Been there? Done that?

 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.

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8 thoughts on “Been there? Done that?

  1. I love this post. I am excited to see other post-fundamental voices in the PCUSA. Be there and done that eludes to a vacuum. What hermeneutic is being used? What are we holding on to as we dismiss this movement or any other. I will post something tomorrow on this that I have been working on rather than write my final papers in seminary.

    I need to mail Brian his Frisbee movie back. I love it so much!

  2. Carol,

    Don’t forget that there were “Coffeehouse churches” ( I don’t like the term but you used it) that had mainline connections. They had little in common with the Calvary Chapel except for blue jeans. I gather from the stories I have heard about them they tended to be pretty liberal folks who didn’t fit in the more traditional congregations. I don’t think is was most of the folks were dealing with addirctions. I think the big influences may have been things like Church of the Savior and Koinonia Farms.

    There were once a couple presbyterian congregations in Dallas that fit this model. Both have long since closed. They may have been pretty intense communities and those can be hard to sustain. Some of the members moved back into traditional congregations but I suspect others have left the church behind.

    I think church of the savior and koinonia have morphed substantially from what they were circa 1970 as well.

    Experince with these sort of congregations may be behind the “been there, done that” responses you get. Especially from folks who may have served on the presbytery committees that dealth with them as they were closing.

    Perhaps you might play with what’s the differnce between presbymergent and the Gordon Cosby/Elizabeth????? Church of the Savior thing.

  3. I was going to say more about the Church of the Savior, too – am interested that previous blogger thought of them, too. My husband and I think the Church of the Savior folks were doing emergent church before emergent was cool. When I was in a class of Gordon’s, he talked about his longing for a church that nurtured authentic faith after being a chaplain in World War II. He had baptized some military guys, only to find out that their baptism had made no difference in the way they lived. And came back wanting to start a church that nurtured a faith that integrated walk and talk and all that good stuff.

    As I was serving a church in NW DC and two families joined after leaving a Church of the Savior community, although they remained connected, I was amazed at how they could describe their attempts to follow God, at how they sincerely wanted to serve as Jesus did. I wanted to have a faith like theirs, and I was their pastor, for crying out loud! I think the reason “emergent” churches are catching on is the same reason that Christian movements always have – a longing to know God at work in your own life, and to be a part of a community that is convinced that faith makes a difference, whether in your own life or neighborhood or planet.

    And I’m betting that John W. is one of the ones who says none of this new… 🙂

  4. This post I liked. Your point about the difference between the then and now of reforms as seen between “Frisbee” and the emerging church context is helpful and insightful.

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