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 (www.kupenda.org). 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.