Let’s start with me. I am a young professional church worker. I post on my blog every day, but I don’t have time to write Christmas cards. When I was in high school, I dyed my hair in huge, chunky, red highlights. Most of my friends have multiple piercings, tattoos, or both. I grew up speaking English, but convinced my parents that Spanish would be essential for survival. Some of my friends are Lutheran, most are non-denominational, Baptist, and some aren’t even Christians at all. I get my news from the internet, not television. I will listen to NPR, Johnny Cash, David Crowder, and the Foo Fighters in a single sitting. I might listen to Madonna too, but don’t tell anyone.
Then there is my senior pastor. He grew up speaking English, but he remembers the days of German worship services. He can quote hymns and the catechism off the top of his head (kind of like I can sing you a U2 song on demand). The idea of tattooing a Bible verse on his wrist would make him cringe. His social network is filled with life-long Lutherans. He trusts people and society. At times, I’ve heard his contemporaries complain about young people’s lack of dedication to the church. It is quite clear. We come from different worlds.
Considering his background and our ministry setting, my senior pastor is relatively open to new ideas. He listens to my totally impractical ideas and chews on them as if they were actually valid. His heart is focused on reaching people with the compassion of Christ. Yet, time after time we prove ourselves to be from completely different generations. This generational difference doesn’t just affect our friendly office banter, it changes the way we see ministry, the way we reach out, and the way we understand the needs of our congregation. We discuss these differences on a somewhat regular basis and he (being focused on reaching me with the compassion of Christ) asked if I had a book that would sum up my ideas about ministry. I handed him Dan Kimball’s The Emerging Church.
At times, the words “emerging” or “emergent” have a connotation of loosey-goosey theology and wishy-washy doctrinal statements. The problem is that most people don’t know what emerging is. Blanket statements never work, but this grass roots movement is fundamentally anti-institutional. Wrapping your fingers around what it means to be emergent is difficult, but not impossible.
Chances are, if you are reading this on the internet, you’ve had some exposure to the idea of the Emerging Church . You may already have a few emergent ideas integrated into your ministry and your co-servants in the church (pastors, parents, teachers) may have no idea. In many ways, The Emerging Church is for them. Dan Kimball makes no assumptions about his reader’s previous knowledge about the emerging church, post-modernism and experiential worship. He starts at the core of the matter. He looks at the culture of young adults in America and reveals ways that we are missing the mark with a large portion of these young Americans. He explains that the problem isn’t simply a generation gap. The young people aren’t going to suddenly flood into the church when they start having families. They are going to use their Sunday mornings to sleep in, meet up with friends at the coffee shop, and chase after their little sister at their son’s soccer game. They’ve been burned by bad experiences with Christians, they weren’t raised in the church, and have decided that Christianity is essentially hogwash.
Therefore, Kimball’s writing is primarily focused on evangelism. His purpose for understanding the culture is to point the people of this culture to Christ. He lives in a place that defines pluralism and secularism ( Santa Cruz, California). He spends most of his time with non-Christians or new Christians. He tells stories about people who were brought to Christ through the ideas that he shares in his book. He doesn’t suggest that he has all the answers, but his experience has given him insight into reaching a new generation.
He writes from a non-denominational background and at times it is quite obvious, especially when he discusses emerging worship. He talks of a “seeker-sensitive” worship style (a few praise songs, prayer, message, and a few more songs in a warehouse style room) that is unfamiliar to most liturgical Lutherans. He embraces many things that are already incorporated into our worship and church life, and seeks to breathe new life into liturgical music, stained glass, and incense in the worship of our Lord. Kimball’s perspective on liturgy and the arts can inspire an enhanced use of these rich traditions. As youth workers we are reminded that liturgy isn’t a problem for youth in worship. When used appropriately, it can be a meaningful journey through Scripture. (Kimball’s companion to The Emerging Church called Emerging Worship is a great read and worship planning food for thought.)
As much as possible, Kimball sets aside doctrinal differences and doesn’t dive into the theological problems often associated with his emerging contemporaries. Kimball’s writing is accessible to just about any audience. The Emerging Church is a great primer on a movement that is very difficult to grasp. It’s a book that you can talk to–writing in the wide margins, scribbling notes to yourself, and jotting thoughts to share with your co-servants are highly encouraged. As I read, I thought about the worship that I organize for youth retreats, the presence I have in the community around my church, and the way I develop student discipleship.
From my twenty-something millennial-generation perspective, I felt like Kimball was explaining my world. He described ministry ideas that fit my personality, my goals, and my desire to evangelize to my friends. He challenged me to kick it up a notch. As my senior pastor read The Emerging Church, he gained a better perspective on my ministry ideas. He appreciated the clear explanation of where the lost twenty and thirty-somethings have gone and the inspiration to use ancient traditions to reach them. After borrowing my copy for a few weeks, my senior pastor came into my office and said, “I liked it so much, I bought my own copy!” I am hopeful that great things are about to emerge.