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


Contemplative Youth Ministry- by Mark Yaconelli

Contemplative Youth Ministry

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical prior to reading this book.   However, after reading through the book for a second time, it has become one of my favorite youth ministry books.  Mark Yaconelli has a witty and authentic way of storytelling and teaching how to help students practice the presence of Jesus. I appreciate his journey; his mistakes, failures, lessons learned, and advice he has to offer all of us attempting (and praying) to see our students grow spiritually.

Central to this book is the theme of presence.  The author shares that the central problem in sharing the Christian faith with young people is this:

We don’t know how to be with our kids.

We don’t know how to be with ourselves.

We don’t know how to be with God.

But if we look to the life of Jesus as our example and inspiration, we find that Jesus enjoys being with people and being with God.  “His ministry doesn’t come from a pre-planned formula but instead arises in response to the real situations and relationships he encounters.”

To be “present” with our students means relating to youth in the way Jesus related to people…with authenticity and transparency.

The idea of “contemplation” means being with God within the reality of the present moment.  As Mark explains, “it’s about attentiveness–opening our eyes to God, ourselves, and others.”

Ignatious of Loyola referred to contemplation as “seeing God in all things.”  Brother Lawrence called it” the pure loving gaze that finds God everywhere.”  Teresa of Avila referred to this experience as “Awareness absorbed and amazed.”

One of the questions asked in the book really spoke to me.  “What is my deepest hope for the youth I know?”

As I prayed and thought through this, I could sense and feel the way God sees and loves my students.  I began viewing them through God’s eyes and not through my own agendas for them.

I especially appreciated the section dealing with being transparent and vulnerable before our students. Often, the assumption is that as youth leaders we must live above our students and, without realizing it, a certain level of disconnect and unapproachability inevitably creeps in.  Mark writes (and I agree) that youth want to know about our marriages or romantic lives.  They want to meet our friends and find out what we do when not in church.  They want to know what makes us angry and whether we agree or disagree with their parents.

They want to know how to live well and live fully human, and they need us as real examples that they can relate to.

Probably my favorite chapter is entitled “Becoming a Good Listener” simply because I struggle with this approach and quite frankly needed a healthy dose of inspiration and challenge.

The first part of this approach is learning how to surrender.  “We need to stop trying to make kids love God…to surrender means to recognize that we don’t control how God lives and moves. We don’t control our churches and we certainly don’t control the spiritual lives of our young people.”

As youth leaders, we need to be able to trust that our students belong to God; that God has been seeking to love them since before they were born and will continue to love them long after they leave the influence of our ministries.  This concept is revolutionary to me and freeing in the same breath.

We also need to receive from God, and place our students in positions to receive from Him as well.  “When we allow ourselves to be open and receptive to God’s love and presence, we begin to notice that God is alive and available.”

Mark provides a great chart comparing/contrasting the different ways we approach youth ministry when we’re rooted in anxiety rather than love.  Interestingly enough, I was able to use the same descriptions and characteristics and compare “traditional” to “emerging” youth ministry approaches .  In many ways, traditional youth ministry is based upon anxiety (control, professionals, products, results, conformity, activity, and answers).  Contrary, emerging youth ministries demonstrate and implement contemplation, processes, presences, guides, relationships, creativity, awareness, and questions.

This chart forced me to critically reflect upon my youth ministry and see how we have been operating in the past:  out of anxiety or love?

The next big section offers different ways to enter into the presence of God. Most are rooted in ancient Christianity and have been transformative for centuries.  Now, I have been doing a number of these for some time, but each process would be powerful if we can find ways to implement them into our youth ministries and model them for our students.

They include: Lectio Divina (holy reading, Centering Prayer (indwelling Christ), The Awareness Examen, Silent Prayer, Creative Arts prayer

By far, the best chapter for me (and I think one of the best chapters in all youth ministry books to date) is “Being with young people”

Being human is “seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, being moved by others and allowing others to be moved by us, responding with acts of kindness and receiving acts of kindness, and embodying a sense of delight in all our interactions.”  In many ways, author and professor Andrew Root picks up on this theme and wonderfully runs with it in his books Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry and Relationships Unfiltered.


We love young people when we see them with the eyes of Jesus; seeing them as they are, not as the culture judges them to be or as we wish them to be.

Yaconelli shares a wonderful story about being on a youth retreat with a particularly terrible bunch of students (haven’t we all had that experience before!)  He became angry and yelled at them and demanded that the fun stop and they all go to bed.  Feeling bad about the way he treated them he got up and walked around the sanctuary where they were sleeping.  Watching them, he began to notice their innocence and remembered their pain and hurt. His anger at them was transformed into compassion for them as he began to see them with the eyes of Christ.


We also need to listen; to open our ears to the words and feelings youth speak.  As a youth pastor, I often feel the need (and desire) to speak.  Even when students are unloading their problems and issues, I fight the urge to interrupt with my sound advise. Most of our activities at youth group are designed to help students sit and listen to us. But imagine if we could turn that around and listen to them.  “Its almost a conversion experience in this day and age to be authentically heard by another person.”  I couldn’t agree more.

I debated whether to share this story or not, but here goes.

A few years back I had the priviledge of attending a course on Postmodernity and the Emergent Church taught at Alliance Theological Seminary by Tony Jones.  I had met Tony briefly on a few occasions and we planned to spend some time together after class.  I will never forget the time, attention, and care he gave me while the two of us sat and chatted at an Irish pub in Nyack.  He asked questions like he actually cared about my life and he listened.  He could have talked about his experiences, his writings, his theology..and I would have listened and loved it. But instead, the whole evening was about me.  And the timing was perfect because I had issues that I really needed to talk about with someone, but no one (up to that point) had thought to ask.  I finally felt free to share with someone who would not judge and had no self interest.  My respect and appreciation for Tony grew that night and I left feeling such a weight lifted.

I want to be that kind of friend, mentor, and youth pastor to students.

“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen.  They person who can no longer listen to others will soon be no longer listening to God either.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Action with Kindness

These are moments in which we embody the love of God.  This love of God “is often more powerful and transformative in small acts of love than in the lights, energy, and charisma of large outreach events.”

We need to take time to experience the everyday moments of life together with our students.  These can occur over simple meals, while driving or shopping, watching a game together, etc..

Before reading this book I associated contemplation with being still…perhaps a monk in isolation in a cave somewhere!

Parker Palmer debunks that thought and writes the following: “At root, contemplation and action are the same. As our youth ministry becomes infused with contemplative prayer and awareness, the effect is not more prayer and silence; instead, what begins to emerge is authentic action. Activities within the youth ministry no longer are chosen frantically from resource books; they no longer are prescribed from the outside.  Instead, as we widen our awareness, our actions with youth become more guided by their needs and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  Being prayerfully present to kids enlarges our capacity to act out of love rather than anxiety. Contemplative awareness nurtures our creativity and draws us to act from the heart. We find ourselves responding more and reacting less.”


As youth pastors, we should be amazed and delighted by students.  I have found that even though dealing with middle school antics and high school drama can be taxing, there is no greater joy than seeing young people “get it”.  I have more fun with students than with any other age group.  It is fun and a delight to be around them, and I feel blessed to be a part of that on a daily basis.  I know that if and when God leads me to do something else, I will always miss the joy I experience when with young people.

Jean Vanier writes that love is “to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.”  When students are seen, they feel valued.  When they are heard, they feel respected.  When someone is moved by their situation, they feel loved.  And when others delight in their existence, they sense the very breath of God!

“Youth Ministry is about holding up a young person’s deepest identity until he or she is able to see it too.”

The last major section of the book developes a process of recruiting and training a community around you to serve the youth. Mark calls this a “covenant community” and he outlines some pretty complex and detailed steps to help build up your volunteer leadership team. Now, it is hard to deny the results he shares, but the six steps seem a bit much to me.  However, if you follow them I am sure you can double your team with solid volunteers.

A good point that he makes that we all need to be aware of is this:  You’re not just looking for a warm body, you’re seeking people who sense that their participation in ministry is intimately connected to God’s movement in their lives.   Secondly, when people spend time in prayer and relationship building, the ministry becomes a great source of nourishment; people enjoy the ministry, serve with great authenticity, and stay involved longer.

Another great thought found in this book is the idea that youth ministry is truly a calling and blessing at the same time.  For many of us, we need to be doing youth ministry.  We need to be with and for our students, because by doing so, we connect with God.  Mark writes to all of us youth leaders that perhaps we are more pliable among these youth, more open to God shaking us up or offering us a word of healing. maybe youth ministry is our spiritual discipline.

“It’s not just a place where we serve, it’s a place where we are transformed, healed, and made new.”

Below are a few more helpful and inspiring quotes I discovered.

“It’s this movement from prayer to presence–from being open and available to God to being transparent and accessible before teens-that is the real work of ministry.”

“Our first task as youth ministers is to be with young people just as Jesus was with people.  Our second task is to help youth develop the eyes, ears, and heart of Jesus for themselves.  We’re not only called to be witnesses among young people, we are also called, like Jesus, to be teachers. We’re called to awaken youth to the presence of God in the world.

To help do this we 1) point 2) question 3) invite 4) we create circumstances

All of this takes patience and time.  Faith takes time and we need to stick around long enough to see it go through its ups and downs, highs and lows, and eventually develope, mature, and blossom.

“Our role is to help youth recognize the ways in which Jesus is already near, already seeking trust and friendship.”

“An efficiently busy life is “more potentially destructive of spiritual growth than debauchery or alcohol or drugs.”

“The purpose of integrating contemplative presence in youth ministry is not to turn kids into monks, it is to deepen our awareness of god, others, and self so that we might become fully alive!”

“Through greater prayer and presence, we notice the moments of connection between youth and God and try to build our programs accordingly.”

The rise of Emerging Youth Ministry

Last week I had the privilege of teaching at Nyack College.

Below is the link to their youth ministry site.



I was a guest in the Advanced Youth Ministry course taught by veteran youth worker and author Len Kageler.

He has written such books as The Youth Ministry Survival Guide (Zondervan/Youth Specialties) and This Way to Youth Ministry (Zondervan/Youth Specialties).


I was honored to teach two consecutive classes, which I entitled “Emerging Youth Ministry and the Emerging Church.”  Sounds like a good name for a blog!

When I first polled the class of 16, only 6 of them had ever heard about the emerging church or word “emergent”.  I was very surprised by this, but also realized that these students were not actively reading and pursuing information apart from their required courses.  They simply don’t have the time or resources to do so.

They also didn’t have the opportunity like many of us to attend progressive conferences and seminars such as Youth Specialties (where I was first introduced to these topics years ago)

So, I knew I was starting from scratch and beginning with the basics, which was both challenging and encouraging.  Since most had not heard anything about the emerging church movement, they did not have preconceived ideas or notions about it like so many I encounter.  The words “liberal”, “hypocrisy”, “absolute truth”, were not associated with the movement…well at least prior to the classes!!

In order to get to know the class, I did something different.  After asking the basic questions of their name and age and where they were from, I asked a series of divisive questions. Each student had to pick one side of the room or the other depending on their answer.  The one rule was you must choose.  There can be no middle ground.

At first the questions were easy:

Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?

PC or Mac?

Winter or Summer?

But then things got more interesting when I asked Obama or McCain?

Predestination or Free Will?

I like to further push the envelope with questions like:

Pro Choice or Pro Life?

Gays in church or not in church?

Bible inerrant or just infallible?

You can see how these questions aim at polarizing the group and often making individuals very uncomfortable.  They want to either not choose at all or choose a middle ground.

What’s the point of this you may ask?

Good question

It allowed me to lay the foundation for why and how the emerging church movement began over a decade ago.

In addition to finding ways to contextualize the gospel message to postmodern generations, the early emerging leaders were sick and tied of western Christianity (especially evangelicalism) polarizing the faith with such questions.  Depending on your answer, you were either in or out of the group.

Usually these questions were not about the core or essentials of the faith, but about externals and various/particular viewpoints on doctrine and theological interpretations.  As this has occurred over time, so to have factions and divisions, thus leading to literally thousands of splits and new denominations being formed.

The emerging movement resists polarization and attempts to find the middle ground between traditionally labeled “liberal” and “conservative”, among a host of other “categories”.

It does not seek to label people or groups based upon particular viewpoints.

It also rejects having to give answers or make certain theological statements and claims (which is an endless source of frustration to those who want to label the emerging church based upon such convictions and beliefs!)

For more about this, I suggest checking out Tony Jones’ blog at belief.net and reading his latest book The New Christians.

Back to the class…

After this activity I asked each student about the youth group they grew up in.

“How would you describe and define youth group growing up?”

Almost to a student, they responded by saying how large the group was (big or small) and what activities and events they did.  (I thought to myself, this class is going to be interesting!)

One student defined her experience as being involved in a small community, having a really tight relationship with her youth leader and sharing life together…even up to today.

Now that was an answer I could run work with.

Her experience marks what I believe emerging youth ministry to be.

It is not about numbers, programs, events, activities, and systematic ways of describing and calculating success and growth.

It is more organic, fluid, relational, authentic, and a host of other words I could use.

As the class progressed I did a brief background into the history of youth ministry with its pro’s and con’s and made my case that we are indeed in a new cultural phenomenon and context that demands news ways of thinking about youth ministry.  No longer is it about “doing” youth ministry, but rather it’s about a state of “being” youth ministry.  Youth ministry should be defined as who we are and are becoming, rather than what we do.

It was a very engaging class and we discussed how postmodernism affects the way students see the world and religious faith (including truth, objectivity, and experience).

I discussed various ‘shifts” in our approach to youth ministry (which I will probably write about in more detail at a later time).  But the main idea is that we need to shift away from certain modes of thought and operation (such as being program driven, attraction oriented, exclusive, isolated, big, hierarchical, etc…) and move towards new ways. Read A New Kind of Youth Ministry by Chris Folsmbee for a good philosophical transitionally approach.

I discussed the practical applications and implications of such transitions in an actual youth ministry setting.

Many of these appear to be in direct contrast to former ideas, and some are clearly and intentionally just that.

I also described some basic characteristics of emerging youth ministry as I see it.  Many of these are passed down from the emerging church movement, but need to be fleshed out in our local youth ministries. Some characteristics are currently shaping my own youth group and some are shaping and transforming other youth groups.  I can honestly say that while my own youth group might not display all of these shifts and characteristics now, we are certainly heading in that direction and seeing the benefits and effectiveness of such shifts.

But back to my opening activity…emerging youth ministries will live in between the two sides. Some aspects of your ministry may lean heavily towards one side or another (hopefully not too many towards the side of traditional/systematic 1980’s youth ministry!)

Emerging youth ministry will not feel the need or pressure to define ourselves by these categories however.  Besides, it is rather difficult to define a community, especially a diverse one because at the end of the day they are just that…a community and not a pile of beliefs, events, or choices.

Emerging youth ministry will be a community of students and adults actively following Jesus and participating in God’s redemptive plan in the world. (It’s still a working definition so don’t quote me on that…yet)

What I found very exciting and encouraging is that by the end of two classes, there was definitely a sense of enthusiasm and interest in an emerging philosophy of youth ministry. Many students simply had never thought a new approach was plausible and possible, although they all saw the need and potential.

In fact, in a survey given at the end, all the students claimed to learn new information and all but one said they would sign up for a course offered exclusively on this subject.

I think what is happening is this.

Students are resonating with these shifts and characteristics either because many of them were the ones that worked best while they were in youth group, or because they see the downfalls of much of the traditional ways and are hoping for change.

Often, disillusionment gives birth to action.

I could see the eyes open and light bulbs go on as we discussed the need to focus on creating experiences for our students rather than just dumping more and more information on them.

There was an excitement buzzing around contemplating the need to be more involved and engaged in our local community and in service, rather than being in isolation and hoping that bigger and better forms of entertainment will attract students to our doors.

Especially at Nyack College (which places a high value on spiritual formation), the students agreed that we must develop new and creative ways for our students to encounter Jesus, rather than just learn about him, and a shift from orthodoxy (right believing) to orthopraxis (right living) needs to take place.

True spiritual formation (in my experience) rests in the middle ground of the two, but often youth ministry focuses on the first while ignoring the later.

Many of these changes, or “shifts” come as a result of lessons learned from youth ministry veterans such as Len Kageler, Doug Fields, and Mark Oestricher.  Younger leaders such as Chris Folsmbee, Andrew Root, Dan Kimbal, Tony Jones, and many of you are learning from the past and trying to figuring out what this all means and can look like in our contexts.

Emerging youth ministry is not a tightly packaged program or philosophy. Its more messy, alive, and confusing then that.  We are on this journey together, and I for one appreciate all those who have gone before us. They too were attempting to communicate Christ in relevant ways to their own culture and time.  And much of it worked back then and still works now. But we are finding it to be less and less effective with our ever-changing culture and spiritual climate.

The definition of “Emerging” is to be newly formed or just coming into prominence

Adj.1.emerging – coming to maturity; “the rising generation”


future – yet to be or coming; “some future historian will evaluate him”

2.emerging – coming into existence;

I like those definitions as they relate to the current state of youth ministry and its future. Emerging youth ministry is coming forth out of our past; coming into its own; birthing something new and different out of something already established.


We are hatching from our birth parents coming into existence, prevalence, and prominence.

So, we press on. Learn from past, live in the present, and keep our eyes on the future.

Times are changing and so must the way we think and approach youth ministry. I am encouraged to see that many of the younger youth leaders (especially those in training) are eager for change and willing to join in this adventure as well.

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.