Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Two tribes in step

At our recent church conference, we concluded our conversations together thinking about how the two big tribes in our churches - the inheritors and the emergents - can walk together for the benefit of the future. I thought I'd share my thoughts with a wider audience. Be interested to know what you think...

Frankie (who remembers FGTH?) says ‘when two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score’ How true! But if two tribes walk in step, think of what they could achieve…

We live in a world of constant and unpredictable change. Not a world where things develop – such as the world our parents and grand-parents grew up and handed on to us – but a world that lurches and jumps, where new ways of doing things are swept away by even newer ones for no reason other than they can be. This is a disorienting place to be for pretty much everyone – whatever age we are, whichever tribe we belong to.

There are two broad tribes in our churches – including this one. They respond to this whirlwind of change in two broad ways:

Tribe 1 – we’ll call them the inheritors – consists of people who’ve inherited, taken to heart and owned a way of doing church that seems to have been around forever (in fact it’s about 100-150 years old).

They like the inherited ways of doing things for a number of reasons: first, they have stood the test of time – at least for as long as their memory stretches back; second they provide a predictable and comfortable place in a world of uncomfortable and unpredictable change; and third it’s a way of doing things we have found beneficial in our development as Christians and thus we suppose others will as well

But change is provoking all kinds of uncomfortable feelings. The world they knew and loved is passing away, a new world seems constantly on the threshold of being born but we can’t see what shape it is yet – but we know we won’t really like it.

Tribe 2 – we’ll call them the emergents – consists of people who have not inherited the classical ways of doing things. Indeed, they find them to be unsatisfactory, unhelpful, a distraction from living faithful Christian lives in a world of rapid and unpredictable change

They are looking for new ways of doing things for a number of reasons: first, they have always lived in this world of unpredictable change and the old ways don’t help then to find a place in it; second, they have increasingly found the inherited ways difficult to access because their lives do not allow them the time or space to do things previous generations did; and third they find inherited ways of doing things no longer help them in their witness to their peers and neighbours

They are impatient to see the church change as the world around them has, so that it helps them to live their Christian lives and do mission in this world, not a world that has disappeared. They are looking for new ways of being church to emerge but it hasn’t happened yet and they aren’t entirely sure how to make it happen

Two tribes caught up in a world of rapid and unpredictable change. Two tribes with the same call – to live faithful Christian lives, create communities that embody Christian values and engage in mission to bring the life-giving message of Jesus to those around them lost and floundering in this world of rapid and unpredictable change.

Here are two suggestions about how these two tribes might engage with one another:

1) dialogue: if we talk to each other – and listen carefully to what each other is saying – we will quickly see that each tribe has insights that the other needs to live faithfully in today’s world: the inheritors will see that the emergents actually have to the tools to cope with the world as it is. They also have a holy restlessness to see the church rise to the challenge of making Jesus known in this world and the gifts of creativity to make it happen

The emergents will see that the inheritors’ have a history of faithfulness over the long-haul, traditions that have been handed down over generations of teaching and theology, the skills of organization, the commitment to stick at things over long periods of time – qualities that will be needed in whatever world is emerging.

2) diffusion: if we talk to each other, we’ll hopefully offer two things: first the grace of honouring each other’s ways of doing things. There is not one right way of being and doing church. The gospel can be earthed in any culture and will look different in every culture in which it is properly and faithfully earthed. Second the space to allow each tribe to do church in a way that meets their needs and that of their peer group outside the church. This means groups of various kinds meeting in various ways and at various times to be and do church in a way that builds their faith and equips them to reach out to the world. It might mean several things happening at once targeted at different groups – even on a Sunday morning.

Constant, rapid and unpredictable change is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future – if we retreat into our tribes and defend our turf, the church will shrink, consumed in a swirl of irrelevance and infighting. If two tribes talk to each other, share their hopes and fears, the church that emerges will be strong and faithful to the gospel.


Anonymous said...

I'm interested that you have got your church to talk about how they are divided into two tribes - it seems that all too often we (pastors) try to just hold people together rather than get them to admit that they are different and that perhaps there are diferent ways of doing things that will meet where people are at.

My question is how can we own up to the differences and meet those needs without "pampering" to the wants of any one given tribe - surely there has to be some sense of sacrifice to our collective worship and gathering together? I want the "emergent" tribe to learn the values of the "inheritors" and vice versa without necessarily forcing emergents to become inheritors or inheritors to become emergents!

It is just encoraging to here what others are doing and indeed that a church has opened up to talk about being two tribes without ending in war.

simon said...

I got the church to recognise that as humans we tend to be tribal by doing a brief session early on at our conference on our identity in Christ based on the opening of Romans. so I looked at the fact that we are holy, called, apostolic but also drew our attention to the fact that Paul is writing to a tribal church, a collection of communities of Jesus followers that had tribal elements about them - Jews, Gentiles, slave communities, those attached to caesar's household, etc - and that part of Paul's aim in the letter (especially in 12-15) is to help those groups to accept and relate well to one another despite their tribal differences.
Your question about how we relate to one another is the key one, of course. Listening has to be the start and accepting that we don't have to do everything together but that when we're together, not everything we do will be our cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

When you say conference is this a special weekend away or special meeting of members / congregants?

There are some things that I want to share with our church in the area of how we move forward together and what I feel God is calling us to do togeher as a church - the problem is that to do this at a traditional church members meeting would exclude over 60% of those who gather each week.

simon said...

Our conference was a whole day - 9:30-4:30 for everyone involved in the church - members and friends. 150 out of 400 or so came for a day that consisted of a mixture of presentations and workshops. There was a good atmosphere through the day and a number of issues were raised that are now setting the agenda for church gatherings of various kinds over the coming months. I recommend it as a way of getting people talking to each other.