I will answer Adam’s great question shortly. I’m still stewing over it.
Until then… I’m writing a book about the shifts in culture and church that are occurring, trying to paint large brush strokes, describing what’s happening with new technologies and the fluidity of American religion. I’m committed to intergenerational denominational ministry, becoming a part of the emerging mainline conversation, and watching the formation of presbymergents. To me, this is one of the most exciting and interesting times to be a church leader. I’m on the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to see what happens.
Usually, when I talk to anyone over the age of sixty about this, they say, “None of this is new, Carol. All of this happened before, in the sixties. There were coffeehouse churches everywhere.”
And I nod. I’m not arrogant enough to think that we’re doing everything differently. There’s some truth to the analysis, for sure. Actually, that scared me away from the emerging church movement for a long time. I grew up in a laid-back beach town in Florida and became a member of a Calvary Chapel Church when I was in high school and college. It was such an awkward, dysfunctional place. All of our churches are to some degree, of course. But this one had a rock-and-roll preacher, who wore spiky hair way after it was respectable….
Let me back off a bit. I could mock, but I won’t. After all, I ache for the pastor now, as I think about him. I recall him as someone who was desperately lonely. I know that now. I remember an entertainer’s solitude and depression. An exhaustion from so many years of being admired, almost idolized. He had very few authentic connections with his congregation, with other clergy, with any friends. The people in the folding chairs had no connection with one another. We were all bound by his charismatic personality. And that had to be so enervating for him.
It was one of the most sexist environments that I’ve ever experienced. Women had a place, on stage even. As back-up singers. But they all looked a certain way. I guess I just have to say it…the most beautiful women in the congregation were on stage singing. It felt like they were accessories. We were taught that women could not discipline their own children. That was a father’s job.
When I made a decision to go into the ministry, I was told that I was sinning. The experience. It was creepy. That’s why I feel much more comfortable in a denominational setting. It’s just a culture where women have been taken seriously for a long time.
My husband, Brian, bought the movie Frisbee. It’s about a guy named Lonnie Frisbee, an “icon” of the Jesus People movement, who had a hand in starting the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard churches, then he died of AIDS. And we’ve watched a documentary about Keith Green.
All of this to say, I wasn’t alive in the 60s, but I know about the Jesus People movement, from first-hand experience and from hours and hours of serious You-Tube research (did I actually just write You Tube and research in the same sentence?). I know many of the leaders in the evangelical emerging church movement and in the emerging mainline. There are a few similarities, and there are differences. Here are a couple of differences:
First, the education level is much higher in the emerging church movement. It’s true that Brian McLaren didn’t go to seminary. He’s ABD in Literature. Shane Claiborne didn’t finish seminary. But they’re the only ones that I know of. Almost everyone else I know has a Masters or a Doctorate. (What’s Phyllis Tickle’s education like? Does it matter after she’s written a thousand books?) In the Calvary Chapel church, the men went to six-weeks of training, and ta-da, they were pastors.
In addition, some of these movements in the 60’s seemed to spring out of addiction recovery. I mean, it’s a common theme in so many of these stories, especially Keith Green’s. Most people need God when they’re in rehab. They form strong communities because they need that support.
That’s not what’s happening now. It’s different. Clearly.
So, I could go on and on. But, let me ask you. Do you agree with the “been there, done that” critics of the church? What are the similarities? What are the differences? What excites you? What scares you? If you were alive in the sixties, what were the mistakes that we should avoid?
One more thing… we in the mainline tend to dismiss the movement because this already happened in the sixties. As if what happened in the 60s was an insignificant fad that quickly faded. But look at how much Christianity radically changed in those forty years. The mainline’s certainly not the mainline any longer.