In my continuing comments on the recent Up/Rooted
panel discussion on the topic "the emerging church critique of evangelicalism" with Scot McKnight
, Wayne Johnson
, and David Fitch
The last question of the evening involved if typical evangelical seeker style services (complete with the rock show and other celebratory gimmicks) are worthwhile if they manage to reach people. i.e. As emergents (or mainliners, or fundamentalists) we may criticize such services as lacking in depth, devoid of true worship, and for promoting an individualistic and consumeristic view of the church, but if they are what people need at that point in their life does that make them worthwhile? I think that is a good question that needs to be addressed, unfortunately the panelist ignored it and dove straight into an all out fight about megachurches. Seriously. Okay maybe "intense discussion of varying viewpoints" is the better way to describe it, but as "fights" go, this one was pretty good. It wasn't mean spirited and it was carried by humor throughout. It mostly involved Scot McKnight (who attends the megachurch of megachurches - Willow Creek) vs. David Fitch (who wrote an anti-megachurch book and recent blog post
). Fun times.
Scot defended megachurches by saying that there is nothing a small church can offer that a megachurch doesn't offer. He dislikes it when people criticize churches like Willow when they have never actually attended the church. They don't know the church, they don't know the people there. They are just reacting to stereotypes they have heard. He also praised the potential anonymity at a megachurch. People can show up and not be known - they aren't pressured to "do", they aren't judged, and they aren't automatically labelled as a "visitor" (the ultimate church Other). Scot explained, "at Willow there is a permeable boundary between who is in or out." It is one of the few evangelical churches where gays and lesbians can attend without being ostracized or forced to immediately give up their "gayness" (whatever that means). It is in other words, a safe introduction to Christianity.
But my question is - is it really church if we can't be the body together? Can we really exist as strangers to each other and still claim to be a community? Is the desire to be unknown and unconnected a good thing? I personally think that the boundaries of all churches should be more permeable. I've attended churches where it was very clear who was in and who was out. Those who didn't fit in immediately (the occasional homosexual who might wander in) were given a very specific amount of time to repent and change who they are or else they were kicked out of the church. That is not church either imho. Places like that are what create the need for anonymity in the megachurches. People want a chance to discover what they believe before they identify themselves with a particular group in all of its religious weirdness. But can't the church offer people a place where they have the freedom to explore (at their own pace) and be accepted into the community? Are we really that incapable of loving people that to be lost in a crowd is preferable to joining a community? I personally don't think that being alone and unknown is a good thing no matter what circumstances forced it to be necessary.
I know that Willow does great things. And I know that there are many small churches where true community is non-existent. I'm just hoping for a better way.
Labels: Church, Emerging Church