Thursday, January 29, 2009

First “mark” of an Emerging Church: Relational Service

The first of what I think are the three marks of an Emerging Church is the idea of relational service. Emerging churches are missional in that they see the need and hurt in the world and they wanna be about making a difference. They wanna be about bringing the Kingdom of God to the Least, the las, and the lost. Emerging Churches reject the twin ideas that “the poor will always be with us” so therefore there’s nothing we can do, and the idea that what people really need in the gospel, the rest will take care of itself.

But also, unlike some of our mainline church neighbors, Emerging Churches are not content just throwing money at the problem or outsourcing our service to the professional clergy. Christians in Emerging Churches want to be in relationship with the people they are serving.

Let me talk about the two ways in which this works in my community, even though I know that in many ways what we do is woefully lacking. Our service constitutes primarily 2 activities:
First every Saturday a group from the church make lunches to hand out to a community of homeless people that live downtown. Of course that’s a pretty common thing for churches to do. But what we do that’s different is that we make only about 4 lunches per person going down. The goal being not to feed as many people as possible (let’s be honest, these guys know how to get food) but rather to spend some time with them, to get to know them.

So, having done this for the last two+ years we know most of these folks by name. We know they’re history, we know about their families, we know what’s going on relationally in the homeless community. Sometimes they come to church, sometimes we take them to the doctor or to the shelter, sometimes we have them over for dinner, and most weeks we pray for them by name during worship. I share this example, not because it’s great or impressive but because it’s simple.

Second, we do support a small aid organization that works with disabled children in Kenya called Kupenda for the Children ( Now in this instance we can’t really have relationships with the kids but we do have relationship with the American staff. The director, a young woman named Cindy, comes and shares with us frequently. We get there newsletter and bring them up in prayer. I am on their board of directors and we are looking for creative opportunities to raise funds for them.

Again, nothing about that is great or impressive, just that there is something “emergent” to me about finding a small NGO to support in whatever way we can. One where we will know by name the people who are doing the work we are supporting.

And again, I use my community not because we’re a stellar example but because we’re not. Because I think we are striving in the right direction in a way that might be helpful for others to hear about. But I do think that for a church to call itself "emerging" this idea of relational service -- in whatever way it works itself out -- needs to be a part of what they are doing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is the Emerging Church? Part 1

What is the Emerging Church?

It seems that this question is on everyone’s minds these days. Some people are leaving the conversation and defining themselves over/against the term. Some people are saying let’s get rid of the term all together. And some people are breaking the term in to a myriad of camps, primarily along the same old lines of conservative and liberal. I think it’s time to raise the bar on who and what the Emergent Church is, who and what it is not, and to be unapologetic about it.

I mentioned some of this in an earlier post but I’d like to expand on it in a series of posts starting with:

First, the Emerging Church is about churches. It’s not about a brand, it’s not about an organization, it’s not about cohorts and it’s not about a series of blogs. Ultimately the Emerging Church is not about conversation, it’s about churches. Obviously, we can and should have conversations about the Emerging Church – I love my Cohort, I enjoy conferences, and I like to blog and read blogs – but ultimately the strength of the movement is not in any of these things. It is in churches that have the courage to take what they gain from the conversation and put feet on it.

I say all that because my sense is that people who are jumping ship, feeling the need to distance themselves, arguing over categories and terms, and answering interviewers questions with, “my concern about the Emerging Church is…” are not people who are actually living out this thing that is Emergent in a local community. They are bloggers and professors and mega-church associates.

Maybe I’m wrong about this (I probably am) but it seems to me that those of us who are busy with the work of trying to flesh this stuff out in a local community don’t care that much about what it’s called or who doesn't like us or what every bodies “concerns” are. Believe me, if I was still trying to please my old friend and mentor Mark Driscoll I wouldn’t be a stay at home dad, I wouldn’t be reading Jack Kaputo and Walter Brueggemann, I wouldn’t be planting a church with no money and I sure as heck wouldn’t be a graduate from Wesley Seminary!

Now again, I believe in the conversation. And I believe in continuing to have conversations with people who disagree with me (I have a coffee date with a conservative Evangelical on Thursday). But I guess what I would like to see is for our conversations to revolve around and celebrate the ways in which they are being fleshed out in local communities – to me, that is the future of the Emerging Church.

So in attempt to help facilitate that conversation (snicker at self) I will be offering 3 “marks” of an emerging church over the next week or so. I’m nothing close to an expert on this topic (is there one?) so I would love to hear about ways in which I am wrong or better, what I have left out.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I wish I had something to say...

But I just don't, I've racked my brain and there's nothing there. I'm tired, I'm relaxed, I'm having a nice day with my wife, my son and our pregnant/Jewish/Lesbian/Physicist friend Margo (seriously if she was a character in a sit-com no one would believe it). I'm thinking a lot about Eschatology and the KOG but don't have anything intelligent to say about it yet (hopefully i will by next Sunday). And I'm procrastinating on any number of things that need to get done around the house (laundry, grocery shopping, exercise, etc.).

I hope everyone else is having a nice a day as I am.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I am experimenting with embedding a feed to listen to some of my sermons in case anyone is interested. I haven't quite gotten it figured out yet, so if you do try it, let me know how it works. Thanks.

Friday, January 16, 2009


At the end of Jack Kaputo's book, "What Would Jesus Deconstruct", Kaputo highlights 2 churches that he says exemplify a deconstructive approach to Christianity and they are completely different. I think, though, that where as he might be correct in describing them as deconstructive, they both fall short of the ideal that I beleive the Emerging Church is (or should be) striving for. (admittedly I am basing this only on Jack's descriptions, I know next to nothing about the churches themselves).

The first is an inner city Catholic parish in downtown Baltimore. This church is deconstructive in that it is truly doing the work of the KOG among the least the last and the lost even though the community has, "no money and no Catholics". So the faithfulness of the parish in spite of the lack of support from the institutional church deconstructs the institutional church as not being about the KOG among the LLL (kingdom of God among the least, the last and the lost).

The second is Icon, Pete Rollins church in Dublin. Icon is creating truly experimental worship experiences for its people in order to deconstruct the peoples preconceived notions about God, Christianity, and religion, and force them to seek these things in new and vital ways.

So here's my point. I think that for a church to be "Emerging" it has to attempt BOTH of these things. It cannot be content with serving the LLL while every Sunday continuing the same old patterns of communication about (and with) God. On the other hand it can't be content to spend Sundays experimenting with new ways to communicate about God without being about the business of bringing the KOG to the LLL.

Furthermore, I think that an Emerging church also has to strive to be a place of authentic community -- whatever that may look like.

Now maybe its just my way of coping with a severe inferiority complex, but it seems to me that if a church tries to do all 3 of these things as well as it can its not going to do any of them as well as the examples in kaputo's book. But I think that striving for all 3 is more true to the ethos of Emergent then being truly great at just one.

But like I said, I don't know anything about the actual communities, I'm sure they do all three of these things to some extent.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hey folks, I've been in a long email exchange with some emergent folks about hell, prayer and the problem of evil. This is my sort of summary email, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it. I hope it makes sense out of context, if not , I apologize:

I think the two ideas are connected. I believe that God laments that evil exists in the world and is always, everywhere calling us back to himself. I believe that Free-will is real and is a beautiful and radical religious expression of the reality of the world as it is. I don’t believe it makes sense to think of a world where we have free will but somehow choose to do everything just the way God would have wanted us to. I believe that the church is to be the unique community that proclaims and welcomes and expresses the path to re-union with God. I believe that God’s judgment is real, and I say that with fear and trembling. When I read about the people Jesus describes as being deserving of judgment (the rich, the powerful, the comfortable, the religious leadership) I see myself and I ask for God’s mercy. I believe the life we live now has some sort of eternal consequences, I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but I throw myself at the mercy of God. And when I pray, I don’t (often) pray to change what God is going to do (“please heal my son”) I pray that I might better know God and God’s will (“God show me how to be a person who brings healing to the world”).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Where my philosophers at?

So if anyone who reads this is up on their philosophy, I have a question I have been mulling over in my head to throw at you, and it has to do with Platonic Dualism. I have never thought that I liked Platonic Dualism and have always felt like that as a hermeneutic framework it often leads us to a misreading of scripture.

And yet, I have been finding myself saying things like, "Proclaiming the real -- or the ideal -- deconstructs the lie of the actual" (read my post on deconstruction). And on Sunday I preached a sermon arguing that sin is not simply about doing something that is or isn't on a list, but rather it is about the pursuit of Jesus Christ -- the ideal, again -- and the choices we make lead us towards or away from this ideal One.

So, am I becoming a Platonic Dualist? Or is there something fundamentally different about deconstruction that i don't yet grasp (or something about Platonic Dualism for that matter)? Is an ethics based on Christ as an ideal just another platonic ethical philosophy?

I am hoping somebody can help straighten me out on this because I don't really wanna read another book on deconstruction. Though i do have Pete Rollins, "How Not to Speak of God" next in my reading Q.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Appologizing is not listening...

Something I have been thinking about in the latter part of this last year has been that we who are a part of the conversation about the church that is emerging need to stop apologizing, looking over our shoulders at those we are leaving behind, and propping up defenses for arguments we think are coming (and it seems I wasn't alone in my thoughts, see:

So in 2009 lets all just commit to get on with the work of doing theology, preaching the Gospel in a holistic way and leading communities with real community and stop worrying about what Mark, Dan, Erwin (or whoever our personal ghosts are) might say if they heard us, which they probably won't anyway.

Personally, I have been covicted lately that I have been cowardly form the pulpit on many ocasions. I have found ways to avoid talking about things in new ways for fear of people who are more comfortable with old models. Which is a tragedy since most of the folks in my church are there becaue they are not happy with the old models anyway! So no more, I say, 2009 will see (I hope) a bolder more coragaous and more authentic Jason Mack at the pulpit (which is actually just a stool on a rug).

At the same time I beleive strongly in listening to people that disagree with me. But I mean really listening. I want to have real conversations with reasonable (and I mean reasonable) conservatives on why Penal Sibsitution is the only model for the atonement, and why that matters, and I want to have real conversations with reasonable liberals about why Jesus didn't have a bodily resurection, and why that doesn't matter. And I want to have good long conversations with people that think Jesus is but one of many ways to God, no better or worse then any other.

But what I dont want is to keep editing myself, or to keep hearing others edit themselves, out of fear of some made up person thats gunna come and take our microphones away (i dont really have a mic., I mean there's only 20 people in my church, so why would i need one, but you get the image, I'm sure). And I don't want to icolate myself so that the only voices I hear are ones that already agree with me.

God, in 2009, please give me the courage to speak the thoughts you put into my head, and the right people in my life to correct me about the ones you don't.