soap-box” sermons are given by predetermined volunteers.  The sermons are not pre-approved or censored.  They are 10 minutes and 20 minutes.  The 10 minute is a reading.  The 20 minute is a reflection on the book Shadow Cities.  We take communion by pouring our own wine or helping to pour someone else’s wine and ripping off our own bread.  More conversation and dismissal.  I grabbed a free book.

4 Themes of the Emergent Church

Well, if you can’t score pretty well on your own themes then you should just shut-er-down!  Obviously, the emergent church is going to score well on all five themes.  However, that doesn’t mean they are above criticism on their own themes.  As we may see, there is a difference between theory and practice.

The degree of epistemic humility was huge here but it may be a bit overboard, at least for me.  It may be courageous and humble to allow anyone the opportunity to speak but it does not come without some risks that I’d rather avoid.  One risk is, if there are too many occasions where there is nothing transformative about the message(s) there is little chance that certain people would continue to attend. (3)    It seems to me that certain people are gifted more for certain things, and if they enjoy doing them, they should.  It also seems to me that some aren’t and they should look for opportunities to operate in the things they are gifted in.  There is a tension for me between recognizing that we can absolutely learn from anyone and the apparent wisdom of having trained (4)  teachers be leading.  For my taste, I think the emergent church and sometimes the house church has gone too far in one direction and the mega-church and Catholic church have gone too far in the other.  I actually didn’t have any visits where I felt they were actually nailing this theme in praxis.

Conversation was off the charts emphasized and I wouldn’t make many changes here, at least if you’re willing to concede that many introverts are likely to hyperventilate at the very thought of visiting this church for the first time.  I’m sure there are introverts that do attend but I think if we’re being honest we’d say this is not the setting they are energized by, as a whole.  However, one could argue that the group size is just sufficient enough to promote the ability to come, listen, and remain somewhat secluded.  Extroverts like me are always suggesting it’s the introverts that should change and be more like us and we rarely admit that we have no idea what it’s like to be an introvert, forced to operate in churches patterned after the personalities of extroverts who think nothing about directing everyone to “share the peace” with their neighbor.  Whoa!  Looks like I got on a “soap-box” there.  He He.  I’ll wrap up just by saying that I have deep conviction about the importance of conversation in our spiritual lives and this was an obvious strength of this church.  However, they might learn something from the “seeker friendly” church and at least attempt to ease the minds of the introverts attending for the first time by saying something comforting when it comes time to commiserate.

It’s easy to see that people in this church were afforded many opportunities to actively participate. (5)    There was almost no part of the service that anyone who was willing couldn’t participate in, other than the music.  The music didn’t seem to be open to untrained, interested people.  Hmm?

Lastly, there was not nearly as much centralization here as many churches would have, but there was still a clear, singular leader.  He may try to be just one of the crowd, but it doesn’t seem coincidental that he was the one person who intentionally greeted me upon my arrival.  However, what he’s clearly not doing, is hoarding all the attention, all the responsibility, and all the leadership opportunities onto himself.  All of those things are shared.

One final note.  I found nothing for any Christian to be scared of.  Is this church unique?  Yes.  Will it appeal to all people?  No.  But, there are none that do.  For my three cents, this church, and the emergent church as a whole, should do what all churches should.  They should focus on Christ and who they feel Christ has called them to be and continue to push towards more fully being God’s Kingdom people.

I’ll soon be giving my final analysis on the emergent church in my next post.

1.  I love to preface so I’ll preface with a couple limitations of my project which are due mostly because of time constraints.  I was only able to visit each church once.  So, unfortunately, there will be obvious over-generalizations.  I was also only able to interview two people per church which was more of a challenge than I anticipated.  Alas, I don’t have all year to do this project!

2.  I’ve said and demonstrated that my particular churches and interviewees would remain anonymous.  However, I’ve also said if you figure them out, well I just can’t do anything about that.

3.  Of course, lots of people attend churches largely out of taste matters.  Many things I like or dislike about any church is largely a matter of taste.

4.  In an earlier blog I go over the details on this.

5.  See this blog for my distinction between active and passive participation.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!  (This is not related to the class project.  This is our standard insert at the end of all of our blogs as we build our community at EWCC.)

Brian Bram August 25, 2012 2 Comments Permalink

My Catholic Church Visit

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right.  Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too.  If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be the bomb!  Saying the bomb is already out, isn’t it?]

 

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for My Catholic Church Visit.

I’m continuing my series on my Emergent Church Project. (1)  If you’d like to read the posts in order, click HERE, then HERE, and then HERE.

Today we’re looking at the Catholic Church.  While my family didn’t claim much loyalty to  any particular Christian denomination while I grew up, if we had to decide which one we identified most with, this would likely have been the one even though we never attended mass.  This was mostly because my mother grew up Catholic.  While we do study a good bit of Catholic theology at Bethel Seminary I am fairly limited on my in-depth Catholic knowledge.  What little I have I owe to my crazy friend Lance (@LanceCatch).  So, please forgive me if I make a mistake in terminology, etc.  So, away we go.

Events

My two daughters and I arrived at the church a few minutes early.  There was a huge foyer area inside the main doors.  The sanctuary was lines with long wooden pews and kneel stools for prayer.  There was a band area to the left and a large main stage in front with various clergy seated there.  There is a large cross in front with a sizable organ.  We sing two hymns and read from Ezekiel 5:2-5.  We sing another hymn and read from 2 Corinthians.  One of the priests or fathers, not sure of the title, holds up the Bible for all to see.  Everyone makes the familiar sign of the cross with their hands.  The speaker (priest, father) reads from Mark 6:1-6 and gives a message for about 15-20 minutes.  We say the apostle’s creed and a prayer.  We sing another hymn and go to our knees for prayer.  Communion bread and wine are shown to the crowd by the priests or fathers first and then pre-selected laity assist. (2)    We say the Lord’s prayer and announcements are made.

4 Themes of the Emergent Church

Before I get to the 4 themes, I’ll make a few quick notes that are more general, since there aren’t many.  First of all, I was surprised by how much I got out of the service.  My impression going in was that Catholic services were long and boring.  While I’m sure that depends both on the type of church and/or service, it wasn’t true here.  Also, a good number of people left early and I’m not sure why.  I wondered if there was a certain part or parts of the service that were extra-valuable to them, and when completed, they just were in the habit of skipping the rest.  It was a large church but not so large to be concerned about the traffic.  Also, while there was a place for children to go for most of the year, those services were not available in the summer.  This was very distracting for me as my children are 4 and 5.  Finally, the people were friendly and welcoming.  I was greeted by some and one of the clergy made some small talk with me and my daughters for a bit.

When it comes to epistemic humility, this church may rank the worst overall amongst those I visited.  It appeared to me that almost the entire responsibility for interpretation belonged to the clergy.  In the message, there was a great story and a nice take-away given for the people to have some practical application but there was nothing exegetical about the message.  In fact, after the reading of the verses, the speaker never went back to them.  It left me feeling as though the application had more to do with his story rather than His story.  There was no background on the culture given, background that the speaker had uncovered in his study for the week.  From what I learned in my visit and my interview there was little encouragement to study and interpret scripture for the congregation and there was little room for disagreement with church leaders on doctrine or interpretation.  From what I know, once the church is settled on a matter of doctrine, there is little to no room for discussion and little room to consider that church leaders may have gotten something wrong in their textual analysis.

In terms of conversation during the service, there was none.  Also, there were no strategies mentioned for small group discussions.  Theological conversation seems to have been left up to the clergy.

There was some participation but it was what I have previously defined as passive participation.  There was repeating and responding, listening to and singing music, and there were service opportunities given to laity during the announcements.

In terms of decentralization, there was none.  This church is extremely centralized.  Only some are clergy and they are all male.  (Is it too early to plug my upcoming series on women in ministry?  This topic has been my project for the summer.  It has easily surpassed my previously largest exegetical topic on tithing.). This church is the most hierarchical of all the churches I visited.  There was a clear, unalterable structure.

While many of my Protestant friends would find it nearly impossible to serve God in the Catholic Church, I don’t think I would.  Over time I could learn to appreciate the hymns and I could squeeze out something from the messages that would energize me to live for Christ.  Unfortunately for me, there are just too many improvements to be made, theologically, liturgically, and structurally before I would make it my home church.  However, I will explore how we can be unified beyond the current “we’ll agree to disagree and fellowship totally separated from one another” situation.  But, that’s for a later post.

1.  I love to preface so I’ll preface with a couple limitations of my project which are due mostly because of time constraints.  I was only able to visit each church once.  So, unfortunately, there will be obvious over-generalizations.  I was also only able to interview two people per church which was more of a challenge than I anticipated.  Alas, I don’t have all year to do this project!

2.  I do not actually take communion.  No one has said anything to me but it is my understanding that unless one is Catholic, one is not supposed to take communion in a Catholic service.  My theory is shown to be true in my interview with one of the members.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!  (This is not related to the class project.  This is our standard insert at the end of all of our blogs as we build our community at EWCC.)

Brian Bram August 23, 2012 11 Comments Permalink

My Mega-Church Visit

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right.  Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too.  If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be the bomb!  Saying the bomb is already out, isn’t it?]

 

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for My Mega-Church Visit.

I’m continuing my series on my Emergent Church Project. (1)  If you’d like to read the posts in order, click HERE, and then HERE.

Since most of my church experience has been in rather large churches I focused even more to try to see past my own lens in critiquing this large, Baptist, mega-church.  It turns out that even though I’ve gravitated to this type of church in the past that I’m more critical of it than any of the others.

Events

From the start it was obvious to me that this was a very seeker friendly church. (2)  We drove by the traffic director, were welcomed at the door by two wonderful members at their post, and easily found our way to the information booth to find out where to bring our two daughters.  There was a tour guide assigned to us who showed us the way to the children’s ministry.  He was sure to show us the security features of the facility and introduce us to the person who would register our children.  We had matching name tags with special numbers that would flash on the screen during the service should there be any issues.  We checked the girls into their classrooms and were shown around the rest of the facility.  There was a bookstore featuring books written by the senior pastor.  There was a coffee shop complete with small snacks and an area to hang out in before the start of the service.  Since we were first-time visitors we were given a very large information packet.  We were also greeted by the inside door greeters in the main worship area and given another sheet with the order of service.  There were back tables that resembled the tall restaurant tables you’d see in coffee shops in the back row and regular cushioned chairs in rows in the main congregation room.  We started with some music that was much louder than any of my other church visits which was mostly a rock genre.  The main stage area was well decorated in somewhat concert type setup, complete with fog and strobe lights.  We then prayed and listened to announcements.  An offering was taken and an announcement that visitors need not participate.  A large screen lowered down and we were able to catch, just in time, the very beginning of a message that was being spoken live in another city.  The backgrounds seemed to match between the stage we could see in person and the one on the screen.  Throughout the message scriptures that were used were shown on the screen.  After the message we dismissed.

4 Themes of the Emergent Church

The mega-church overall, and not just the one I visited, is not going to fair very well when it comes to the 4 major themes we’ve been discussing.

I made a few observations regarding epistemic humility during my visit and interviews.  There may be epistemic humility within the leader(s) of the church but the impression one gets from visiting is that the speakers are the ones who’s job it is to interpret scripture and relay that to the people.  This topic, as I think I’ve hinted at in other posts is a catch 22 for me.  On one hand I recognize the limited number of people who have a maximum level of time and training, both formal and self-training.  Yet, on the other hand I recognize the need to send clear messages out that we need to raise the expectations we have for people to become educated for the purpose of educating others.

Oftentimes in mega-churches there is a very limited number of people who have the opportunity to preach.  Usually these congregations are strongly bonded together under the leadership of a single charismatic leader who, when he or she leaves, retires, or passes away, leaves a congregation that struggles to be able to hear another voice.  Rather than a signal of epistemic humility, the message conveyed can be taken to mean that only certain superstar persons of God are able to preach.  Guest speakers are usually rare and almost never are guest speakers brought in who have a differing theological view. (3)  All of my clues from my visit led me to think this church suffered from this same ailment.  The most glaring show of this mindset was the fact that the message was streamed in from another city!  I kept thinking, as the local pastor was giving announcements, “What does he have to say about the gospel?  Can’t he stand up there and give a message?  Doesn’t anyone want to hear his preaching?”  And so on.

I’m fully in the camp that says, “Hey, if people want to hear someone, we shouldn’t stop them from going.”  Jesus had large crowds, too.  But I’m also in the camp that says, in all of our strategizing on how to do church, we should be strategizing on how to get people to willingly and happily hear other people’s voices.  After all, we’re really trying to hear God for our lives rather than watch egos be padded by drawing large crowds unto ourselves.

For the sake of space I’ll handle conversation and participation together again.  Although there was little active conversation and participation during the service, I was told that there was a fairly strong small groups ministry in the church.  I’m distinguishing here between active and passive and kind of making up my own definitions, but, who cares, it’s a blog and not a term paper.  By active I mean putting forth my own interpretation of the passage for the group to hear, or actually getting a chance to teach something I’ve prepared.  By passive I mean those kinds of things like singing along, clapping with the crowd, group scripture reciting, and such.  Almost all of the conversation and participation was passive.

Lastly, in terms of decentralization, there were certain people in charge of certain things and the rest of the people were, once again, expected to participate by going along with the program.  In a lot of ways I would probably critique this less than someone who actually is an emergent person.  I have no issue if there is a time for this so long as there is ample encouragement to join in on the other opportunities that exist in the church for a more active participation. (4)

Well, unfortunately I feel as though I’ve heavily criticized this kind of church.  My hope is that we can learn something from this kind of analysis to push towards a more complete  experience.  Hopefully I haven’t fallen victim to what I think many emergent folks have.  It seems that often the emergent crowd is focused on what’s not going well and not paying attention to what is.

So, here are a few things that went very well during my visit to this particular mega-church.  First of all, we were extremely welcomed.  There was little chance we were going to be able to go without being noticed.  Everyone was very careful to make sure we were treated warmly and the treatment came from sincerity.  The area of connecting with visitors was, in my estimation, the most salient place for people to have an opportunity to serve.  The overwhelming sense of invitation permeated almost every staff person and volunteer person’s work.

Next, there was a high degree of passion.  It was easy to recognize the spirit of enthusiasm the people had for giving tours, taking care of the children, greeting visitors, serving coffee, leading worship, and all the other ways people there served.  There was an energetic joy in the way people went about their service that was not over-the-top so as to become uncomfortable.

Finally, the message was biblical and relevant.  The stories tied into the scripture and there were even visual demonstrations that were easily linked to what it was the speaker was trying to get across to the congregation.  People could understand and apply the lesson for the day.  In fact, popular myths about certain elements of Christian teaching were largely dispelled, especially relating to eschatology.

1.  I love to preface so I’ll preface with a couple limitations of my project which are due mostly because of time constraints.  I was only able to visit each church once.  So, unfortunately, there will be obvious over-generalizations.  I was also only able to interview two people per church which was more of a challenge than I anticipated.  Alas, I don’t have all year to do this project!

2.  This just means that they have an extremely systematic way of gearing towards the visitor.  Although the visitor may not know it, behind the scenes those in charge of leadership have carefully conducted and applied research to find out how best to attract and retain visitors.  One example, from my interviews was that many familiar “Christian” words, especially “wierd” ones, were implicitly discouraged.

3.  Even if/when they are they are often monitored and censored to be sure they don’t speak those views to the congregation, lest confusion would set in.  The thinking seems to be that the congregation could lose faith, rebel, or worse yet, leave Christ altogether.

4. Certainly singing along, reading along, and such is active participation.  It’s just not AS active as other types of participation such as dialogue.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!  (This is not related to the class project.  This is our standard insert at the end of all of our blogs as we build our community at EWCC.)

Brian Bram August 16, 2012 5 Comments Permalink

My House Church Visit

[If you’re new to this blog, we’d love it if you subscribed to our RSS feed or email updates to the right.  Should you decide to in the future, unsubscribing is easy, too.  If you like it and share via Twitter or Facebook that’d be the bomb!  Saying the bomb is already out, isn’t it?]

Click HERE for an introductory YouTube video for My House Church Visit.

I’m finally getting a chance to continue the series on my Emergent Church Project.  I’ve made three of the four church visits so far. (1)  (Click HERE if you missed the 1st post and you want to catch up.)

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting my first house church.  Whoop!  Whoop!  (2)

Events

I arrived at the house at the top of the hour to people in meal preparation.  We made small talk and I joined in on the prep work.  We set up tables and chairs in the back yard, ate our meal and continued our conversation.  The opening prayer came in the form of a Walter Brueggemann poem.  A young lady visiting home for a short time “shared” some of her recent life since her move to Rwanda.  (3)  There was some time allowed for people to ask her questions.  We cleaned up after the meal, and took the meeting inside where we had ice cream on a hot night.  Another member shared which included a bit of guitar and vocals.  There were some announcements and updates to some of their charitable endeavors, particularly the one in Rwanda.

4 Themes of the Emergent Church

In my first blog on the series I laid out the 4 themes we’ll trace at each church visit (epistemic humility, conversation, participation, decentralization).  The 5th theme, space, will be explored in the attached video.  The question isn’t whether or not each of the three non-emergent churches I visited for this project (Catholic, Baptist Mega-church, and House Church) display these themes but rather how much.  If I look hard enough, I can spot all 4 themes in all the churches I visited.  However, the 4 themes are central to the emergent church while some others have them much further out on the periphery.

Of the three non-emergent churches, the house church displayed the greatest degree of the 4 themes that characterize the emergent church.  The level of epistemic humility was off the charts, possibly to a fault.  One of the things I expected to hear more of was how the house church model was the biblical way of doing church.  (I don’t deal with this in this blog because this is not an exegetical project.  However, feel free to comment on it.  Who knows?  You just might spark a lively conversation.)  I heard little, if any, of that.  Also, I was aware of a very large gap between members in their level of theological training.  However, I don’t think I would have been aware of it had I not had some inside information regarding a member who was a seminary graduate.  There was a clear value of having an attitude that we learn from everyone in the group rather than one or two experts.

Conversation was a central feature of the gathering.  Some talked more than others and I think some didn’t talk at all.  Actually, I think this is a benefit.  One of the concerns I had going in was that introverts would avoid this way of church.  I still think many introverts would avoid house church but it’s nice to be able to at least testify to the fact that some people come and don’t talk.

Unfortunately, on this particular night, the conversation wasn’t extremely transformative.  I think this may be flowing out of what may be an overabundance of epistemic humility.   Before going too far, I will say that I never got the sense that this was a constant issue.  I doubt people would continue to show up to a function largely focused on conversation if the conversation wasn’t regularly inspiring.  I would really have to spend a lot of time building a case for what I would see as a remedy for this and why it should be adjusted but it would take a lot of time to do so while anticipating objections, handling those, stating why I think it’s needed, etc.  For now I’ll just say that one of the values I garnered from the meeting was to allow each person the opportunity to operate in their gift.  With that being said, it’s clear that some have the gift of teaching and some don’t.  However, in an effort to give everyone a fair opportunity to share, there was no observable method for a checks-and-balances approach for those without the gift of teaching.  I’d be interested in comments regarding some of the following questions:  Should everyone have an equal amount of time to teach?  Who decides that?  Are some allowed to share but not teach?  What happens if someone gains a “following” in the group while promoting views that are outside the boundaries of Christianity?  Who decides what those boundaries are?  Who decides when someone should be asked to leave?

In terms of participation, there were a lot of ways to do so even if someone didn’t engage in the conversation.  There was food to buy, prepare and serve, tables and chairs to be set up, clean-up, and I imagine money to be managed, although there was no money  to be managed on the night of my visit.  Of course, engaging in the conversation was also participation.  Because they are participating in the conversation rather than simply listening to a prepared sermon, members have some influence in the direction of the gathering.  Also, the flexibility this gives allows house church members to respond to specific needs, something the other churches would find difficult.  For example, if there was a particular plan for the evening, but someone came in with an absolutely pressing need, it’s likely that the plan for the evening would be scrapped and the course of the evening would shift to the person with the need.  The more common church models would likely have to assign that person to a church staff member to allow the evening to go on as planned.

The house church was the most decentralized of my visits.  It was at the same time, in my opinion, too decentralized, yet not as decentralized as some may like to think.  (4)  I’ve kind of covered that I think some of the lack of formalized leadership contributed to a lack of transformational conversation so I’ll only add that the reason I think this is important is more for the unchurched and unbelievers more than those already invested in following Christ.  Now, on to the idea that there was more centralization than what may have been stated.  There was a stated ideal of a lack of formalized leadership.  However, I think most observers, if asked, would have identified the same leader that I would.  I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that that person was a resident of the house, the cofounder of the group, and a seminary graduate.  (5)

Overall, I might not have had much academic type of learning on the night of my visit but I did have lots of enlightenment style learning.  I was moved by their acceptance of a homeless participant and the way that they treated him as just another member.  They neither went out of their way to cater to him nor hid him out of sight.  They were invested in one another’s lives and church was a community rather than an event.  (6)

I think I’ll save how my observation of the house church can inform my own church plant project for later.  (Click HERE and HERE for some more background on that.)  For now, I’ll just say that a lot more can be said about my visit including my interviews with two house church members.  For those who are interested, feel free to reach out to me and I can certainly point you in a good direction towards some house churches that I know about.  I did have a great experience at the one I went to!

1.  I love to preface so I’ll preface with a couple limitations of my project which are due mostly because of time constraints.  I was only able to visit each church once.  So, unfortunately, there will be obvious over-generalizations.  I was also only able to interview two people per church which was more of a challenge than I anticipated.  Alas, I don’t have all year to do this project!

2.  I’ve attended one home bible study before, but that was quite a bit different.

3.  I put share in quotes because it became clear that sharing was a shared (ha) responsibility passed around to different group members each week.  I mean nothing insulting here.  I only attempt to show that an ethnographer might note that sharing was actually a bit of a technical term.

4.  Of course, I can’t read minds so I’m just guessing here.

5.  There is another seminary trained cofounder who was absent the night I visited.  There may have also been a few others who were sem students but I’m not sure who they were or if they graduated.

6.  Except that it was held at a particular time and place.

P.S.  For information on participating in our dialogue group, click on the “Become A Participant” tab and tell us if you’d like to join us in person or via the web.  We’d love to be in community with you!  (This is not related to the class project.  This is our standard insert at the end of all of our blogs as we build our community at EWCC.)