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.