Friday, March 25, 2005

The next step - actually creating a new kind of church

Here's an email I sent to a friend the other day:

I'm looking forward to sharing with everyone some ofthe ideas I have for what kind of core things a new kind of church may have that really help create the inner changes necessary that will then manifest outwardly in a way concurrent with all the changes we see around us. Without significant inner/structural change, we cannot expect significant outer change - what will happen is simply surface cosmetic change, which by definition is shallow.

Things like how the pastor of the future is primarily to be understood to be a man of prayer - that he is being paid to be in the presence of Christ, so that he can lead the congregation towards Christ. Contrasted with the pastor of today who is understood to be the recepticle of knowledge that he alone has gained at the academy and faithfully dispenses to the faithful.

That if you want community - the pastor has to be in the presence of Christ and literally become a fount of love pouring forth in love-relationship to the rest, showing them how to love one another well. Then when the body loves one another well in communion - the world sees it and is drawn to Christ. This can only be accomplished by the congregation expecting that the reason they pay the pastor money is so he can be in his "monastery of the morning" - every day with Christ literally creating the community in prayer. As contrasted with the expectation that he is paid to produce good sermons and programs. Along with this, the pastor has to not be the center of visibility all the time - when there is less of him, there is more room for others to be raised up in their gifting, which creates community.

That in order to go from this period of new ideas to really seeing thousands of "new kinds of churches" exist - we need to create an entirely new kind of worship liturgy. The worship liturgy is all art - music, words, designed space. We then fill those artistic forms with our worship. We need a massive revival of artistic activity to create this. I am excited about what the Lord can do with us here in New York City because we have the personnel! We have access to tremendous artistic resources to do a large chunk of this work. Of course many places will contribute, but I think New York will be a key player in this.

The most moving of all the worship liturgy I believe is the music (maybe I'm biased as a musician). We cannot go forward with the same pop worship music we now have. That music came out of the California Jesus movement of the late sixties and seventies, through the Calvary Chapel and later Vineyard movements, and then in the eighties a lot came from England, and of course this then flowed into the seeker sensitive movement of the nineties. So in other words this musical era is 30-40 years old!!

Those were solid modern years - and the baby boomers responded well to it. But to reach this new uninterested post-Christian generation, we have to create something new, something of transcendant beauty.

Many churches looking for the latest church growth technique, and buying books with the word "postmodern" in the title, are I think misunderstanding the need for deep change. Investing in more multi-media equipment, and making the service move faster does not in any way address the hunger of this generation - all you're doing is presenting what already exists in a different way. They are already inundated with incredible media presentation through well funded media outlets on television, and through the promotion money of advertising. They don't want to go faster, they want to go slower. What is needed is not more ways of presenting what exists better, but creating something completely new.

They need to walk into a service and hear musical worship that makes them want to weep. Deeply layered congregational harmonies that represent the communion of the body through the art form of music I think are one way - using more deep and complex harmony structured over more well thought out melody produces a more deeply beautiful work, and when sung in interweaving harmony by a group of people in worship - you literally get a slice of heaven on earth, a form of art so transcendant in its beauty it speaks to us about why God created art in the first place.

To a generation in love with art, but raised in a somewhat impoverished artistic era, this blast of sheer aesthetic beauty infused with the spiritual power of worship could be transforming. As an artist in New York City, I see the rumblings all over of a hunger for a return to real beauty in art, and of this generation struggling towards it. They don't really know how yet, partyly because they are undertrained, and partly because it is just so new, but they are going to go there. (If you're not up on contemporary art history, the art world abandoned beauty in favor of intellectual art in the latter part of last century).

In other words, at a certain point the intellectual conversation will begin to transition to a time of actual building - of creating a new worship liturgy and congregations that will worship with it. If you are new to the emergent conversation, and wonder where it is in terms of it's evolution, I think we are just now beginning this transition. It is this transition that will bring the conversation out of just leadership circles, and into the view of church members. If you have wearied of talk of postmodernism, maybe it's because you're more of a builder than a talker, and now your time to take action is at hand. Jump to it - get on your knees. If you are an artist or creative person, get ready for the exciting journey from being ignored and in the backwaters of the church into being the most sought after by the pastor member of your congregation.

(one note: I think the impulse to "dig up" vintage forms of Christianity was the first step towards this - a desire to find more transcendantly beautiful forms of worship which happened to already exist in the churches ancient storehouses. But now it is time to create our own - each generation is responsible to reach it's own).

This and much more.

Bless you brother, Jeff


Anonymous said...

"maybe it's because you're more of a builder than a talker, and now your time to take action is at hand"

yes indeed!

Reyn Cabinte said...

Boy, I hope that your church will be able to help resurrect a sense of beauty in the Arts. Look forward to see what God does. Been good talking to you about church, my friend.

Cindy said...

Blogger doesn't have your new post up on your main page yet, so I read back a way. I love what you have to say. Anxious to hear what you're doing with the music. Since my husband and I are currently part of a small, somewhat rural, church in the south, we actually have an advantage in that by the time our church (actually just the pastor and us) even began to talk about moving into the postmodern realm, we could already see what was going wrong with some of the Willow Creek wanna-be's around the country. Not that we aren't floundering some, but we're taking it slowly, trying not to jump just because somebody in Chicago jumped a decade ago... We have found that the desire is not for faster and louder, but slow and unharried. Which is good- because my husband and I ARE the band...

But I have more frustrations than I could begin to give voice to right now. So, I'm anxious to read more of what you've done. Wish I could hop a plane to NY on Monday.

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