Confusing conversation that I had at the Everything Must Change Conference:
“Where are you from?”
“Virginia, but I work in D.C.”
“Where do you work?”
“At a Presbyterian Church.”
“Oh. So what are you doing here? Are you their little spy? Are you here so you can report to all of your higher-ups what those crazy emerging church people are doing?”
“Um. No. It’s not like that.”
I laughed, but I was startled by the accusation and a bit indignant that he would assume that I was somebody’s small mole. I began to say, “I’ve been a pastor for ten years. And I’m a writer. And I don’t report to any ‘higher-ups'” (of course I do have a boss right now, but he had no interest in what was going on in that conference).
I began to say, “I’m one of you.” But that didn’t quite ring true either. Obviously, from his reaction, I’m not quite one of them. He was embedded in the movement. I had just met him, and in those two seconds he sized me up.
I wondered what he based his assumptions on. Why did he think I was working as someone else’s spy? Was it my size? My gender? My age? My denominational affiliation? I always try not to be too offended by the sexist remarks that I often run into in emerging circles. I remind myself that not everyone’s like that. This is a broad movement. I can’t completely reject the bigger picture…even though, I must admit, it does get annoying.
(And lest you think I’m an overly-critical blogger, blowing things out of proportion, and endlessly ranting about every little remotely sexist thing that I’ve heard, I promise you, I’m not.)
A long ecclesial monologue came into my mind, which I didn’t unravel. I just sat down.
People often describe me as a “hybrid”– a postmodern working in a denominational context. You see, the emerging church movement is an ecclesial expression of postmodernism. And most emerging churches are plants (sometimes they’re churches within a church, but they’re mostly new churches). They’re deconstructionist in nature.
I love the French deconstructionists. But I’ve never planted a church (as much as I’ve wanted to). I’ve found that my ministry lies in a different area. I work where most women in this postmodern conversation can be found–within (or at least from) a denominational structure. I work with existing churches and pastors, trying to figure out ways in which they can meaningfully reach out to a new generation, where they are.
I write out of my years of being in growing, vital, traditional churches, in an intergenerational context. As a result, I find that my ministry and writing fits into another stream of post-modernism. That’s good old American pragmatism. As we learn what it means to be church in the 21st century, I believe that we should have both models working together.
And so, Tribal Church is less about deconstructing and beginning from scratch. It’s more about working with what we have. And finding great hope in the midst of it.