According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Between Traditional and Emerging
Finding a third way.
Interview with Jim Belcher, April 6, 2010

Topics: Culture, Emergent, Generational differences, Postmodernism, Relevance, Trends, Vision
Filters: Emergent ministry, Generational ministry, Pastor, Worship

Jim Belcher's recent book Deep Church has garnered a lot of attention in ministry circles. For 2009 it was even named Best Book for the Leader's Outer Life by our sister magazine Leadership journal. editor Drew Dyck spoke with Belcher about his book and what it means for churches.

The subtitle of your book is "Finding a third way between traditional and emergent." Can you explain that?

I wanted to compare traditional and emerging, and then explore a third way. That approach really took the pressure off. It took me out of the critic role, and allowed me to be the bystander while those two sides duke it out a little bit. But then I wanted to come in and say, "Well, okay, let's calm down. I like you both. But let me introduce a different way." I just thought that was a much more disarming way of doing it.

I think we need a new plan for the church, a new solution. But the only way I was going to get both sides to listen is if I did this. And I think that's what's happened. Even those on the emergent side, which would put them the farthest away from the traditional, even those guys, they disagree but they're not ticked off at me.

Could you describe for our readers what you mean by deep church?

The term actually comes from C.S. Lewis. He's trying to describe the kind of church that he envisions. He uses two phrases. One is "deep church," and the other is "mere Christian." Of course, the "mere Christian" part goes on to be famous because the publisher takes that and puts it on the book title that's still a bestseller. But the "deep church" term is not as well known, even though he was using "deep church" synonymously with mere Christian.

I needed to lay out where we could be unified before we talked about our disagreements. Lewis is a great place to go because he helps define mere Christianity. So Lewis has that great passage where he says, Mere Christianity is like the corridor of a house where we all are in the corridor together and then we go into our distinct rooms and we sit around a fireplace or we sit in our comfy chairs and we discuss and we talk and we have great fellowship, kind of amongst those who share our persuasion or our particular view. But when we're done with that, we might even go into someone else's room and enjoy the conversation. I can go in and listen to Wesleyans or Nazarenes or Pentecostals or Anabaptists or whatever. In a similar way, those from other traditions can come in and hear more about what's happening in the Reformed tradition. However, at the end of the day, we leave those rooms, and we head back into the corridor where we all share the common creeds of the faith, the Apostle's and Nicaean creeds, those core beliefs that unify us. Not only do I want us to move towards the deep church, but I want us to agree, really, on what unifies us before we talk about particulars.

What are some of the things you think that traditional churches can learn from emerging churches, and the other way around?

One of the things you recognize when you read emerging writers is they have a passion for the church, for missions, and to reach the world. They're really evangelists at heart. They want to move out, and they get frustrated with the traditional church because it tends to get stuck in bureaucracy or administration or tied up with institutional matters. Traditional churches can forget about the need for the church to move out in mission and to move out organically into the world.

These emerging writers have an incredibly strong passion and I think we can learn from that. I mean, even when I read guys that are in the organic part of the church, you know, the Neil Coles of the world, I have lots of differences but at the same time I love their passion for evangelism and their passion to reach the lost, their passion to engage the culture. And the traditional church could often use more of that.

Now, on the other side, what can the emerging church learn? Well, I think the traditional church has been rooted in history. Christopher Hall, who is the chancellor at Eastern University, often says that the Holy Spirit has a history, and we look at that history through how God has dealt with the church. And I think that the emerging brothers and sisters need to see that and appreciate that connection to the history of how God has worked in the church.

What do you see as the future of the emerging church?

I don't have a crystal ball, but I think they've gone through a time where they've been a little chastened through some of the pushback, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Pushback is healthy. So I think they've been forced to think more deeply about the history of the church and its traditions. I think they've been forced to reassess, for instance, postmodernism. I think some of them jumped on the bandwagon a little too quickly with that. I talk about this with Tony Jones in my book. I think there's things that we can learn about postmodernism and how it helped us dismantle the Enlightenment, but it doesn't often provide the way to rebuild once something has been dismantled. And I think they're starting to move away from looking to postmodernism and looking back into the Scriptures and saying, "This is where we've got to look to in order to do that rebuilding."

What are the demographics of your church?

We're in Newport Beach, and Newport Beach is 92% Caucasian in its population, but I think we are much more diverse than that. But our goal as far as age groups is to be four-generation. It came out of a targeted homogenous ministry that was one age group, the 20-somethings, and really felt like we were missing out on having the wisdom of all the generations. So our goal is to put together a worship service that actually can hold all four generations in the worship service, where they feel like they're engaging and they're worshipping together. So we've got little children all the way up to people up into their 80s worshipping together. And it's tough. Because there are times where the younger people want to go, maybe, more contemporary, more contextualized; there's older folks who bristle at that and just want the hymns done straight. But we try and find a balance. We find that the hymns in particular really transcend the generations. I have my three-year-old learning a hymn and walking around the house singing it with the same gusto as an 85-year-old person. To me, that's amazing to see the music transcend the generations.

I've talked to church growth experts who say that you cannot have two generations in one service. They say that you have to go to a two-service system or find some way to separate them. So how do you respond to that?

Well, if numerical growth is the only thing that you're looking for, then that's probably right. But if you're really looking for deep church, where the body of Christ stays together and is a covenant family the way it is in the Scriptures, I would rather do it together, and not grow as quickly but actually have more depth. If the goal is to keep reaching more people, I'm all for that, but just go ahead and plant more churches. So our goal is to keep planting, whether it's more sites or more churches in our denomination, and let the churches stay small so that we can keep the four generations together. In the past I did 20-something ministry and it grew and it grew and it was wonderful. I'm not saying God wasn't using it, but it lacked what I think having four generations together brings.

You write that traditional can be "profoundly relevant." How do you back up that claim? What would you say to pastors who might be leading a traditional church but have a nagging fear that the church needs to get all slick and flashy to attract younger people?

The deeper we sink our roots actually into the past, into the history of the Holy Spirit, the history of the church, the more we actually become profoundly relevant for today. Sometimes when we're just chasing cultural newness or trendiness or wanting to reach the culture on the cutting edge, we actually lose our relevance. I'm not saying that's wrong, but if we do it without being really deeply rooted in the history of the church, we are no longer relevant to anybody. We lose our salt, we lose our light. It's when we're deeply rooted in the past that we actually can connect to the future in a way that always stays relevant.

I don't think you have to be slick to attract the younger people, but I do think you need to be authentic. But it's not about being trendy. It's about really making sure that the gospel and the traditions are contextualized and communicated to this younger generation. I think they're hungry for rootedness in tradition. They've grown up in such rootless cultures and churches that they're looking for some of this, but it still has to be done in a way that they can hear and doesn't feel like it's 500 years old. So in our church, we've got a historical liturgy, but it's communicated in a way that's fresh and relevant. We've got music that can be 1,000 years old, but it's communicated and the instrumentation is done in a way that feels right up to date. So they experience the old and the new at the same time. You still have to wrestle with being missional in this culture while not sacrificing the depths of the past.

I imagine that's always a balancing act.

Yeah, it's something you have to constantly reassess. We keep doing that, even at Redeemer, and we're only eight years old. We have to keep asking ourselves whether we're staying rooted in the past while being good missionaries in the culture, all while remaining faithful to the gospel. And sometimes we have to make adjustments. We're always reassessing the life of the church. If not, we tend to go in one of the two directions, either to tradition and getting stuck in the past, or we move so far to the future that we lose the distinctiveness of who we are as the people of God.

—Drew Dyck; © 2010 Christianity Today International/

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