Thursday, May 24, 2007

Update on Jim Strader's Emerging Church Evangelism Dinner Experiment


Apparently Rev. Jim Strader's experiment in emerging church evangelism (which I posted about here) was a great success. Here is his report:


The conversation was even better. People were definitely copesetic with talking about God, the Church and what does and doesn't work for them. God is present in creation much more so than in dreary worship services. And yet, worship music can be great, if the language isn't so dreary, or dreadfully masculine. My friend Ralyn talked about how much she thoroughly enjoys visiting the African Methodist congregation downtown because their worship services are so jubilant and joyful. People dance and sing. She thinks that's cool -- and they invite her into the community, even if she is the only White person in the congregation. Jeffrey questioned why so many Christian communities were so uninviting. He's had a particularly difficult time finding a welcoming Church as someone who is away from home, studying at college, and trying to find a multi-generational community.

I offered a quick passage from Matthew 5:11-15 and told my friends that I perceived them as salty people who don't hide their lights under bushels. They have worked with refugees, cared for African children in Tanzania, written articles about gay rights in society, and given more than 10% of their profits from their entrepreneurial activities to meaningful charities. They asked me why I'm a priest. I told them I thought that the Church could be a thriving, relevant instrument of Christ's Grace and Peace. I'm sure I wasn't that articulate though. It was an awesome night really. We agreed to gather again on June 7th. I don't have to provide the biblical setting this time. How cool is that! We're going to continue asking questions and chatting with one another. The norms are that we will eat a meal, say a prayer, and listen to one another.

I didn't really learn anything new and yet I learned a good many new things in "real" ways. Christian hospitality and friendship resonate with spiritual people. Don't bullshit people. Create space to converse pleasurably and honorably with integrity and people will offer their stories. Be vulnerable enough to ask someone, when you don't know the answer about why the Church sucks. More importantly ... be willing to ask someone in an open way what you hope to learn from them. And then... listen, listen with your heart as well as with your ears.

Read it all.

2 comments:

jwgray78 said...

Chuck,
Interesting reading on the Emerging Church. I belong to an evangelical church, not affiliated with a particular denomination. However, I have family that are Episcopal (and have close ties to this church) and grew up in a Charismatic denomination. Each worship style has its positives and negatives. The Bible calls us to be culturally relevant without watering down the truth. I have understood that to mean that issues of style, such as modern music, comfortable dress, etc. should all be permitted. We should not, however, water down the word at the expense of truth just so we do not offend. Sin and salvation are core tenants of our faith and they can be offensive, but along these lines, as 1 Peter 3:15 tells us, we must share our faith with gentleness and respect. One criticism of the "Emerging Church" or "seeker friendly" churches is that in some cases, they only focus on the positive things that are noted in the Bible. When challenges hit, people’s faith can be rocked and they fall away from the church thinking that it was all a lie. In the end, there must be a balance. An interesting book to read is, "Reclaiming God's Original Intent for the Church" by Wes Roberts and Glenn Marshall. An excerpt on the subject notes (pg. 47), "During a time when Christianity was outlawed and Christians were the outcasts of society, Christianity grew. And it grew without big-screen presentations and air-conditioned church buildings with comfy seats. Without seeker services. Without evangelistic crusades and programmed gospel presentations. Instead, Christians met in secret to worship together. In fact, deacons guarded the door to screen people attempting to come in." The author has a point...seeker friendly was not a word in the vocabulary of the early church and it still grew and people came to the faith. We should not, however, turn non-believers away. There needs to be a balance of being culturally relevant and providing truth. The great commission given to us by Jesus says to go and makes disciples of all nations. He does not say to simply make believers but disciples -- to dedicate our entire life to His will. That is a scary thought to some and we should not shy away from explaining that this means putting aside one's own sinful desires for a greater purpose. I enjoy your blog...I am a politico myself (aka lobbyist) but as you note my first priority is my faith. As Tom Smith used to say, that was just my opinion and it is worth as much as it cost for me to give it to you. God bless.

Chuck Blanchard said...

jwgray78:

I am glad that you enjoy my blog. I think all of your points are well taken. As you can tell from my blog, I am very interested in evangelism (which in my view needs to be a more important focus of the Episcopal Church). thanks for the reference to "Reclaiming God's Original Intent for the Church". Sounds like its well worth reading.