Evo Youth Conference

Evo Youth Conference

A few months ago, mutual friends, youth ministry thinkers, and fellow bloggers connected me up with Neil Christopher.  Neil is a youth worker down in Texas who shares a similar vision and passion as so many of us. Simply put, he was looking for a way for like-minded youth workers to connect, support, and affirm one another as we attempt to navigate the often muddy waters of progressive youth ministry.

Neil took his dream one step further and began an online community and youth network called Evo.  I provided a link above for more information.

As one would imagine, there has been great response as youth workers around the country have found a place for their voice.  So often, many of us feel isolated, frustrated, or disenfranchised with traditional forms or structures of church.  We long for communities of affirmation, inclusiveness, connectivity and hope to be able to find it within the Church.  Some have left. Others have stayed.  But together we find commonality and unity in our journey of discovery and rediscovery of faith.

What started as a conversation online is now turning into a local gathering and conference of sorts down in Texas from Feb 24-25, 2011.

I have had the privilege of great conversations with Neil and have found yet another kindred spirit.  Neil was gracious enough to ask me to speak at the conference, which I am honored and excited to do.

As I help Neil structure Evo, our main concern is to come alongside youth workers and provide a platform of dialogue revolving pertinent issues we all face.

So, here is my question and would love some responses, ideas, input, etc…

1) What would be some good topics for potential seminars or break out group?

2) What do you feel are the pressing issues facing emerging youth workers?

3) What will be the main issues that youth ministry must address in the year(s) to come?

4) If you were able to attend Evo, what would you hope to see there?  What could make this conference different than others?

Please share some answers to these questions and be on the look out for updates as well as the potential for regional affinity gatherings popping up in your area.

Neil Christopher on Twitter

Evo youth network forum


a youth pastor’s impressions from the presidential inauguration

(this video was created for my class on Teen Spirituality for parents last spring, but it fits in every well. Listen to  Obama’s famous ‘yes we can” speech and also notice the written words)

Where were you when President Obama was sworn in?  I am sure that years from now we will all remember this moment. It truly marks an historic occasion for our nation and possibly the world, and perhaps is a sign of things to come for those of us in ministry.

Now, whether you woke up the day after the inauguration with hope and renewed enthusiasm, or if you woke up in complete disbelief and despair, may indicate whether you voted for Obama or not.

I am not much of a political analyst, but I do believe that no matter who you voted for or what your particular political beliefs may be, now is the time to support and pray for our new leader.

After listening to many of the debates over the past few months, watching the elections, and now taking a few hours on Tuesday to watch the inauguration of the first African American president, I have observed a few things that may or may not impact ministry in the future.

1. We are truly living in unprecedented and changing times.

During the presidential election, one of the CNN correspondents keenly observed that the face of American culture is transitioning to a much more moderate to liberal position.  Obama was able to sway the popular vote in many suburbs that have previously been Republican.

One political analyst remarked, “Barack Obama does not transcend race, rather we are living in a post-race America.”  In many ways America is becoming post-race, post-denominational, and post-Christian. The things that used to divide us are becoming fewer and fewer…and I am not so sure that is a bad thing.

Personally, I believe that over the next 5-15 years, the shift from red to blue will sweep across the nation. Some may argue against that and others may weep at America’s “moral degradation and ethical demise”.  However, it should be note the higher % of Catholics and evangelical Christians who voted for Obama and the growing shift toward the blue by the next generation of Christians.

Obama noted in inauguration speech that America is made up of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists. Yet, if we all strive for peace, we may be united as one.

Emergents reveal is this kind of talk, thinking that if we can just get by religions barriers, we could actually accomplish something good. Diversity is accepted and embraced in this new political regime and perhaps it should be in ministry as well…of course to a certain extent. But I am convince that for too long we have leaned much too far in the other direction. Those of other religions, lifestyles, and even political viewpoints have been shunned by many “Christian” and evangelical ministries and…yes youth pastors.

2. Barack is striving towards peace and prosperity…and so should our ministries.

I have heard two very contrasting views from members of seemingly opposite Christian views.

On the one hand, emergents view this as living out the words of Jesus and having God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. It is a prayer that God’s people would be a blessing to all nations and that together, the world would be healed and restored.  Obama’s rhetoric speaks with optimistic  hope and passion that this may become a reality..at least within America.

On the other hand, some fundamental Christians will say (and I am not joking) that the book of Revelation speaks of the an-Christ doing just these things by ushering in a reign of peace, unity, and prosperity. And then of course, things only go downhill from there.

So which is it?

3. Our nation is becoming more diverse and tolerant.

There does seem to be great diversity and tolerance now, certainly along racial lines (good) and across religious lines (we shall see)

I suppose that Christians need to act more like Jesus than the judgmental Pharisees.

But how united can Christians and Muslims actually be?

I do think it is time we Christians learned from our past mistakes (crusades!),

and started reaching out in love, hope, and faith to those not yet Christ followers.

Perhaps they never will be.

Perhaps they will always stay our bitter enemies

but you know what Jesus said about your enemies….

4. Our nation’s leadership is getting younger.

Barack is a very young president and though he lacks the experience of someone older, his charisma, passion, and enthusiastic zeal for change in contagious with the “emerging” generation.

Forever in this country (and in church leadership), youth has been largely ignored. But I have a feeling that is going to change. Hey even the Pittsburgh Steeler’s coach is now the youngest coach to ever make it to the Superbowl (and he also happens to be African American)

Companies, sports teams, and governmental offices are looking for younger and ambitious people hoping for change.  Sounds like your typical youth pastor!

Perhaps churches will get on board with these changing times and start actually valuing the opinion of their youth pastors, rather than just sticking them in some basement to babysit students.

Perhaps God is speaking through the next generation…before we grew too old.

Perhaps our time is now!

Our time to voice out for the emerging generation and have our opinions heard and matter.

What does this all mean for youth ministry?

For starters, I hope that youth ministries will be taken more seriously in the near future. As young ministers, God has given us a voice, ambition, and a vision for hope and change. All we need is the right platform.

And more than ever, we must start to realize that we are helping develop the future leaders of our nation and our world..and for some of them that could start fairly soon.  It will probably happen closer to their 30’s than their 60’s like in times past.

Also, perhaps we should have more students in our programs who are post-Christian and perhaps part of another religion. As our nation grows more diverse and (hopefully) united, maybe our communities could do the same. And what better place for that to start than in the church and our youth ministries!

True these “different” students may influence the group?

But couldn’t the group influence them?

I think youth ministries in the past have been known by what we are not and who we are not

rather than what we are becoming. A new community of humans changed by Jesus and living out the story of God in our day.

As President Obama exclaimed, we cannot stand for “anything goes” anymore.

We need accountability and we need to stand up for what is true and just.

But I am becoming more convinced that we must also stand up and work towards peace, reconciliation, and a hopeful and hope-filled eschatology.

*As the video portrayed (which you really should watch if you have not yet)

In this ever changing environment, the lines are getting fuzzy for adolescents.

right vs. wrong

who’s in and who’s out

spiritual vs. christian

religious vs. atheist

But maybe some of this is a good thing.

Maybe we as youth pastors need to start looking beyond the differences and start looking toward the similarities.

After all, we claim we believe the origins stories from Genesis.

God created all of his children is his image?

Yes the Fall did occur and we see that in every aspect of life.

But a hope-filled viewed is determined to look at people through the Designer’s eyes. Not what these students have become, but what they were intended to be and could yet become.

As the lines get fuzzier and come towards a center, perhaps a more accurate picture will be displayed…that of a human being, created in the image of a God who loves them and who desperately wants a relationship with them.

In final retrospect of the election…

Rather than trying to fight against the coming tide (which some may attempt to do), I believe we must acknowledge where we are heading in America.  Our nation is following in the footsteps of our birth parents…the European nations and is thrusting forward into postmodernity.

Take the North East for instance. If the general culture is moving away from certain ideologies, “modern” worldviews, and modes of thought, what shall become of the church if it holds ground?

Now, I am not advocating for compromise, but for a shift in the way the church sees itself and its place in society.

I hope that we can try to see what God is doing in our county and how He might be already at work to bring about some of these positive changes…and try to get on board.

Listen, if our faith is not strong enough to remain and grow within postmodernity, then how strong was it really? The amazing thing about our faith is that it has always been able to morph, adopt, and adapt to changing times.

So, as we enter into this new period of history, let us pray for wisdom, and seek to partner with God as he continues to bring restoration, redemption, justice, and reconciliation to our society and world.

If we advocate first for a change of worldview, principles, ideologies, beliefs, and practices, than that requires a  great deal of change before a student can even belong or fit in with a youth group!

If we stick to that philosophy, I am not sure there will be very many students left in the North East (and eventually America) who will actually fit in as they are.  Perhaps Belonging must come first and Belief will follow.

As the great songwriter Bob Dylan once sang, “The times…they are a-changing”

Will youth pastors embrace the changing times and partner with God or will we hold fast and fight against the evils of “liberalism” and postmodernity and wait until God does something about it?

Which option is more proactive?

Which is more hopeful?

Which will seek to bring the gospel of Jesus to more people?

In closing…

Now, I realize that our new president stands on some ethical principles that I personally do not agree with. Yet, many of his views and beliefs resonate with me and I believe are kingdom principles.  Reformed health care, taking care of the poor and needy, educating those in need, asking for accountability for our actions and decisions, being a good steward of our money, promoting equality and unity across all lines, not showing favoritism to the wealthy and elite, etc..

You will find these in the life and teachings of Christ and these also have been a trademark of churches (and mission trips) for a long time. If our nation is truly in a time of crisis, than we need God’s kingdom to reign here more than ever. American has truly become a “mission field”, so let’s join together (ideally churches and our government) to bring about much needed change.

I don’t know about you, but I watched the 2009 presidential inauguration with great excitement and hope. I don’t know what the future holds, but I choose to be optimistic and see how God may already be at work in our nation to bring about his purposes.

Looking at it the other way around (that our nation is slowly going to hell in a hand basket) is depressing to me. Now, it may very well be true, but if it is I am going to fight with every last breath to bring this place back to God’s original intent.

I want to see God’s handiwork and presence saturated all around me and even in the policies and structures of our newly elected government.

I will do my part, and who knows, maybe together will we truly see change.

With God’s help…yes we can!

And whether you are a Democratic or Republican, voted for Obama or not, I hope you choose like I have to now support our new President with prayer during this time of transition and new beginnings.


Changes for NYWC in 09?

Regarding YS conventions, I continue to meet youth workers by the dozens who are struggling to do ministry in the “chosen frozen” of the Northeast. Metro NYC and New England to be exact. As you can notice from the recent Presidential election, there North East is very similar in its ideologies, philosophies, worldviews, and perception of religion..especially “Born Again Christians”

Often, they fellow youth workers share similar frustrations with these type of conventions in that there is no voice from from the Northeast. The ministry and societal realities in the rest of the country are MUCH different than the Northeast (even southern NJ and Philly are different).

The concept of Christian clubs at public high schools is foreign, See you at the Pole is not a highly favored, attended, or welcomed event, and the idea of a “youth pastor” hanging around the locals schools and parks seems kind of creepy and scandalous to many.

So I propose that YS offer a forum for discussion or a seminar about the difficulties, struggles, and hopes of youth ministry in the North East and what it could mean for the future of youth ministry across the board.

What works in other parts of the country simply does not work here.
Also, for the vast majority of youth workers in the North East, they will never have a big budget, big youth room, and hundreds of students and volunteers. We do not have a culture of Christianity or youth ministry and I do not see that changing anytime in the near future.
That is just the way it is..and it does not have to be frowned upon or looked at with discouragement anymore. Perhaps God is doing something new in the North East that will help transition youth ministry into the coming postmodern culture.

Usually the trend in the past (if they have previously attempted something like this) is to find someone from the biggest youth program in the are and label them the “expert”.

Speakers like that (even if from the Northeast) still leave me thinking “But that is not like my church at all”, or thinking that the bigger the program and church the better. (which i happen to disagree with at some levels) Often, the end result once again is that we end up leaving more frustrated and discouraged with our own context and situation than before.

My other though about possible additions/changes to the National Youth Workers Convention for 2009 is to somehow putting flesh on the bones of “emerging” theology and thinking in the realm of youth ministry in a traditional church.

For most of us who find solidarity with much of the this emergent type of thinking and ministry, going out to start a new church is not an option or desire. Yet, many of the speakers have done that or are simply authors, and no longer in the “trenches” of denominational church youth programs.

Over my six years attending, I have seldom met a seminar speak who is also engaged (as I am in) in the thick of youth ministry.  Many times, they oversee large number of volunteers who actually do the youth ministry, or again they might be youth ministry authors or professors.

When was the last time you saw a convention speaker also sit in with his or her staff for the rest of the seminars or browse through the resources in the exhibit hall looking for new ideas.

Personally, an elitism seems to permeate many of these conventions, and therefore it makes it hard for me to really find commonality with many of the speakers. A lack of commonality often can lead away from inspiration and hope and towards isolation, envy, and discouragement. I know that is not Youth Specialities intentions.

I do appreciate the number of speakers who have take time to meet with me, dialog about ministry and family, and offer their friendship to me (and not just their business card and discount on their book!)

So..I propose YS finds your everyday normal youth pastor to lead some seminars for the vast majority of these attendees who are and always will be serving at some small local church.

Additionally, some seminar entitled “finding ways to transition from traditional youth ministry to emerging ministry without having to leave your church!” could be attractive and inspiring, especially if delivered from somone who is still in the process of trying to figure out what that looks like in his or her context (not an “expert”).

The New Christians…a review

I was eager to read Tony Jones’ new book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier. I have tried to stay current with his writings and other authors along the Emergent frontier such as Brian McLaren, Doug Paggit, Dan Kimball, among others. While many of these other “emergent” books are musings, thoughts, and reflections, I was hoping that The New Christians would provide additional clarity to what lies behind the Emergent movement. The history, philosophical background, religious questionings, theology per se, and the hopes and dreams of the emerging leaders truly emerged in this book. I find the conversations well articulated, inspiring, challenging, and beautiful at the same time. While much in this book does raise theological questions for me, these questions are much needed and long overdue.

Emergent Christianity is a middle ground, or a third way, between the foundationalism of traditional liberalism and conservatism. In many ways, it is a reaction against the beliefs, assumptions, presuppositions, and affects of modernism, especially modernism’s impact and influence on western Christianity. We are living in an ever increasingly postmodern age, and thus the emergent movement is an attempt to re-think and re-imagine what Christianity can and should look like for this new generation and generations to come.

Yet a wonderful component of this movement is that it does not shun or deny the importance of other traditions and movements within historical Christianity. Dispatch 1 states, “Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the various flavors of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciates the contributions of all Christian movements” (8).

I resonated with one of the problems associated with the individualism of evangelicalism that Jones highlighted. Too often, all of the emphasis in placed on an individual’s personal commitment to Christ, which is then followed up with the command of “personal” devotions. We have made Christianity a personal faith, distancing it from the social and communal entity it was meant to be. Furthermore, in promoting this personal holiness, Christians are more concerned about their own lives then the lives of others. I have witnessed more time being spent in devotions, Bible studies, and Sunday school classrooms than helping the poor, advocating for justice, and reaching those in need.

I often wonder what the point is striving for godliness and holiness if its end result does not make you more sensitive, compassionate, and loving towards others? As Jones states, “the church that doesn’t challenge its members to face the core ethical issues that confront them every day at work is the church that has abdicated its responsibility” (17).

The emergent generation feel great disappoint with modern American Christianity, desire inclusion rather than exclusion, and has a hope-filled orientation. I share all of these and especially agree with the phrase, “Our calling as a church is to partner with God in the work that God is already doing in the world-to cooperate in the building of God’s kingdom” (72). And I also agree with the emergents is that God can, and does work through non-believers to accomplish his purposes. After all, isn’t it reasonable to think that God’s purposes are much bigger than our own? Our goals seem to boil down to one thing; getting people saved so that they can escape hell. God’s purposes for his creation is to renew, restore, and repair relationships and bring about new life…here on earth first. So I don’t think God is going to deny the help of well-meaning individuals or organizations because they don’t have the correct understanding of him. As dispatch 6 states, “Emergents see God’s activity in all aspects of culture and reject the sacred-secular divide.” (75) Truth is wherever God designs to expose it; it is most perfectly and poignantly instantiated in the person of Jesus, and from him it flows out into all creation” (75)

As I tell my students, “All God is God’s truth”. This means that they do not have to be afraid of science, art, and other religions because if they discover something to be true or beautiful, they are free to claim it as being form God. I also make the equation that God is love. Therefore, wherever they find love, even in other religions, God is present. As Rob Bell said, our world is drenched in the presence of God. “If God is in it, then emergent Christians will find God there” (76).

From one personal note, I really understood Tony’s experience at Dartmouth with Campus Crusade. That style of evangelism and ministry is what I grew up with and in many ways still feel pressured to do and make my students do. The problem is that I too find it very uncomfortable, anti-relational, generally unsuccessful, and the opposite of Jesus’ way of loving. I have grown to really not like (I won’t use the word hate, but am tempted to) door-to-door evangelism that we do on our mission trips each summer. And I hate (I will use this word now) the fact that I feel that way. I feel so guilty, especially when others, like my wife, really enjoy it and thank God each time for the opportunity. I ask myself what is wrong with me. But then I compare it to the joy I have in sharing my life’s experiences with some good and trusted friends who do not consider themselves “born-again” Christians. Yet in some many of our conversations, we share deep spiritual things and I have truly felt the presence of Jesus there. That is the kind of “evangelism” I love to engage in, but of course this takes months and years of trust and mutual friendship. Should I be alarmed that I really don’t have a goal with these friends? Sometimes I feel that I should try to lead them in a prayer of salvation or invite them to church when an alter call will be offered. Yet, does God need our clever sales pitches to work in their hearts? However, I remember my own conversation was a very radical event that truly changed my heart and life in an instant. What if the Holy Spirit desires to work in a similar way, but is waiting for my friends to truly make a personal commitment to Him. Now I am starting to sound like an evangelical again!

Human life is theology. That statement stuck with me as I reflected and ponder about its significance and realized its truth. It is a great way to start conversations with people and also to challenge and convict Christians. The statement about what kind of house we buy is extremely revealing, as was the question about parking spots vs. Darfur.

I feel so dissatisfied with traditional answers to questions such as what does God allow evil in the world, or can someone be a homosexual and a Christian. I get completely infuriated with Calvinist’s responses to almost every question I have, while other Christians simply do not want to engage in these tough questions. Those who pose these questions are branded as having a questionable faith or battling the demons of doubt, or come crap like that. (Pardon my language)

I have also had conversations such as the one posed between the True Biblicist, “Brain”, and the Emergent. I do not think the Bible was written (past) or should be read (current) as handbook to Christian living. It is certainly a guide and rule of faith and while it does contain some things I believe to be universally true, its main purpose is to point its readers to the person and life of Jesus. True Biblicists run into myriad problems by attempting to stick to the letter of the law. I find this today with the issue of divorce. While I do not think divorce is good, healthy, or favored by God, I believe His heart is much bigger than even his commands. If a person were in a very bad marriage (abuse, neglect, adultery, etc…) than wouldn’t a loving heavenly Father want his child to be free of such a thing? Of course, people can easily abuse this freedom, which is why there is a command against it. But in my opinion, each situation is different and therefore these commands are contextual. This line of reasoning follows the approach of “wise interpretation” offered in the book. Seeing hermeneutics as an art, and not a science is a big challenge that can lead to transformation and freedom. Experience and humility are also needed.

I like the phrase “hermeneutic of humility” offered by Jones. Interestingly enough, I am about to finish a class at seminary on Hermeneutics and never once heard this phrase mentioned! I too believe that we can have “proper confidence” and become better interpreters through dialogue and conversation. I also believe that the Holy Spirit can and does inspire and illuminate our reading of the text each and ever time we approach it in humility and openness.

And yes, paradox does exist in the real world, our personal experience, and within the Bible. And, as Jones declares, we can and should embrace it. “God can be the creator of the universe and the breaker of the rules of physics. God can be sovereign yet no the author of evil…as is so often the case, the ‘truth’ lies in between, in a person (Jesus) who was truly human and truly divine-in faith, no fideism” (155). We should not handicap or limit who God is or what he can do. Does God really only work in absolutes. Is he that limited and uncreative? My God is not boring, static, and cannot be contained in a well-articulated theological box.

Much more could be written, and I suppose I already wrote too much. (Maybe I should start blogging!). Each section of this book offered great insight into the thinking of the emergent movement and caused me to rethink my own views. On the whole, this movement resonates deep within me. I am finding solidarity with these authors and friends and am finally finding people (albeit through books) that I can dialogue with about what is going on inside my mind and heart. I hope to engage more often in conversations with others rather than just let my mind wander and ramble in writing.

I am glad that Jones added stories and examples of some emerging churches such as Solomon’s Porch, the Journey, and Jacob’s Well, and I hope to visit some of them one day. I also appreciate Appendix A and hope that everyone who reads this book (especially its critics) will spend time reading the four commitments and subsequent practices of the Emergent Village and movement. In closing, I am encouraged and inspired by this book and hopeful that it will bring change and transformation to American Christians and Christianity as a whole. I find myself charting a similar path as the author has and I am hopefully optimistic that I will continue to dialogue with others, learn, grow, and change throughout my journey.

Additional Quotes (that I really liked)

“Emergents trust the Holy Spirit more than they trust in the methods of doing church” (61).

“If church is what happens when people encounter the Risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other, there is plenty of theological room for diversity of rhythm and style, so long as we have ways of identifying the same living Christ as the heart of every expression of Christian life in common.” (53)

“Emerging Churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures…they are missional communities emerging in postmodern culture and consisting of followers of Jesus seeking to be faithful to the orthodox Christian faith in their place and time” (56).

“This, then, is a high view of the church: the collected people of God, in community with God’s Spirit, will stay on track and engaged with God’s work in the world” (185)

Dispatched 15: Emergents hold to a hope-filled eschatology: it was good news when Jesus came the first time, and it will be good news when he returns” (176).

on Postmodernism

On ministering in the postmodern world…an essay

Postmodernism is a real development that has changed the way humans think, reflect, behave, and interact with each other. Whether recent philosophers birthed this movement, or whether philosophy prophetically spoke about the inevitability of postmodernism is certainly up for debate. However, what is not up for discussion is whether or not postmodernism is real, influential, and important for the church to understand. Postmodern thought has already impacted the western world, especially in such places as Europe, major urban centers in Africa and Asia, and along the east and west coasts of the United States. This influence can be easily noticed in educational systems, architecture, science, linguistics and other fields such as sociology and anthropology. People are changing. Human beings continue to evolve and progress in their knowledge and ability to reflect and think. Postmoderns, simply put, have a much different worldview and perspective on life than then those trained and influenced by modern thought. Subjects such as truth, objectivity, propositions, form, function, and authority have forged a gap between these two generations. We are now in, as many scholars and philosophers would say, a major paradigm shift with profound implications for humanity. And yet, the church seems to be poorly equipped to deal with this change.

The Emerging church movement represents a response to the growing tide of postmodernism in the western world. Whether this movement simply mirrors the radical attempt of evangelicalism in the 1950’s or brings about long-term shifts such as the Reformation…only time will tell.

This introduction needs to be made in order to reflect upon my involvement and response to postmodernism. I see these changes happening and see the failed attempts of Christianity in the recent past. Postmodernism cannot be ignored, nor can it be condemned. For, if in fact, the dawn of postmodernism is fast approaching, the church of today must learn to minister within postmodernism, or there will be no church of tomorrow. The church must respond to the changes and demands of globalization. Postmodernism helps define how to live in the tension; live in the paradox of real life.

The emerging church in the midst of postmodernism, is attempting to find an alternative (third way) between secularism and liberalism to the left and fundamentalism and ethnocentrism to the right. While complex, messy and uncertain, it seems to be the most authentic approach to ministering to, with, and as a postmodern.

I grew up in the Northeast of the United States in a well educated and financially secure community. Growing up as an evangelical Christian, I was trained to either ignore or reject any form of postmodern thought. This new type of thinking questioned the ability to know anything concretely or absolutely; it praised contextualism and relativism; it valued doubt and deconstructionalism. Needless to say, these were issues the church did not want to respond to, and so the church held firm to its views and frowned upon those who questioned anything. But I quickly learned for myself that questioning is necessary, and doubt can be a good thing. Of course there is risk involved in such an approach, but nothing worth believing in is null of risk.

Growing up in New England, the only alternative to conservative evangelicalism was an extreme form of liberalism. This stream of Christianity used historical/critical analysis to deconstruct the biblical text…and its message. It also demythologized the story and discredited all of the miracles in the biblical narrative. To liberals, the message of Jesus was more important than the factual history of him. To me, these were very skeptical people who simply could not believe in mystery or paradoxes. I saw this as a complete lack of faith in the supernatural or spiritual. However, I always appreciated the belief that somehow, the “gospel” that Jesus preached was more than simply a one-way ticket to heaven. Liberal Christians in my area were extremely involved in social action and justice. They seemed to ‘live the faith” with more conviction and passion than many of my church members. While we were holding massive rallies and trying to convert people, they were feeding the poor, caring for the environment, and trying to make “this” world a better place to live. And somehow that resonated with me. It seemed to me that’s what Jesus meant when he prayed that God’s kingdom would come “on earth as it is in heaven”. Of course, I could never share these views for risk of scorn and excommunication (not literally I think). There seemed to be no place for a doubtful and yet hopeful, skeptical and yet faithful, theologically liberal and yet culturally conservative type of Christian.

Attending a reformed Christian college actually marked the beginning of my journey navigating the unchartered waters between conservative evangelicalism and liberalism. Systematic theology just wasn’t cutting it. The professors laid out this neatly packaged box of beliefs about God, and while I could follow their reasoning and logic, something about nailing down and cementing the concept of God didn’t sit well with me. In other classes, we would spend hours dissecting the Bible as if in a laboratory in hopes of fully understanding even the smallest nuances and literary devices of each participle. These students would literally spend hours and hours each week delving into the text. In contrast, I wanted to spend time with people and love them as Jesus did.

For some reason, and I know this is an outrageous generalization, it seemed to me that the more time people spent time mastering the text and mastering their understanding of God, the less like Jesus they became. They would become more judgmental, angry, removed from society, less tolerant of others, more critical, more likely to condemn, and less likely to love and forgive. But then again… I could have been wrong. I appreciate the emergent hermeneutic of humility and uncertainty. As we humble ourselves to the unknown greatness and mystery of God, we allow the text of Scripture to master us and open the way for God to work in and through us in new life-giving ways.

I started to read more about what Jesus actually taught and how he lived, and it really didn’t translate to the version of evangelicalism I was familiar with. In fact, the more I read the gospels, the more similarities I witnessed between many prominent evangelical leaders and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees in the first century were very concerned about maintaining their religious traditions and protecting the holiness of God. They established rules upon rules to protect God’s laws from being violated and often spoke about the anger and wrath of God upon people who didn’t follow their ways. Then Jesus came on the scene and really upset these religious leaders. He spent time with the outcasts of society and embraced them rather than judging them. He spoke about the radical love of God, and seemed much more concerned about restoration and reconciliation than upholding religious traditions. In fact he claimed that the Pharisees got it wrong by focusing on the letter of the law rather than the love of law.

I have also witnessed that within evangelicalism has existed a militant notion of advancing the Kingdom of God. Certainly this was the case during the Crusades, but even today the prevalent mentality among most Christians is an “us vs. them” mindset. You can see this reflected in the titles of sermons, articles and books such as the Battle for Faith or the War on Truth and motivation slogans such as “increasing His kingdom” and “advancing the gospel”. Of course this is widely agreed upon and advocated because the main purpose of Christians is to win as many people as possible to their beliefs before they die. Once again, the gospel simply becomes to save as many souls as possible and using whatever means necessary.

There is a difference in theology and approach between advancing the kingdom on the one hand, and partnering with God in his activity in the world on the other. The emerging church is seeking to be missional and incarnational and to find a common ground between these two notions. The essence of the gospel cannot, no should not, be easily boiled down. Even within Jesus’ teachings there existed a dualism between this world and some other world; between the here and now and the future. Postmoderns really care about what is happening here on earth and in the complexities of daily life and relationships.

I believe the church must minister with postmoderns. For right now, postmoderns are considered a separate tribe of people. Missiologists are attempting to contextualize the gospel in order to minister to these educated, wealthy, (mostly white) Westerners. I am not convinced however that people so influenced by modern thought will be able to understand and articulate within postmodernity. It is possible though that if missionaries try to understand the cultural, philosophical, and linguistic differences and learn to appreciate them, they might be able to succeed. However, from a personal experience, “missionaries” to the North East never faired too well, especially if they were not Red Sox fans! People in New England can always tell an outsider. If that person makes a real effort to speak our language, learn our culture, history and customs, and disown the Yankees, he or she may stand a chance. Longevity always helps as well.

Therefore, it is possible to minister to the postmodern generation. I see the evangelical church (hopefully) attempting to minister “with” the postmodern generation. Even now, this “emergent” church movement is considered a minority stream within the broader context of Christianity, much like Eastern orthodoxy. Of course, there are many Christian leaders who simply will not acknowledge “Emergent” as Christian, and I am fairly confident that in the future such people will become the new fundamentalists. This is because I believe that the emergent movement may in fact change the face of Christianity as we know it. Of course, I doubt the term “emergent” will last forever, but I do think that this necessary deconstruction of evangelical beliefs, doctrines, and institutionalism will have far-reaching impact.

Even now, the Evangelical Manifesto was recently written, and has embraced many facets of the “emergent” movement. If this manifesto were written ten years ago, it would be radically different. I can envision evangelicalism embracing postmodern thought in many ways including the uncertainty of “absolute” belief, the duality of God’s kingdom, the command of stewardship of the earth, a renewed focus on the spirituality of the physical, and an increased awareness for missional living and social action and justice. This current generation of western Christians is embracing the emerging church, because this conversation is speaking into the realities of life as we know it to be. It embraces the messiness and uncertainty of life, values relationships and authenticity, and seeks to follow in the way of Jesus.

Moreover, though clearly not primarily a generational movement, people between the ages of 15-40 all across the western world make up the postmodern generation. If the church does not minister to, with, and as postmoderns, little will be done to bring the future generations into the Christian faith. Ministering in a postmodern age will require of someone to be a missiologist, sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher, linguist, historian, Biblical scholar, and contextual theologian. But then again, authentically following in the footsteps of Jesus may do just as well!

Although not fully complete, nor adequately descriptive, there are a number of characteristics that unite emerging churches.

Here are nine core practices of emerging churches that I resonate with, and believe are necessary features of churches hoping to minister in the postmodern world.

  • Identifying with Jesus
  • Transforming secular space
  • Living as community
  • Welcoming the stranger
  • Serving with generosity
  • Participating as producers (creating culture)
  • Creating as created beings
  • Leading as a body
  • Merging ancient and contemporary

I end my essay admitting that I consider myself one of the few, the proud, the…”Emergents”. I can speak the language, relate, and understand my generation because I am part of this generation. I understand the difficulties in coming to faith; yet also understand the deep longing for intimacy with God and relationships with others. I want to have hope in a good destiny after I die (eternal life), yet am not content with waiting around for that future day and seeing my world around me fall into despair. I want to make a difference in the world, and that cry from my heart is also the cry of this generation. And I truly believe that God hopes for the same.

If the God of Christianity is an anger-bent and intolerant being who is waiting for the earth to get bad enough to destroy it so he can then send most people into eternal torture, then I have a very hard time wanting to love and live for a God like that. However, if God is truly compassionate, kind, and loving in his nature and character, and desires for the salvation of all, than that’s a different story. If the message of Jesus when he first came to earth was good and if will be good news when he comes back, and if God desires the restoration and reconciliation of all things, than that is a God I can and want to partner with. If Christianity is simply about obtaining fire insurance so that we don’t end up in hell, then it seems to be a very limited belief system that completely downplays our entire existence here on earth. If however, God is still active and at work here on earth in preparation of the life to come, that gives me hope and much more of a purpose here on earth.

I subscribe to this “fuller understanding of the gospel”, not taking away or subtracting, but adding a new, deeper, and richer meaning. The church is not here for us. We are the church and the church is here for the world. This is the eschatology of hope. This is the emerging church. This is why I desire to minister as a postmodern, with postmoderns, and to the postmodern generation.

Emerging Youth Ministry

To be quite honest, I am kind of overwhelmed with all this “emerging” talk. How ironic that I chose to use the same language to start a blog! I have worked with teenagers for over ten years and have certainly seen trends and statistics come to life. There is probably no easier place in America to find the breakdown of traditional Christian values and church models than in the North East.

As frustrating and discouraging as it can often be to do youth ministry here, I believe the North East can be a visible sign of things to come…especially in youth ministry. Of course we are the ones that have no large churches, youth centers, buses, flashy lights, rock bands, and sweet looking and smelling cafes. However, it’s just the lack of those elements that makes the ministry here well…emerging.

What is emerging you might ask? (and if you didn’t ask, you are still going to get my answer)

There are so many definitions of what is “emerging” vs. “emergent”.

For a good one see Tony Jones blog

He writes the following:

“I get that this whole thing — emergent vs. emerging — is a meme being repeated by some people who mean well and others who, well, mean less well. But those people are making a huge mistake, methinks, because they are perpetuating the very modern mistake of separation and fragmentation. This hyper-defining is no different from the early Methodists saying, “We’re not Anglican,” and the Anglicans saying, “You’re damn right you’re not!” But what’s interesting to me is how often I’ve lately heard Anglicans say, “We never should have let John Welsey go; that was a real mistake,” and Methodists say, “Too bad we couldn’t have stayed under the umbrella of Anglicanism, because I think we’d be better for it.”

Note well, O Definers, you may define me “out” of emerging or evangelical or orthodoxy, but beware, it’ll be you next. Drawing lines and defending borders never ends well for the line-drawers because before you know it, someone has drawn a line right behind your heels and, guess what, you’re suddenly on the other side of the line with me. Line-drawing is yet another form of infinite regression.”

I agree with Tony’s take on this question that I actually forced upon you but I do still think that clarification is both necessary and beneficial.

Here’s why: Depending on who you are and some of your theological views, the term “emergent” brings up nasty little images of heretics running around burning the Bible..or something like that. So, if I labeled my blog “Emergent Youth” I would receive some critical comments and emails (and I really want you all to like me!)

“Emergent” may refer to one of the streams within the “emerging church” movement.

See the great article in Christianity Today for further thought and insight. It is based on Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger’s definition of emerging churches articulated in their book Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Baker Academic, 2005)

But again there is very little written about emerging youth ministry.

Thus the intentions of this blog.

I am no expert. Really. I am however on a journey, quite possibly with many of you to rediscover, reinvent, and redefine what youth ministry should and needs to look like in order for us to reach students for Jesus.

Throughout this endeavor you will hear (or more accurately, read) me critique even the use of phrases such as “reach teens for Jesus”,  “save the lost”, and “increase God’s kingdom”.

Youth Ministry, and quite frankly the way we talk about it, needs to change. Period.

What that looks like…i have no idea, only some guesses based on my own experiences and a few conversations with trusted friends.

Some books have been written to help begin this process and I intend to spend a great deal of time writing and commenting on many of these books that I will highly recommend for anyone in youth ministry to read.

Okay, so back to my original thought…we are finding that the traditional ways of doing Youth Ministry (Purpose Driven and Program Driven) simply do not work here…maybe where you are..but I highly doubt it.

Teenagers today (as opposed to even ten years) are too “sophisticated”, educated, busy, overstressed, politically correct, skeptical, and self entertained to show up on a Friday night to Kung Fu night at their local youth group and hear how Jesus can karate chop the devil and ninja kick sin out of your life. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!

Bigger buildings, newer game systems, more energy drinks are not the answer.

And neither is street preaching or campus revivals.

So what do we do????

We begin this journey together and walk these slippery and sometimes dangerous paths. We ask many questions, try new things, and do with with compassion, love, and humility. Perhaps at the end of this adventure we might still be lost. But, you know what? At least we will no longer be where we started.

So, please join in this conversation (a very emerging word) and let’s see where the road leads us.