Birthing pains of an emerging church
My only experience of a birth of a child was a torturous video I was forced to sit through in year ten, so I won't be using much in the way of birth analogies. But I want to outline some of my journey as I enter into the world of the emerging church.
For the bulk of my church experience I was filled with joy and wonder at attending services and meetings. I experienced God in such a richness through these events that I wondered what else there could be. A friend who I started Bible college with was always going on about how he didn't fit into 'normal church'. All I thought was, "what's your problem mate. Get with the program.".
But then it started. The world of the emerging church found me. It started harmlessly enough. A book here, an article there. But soon this subtle interest became a full blown addiction. Now I was starting to buy more books, I would scour the internet for the latest stories of what was happening across the world, blogs became my latest craze and worse still, I started hanging around with people who questioned the institutional church. This was getting out of hand.
But I was content in my knowledge that as youth pastor of a "successful" church I was called to be there. Until God started messing with my calling. I remember having a conversation with a pastor from another church and sharing some of my frustrations. His reply was simple, "why don't you start something yourself?" I was floored. I couldn't do that. I didn't want to be the leader of something, that was too difficult.
My project is called Myriad, an attempt at living incarnationally in Perth, Western Australia. It's based around a network of small groups of people with a missional focus. It's about taking people out of church structures and having them rubbing shoulders with the people in their neighbourhoods, families, work places and social arenas.
Through all of this God had taken me on a wild ride and taught me so much. Here's some of it.
The first principle I have learned is that calling is crucial. Without a specific call to do this I would have been lost. There have been times when I've questioned and doubted but my calling has stayed clear. Through hours of prayer, Scripture reading and sound counsel from trusted advisors I know that God is calling me to do this. Calling sustains me as I enter into the unknown and it keeps me from retreating back to the comfort of my safety net.
Closely linked with calling is vision. My number one job has been to be clear about my vision and explain it well. And trust me, after a year of doing this hundreds of people it get's harder. Every time I tell the story this one thought comes through my head, "you sound like a broken record player, stop it." So I remind myself that the person I'm talking to is hearing this for the first time so I need to be fresh and enthusiastic.
Secondly, support from my church has been vital. From the moment I started talking to my Senior Pastor about this he has been in full support of me. So often I hear of people starting a new church out of brokenness and anger. But for me it has all been love and support.
The message that I have is strong, the emerging and traditional churches can work together.
I know that there are hundreds of people in my home church praying for me, thinking of me and supporting me. It's like having my own cheer squad. When I left my position as youth pastor I received so much blessing from people. I was walking on air for days. It was also extremely humbling to receive their support.
The third principle that has been important for me is support from like-minded people. In Australia there is an organisation called Forge that supports and trains people like me. Through this network I have met so many people with crazy dreams. Knowing that I'm not the only person with these sort of ideas gives me confidence in what I'm doing.
A fourth principle is this, not everyone will understand what you're on about. I've had people ask all sorts of questions about what I'm doing. The number one question that everyone bar one person has asked when I've told them about church planting is this, "where's it going to be?" When I tell them it's not based around one particular location they give me all sorts of looks. My favourite is the, 'but you can't do that' look.
I use the term detox as a way of talking about getting the ideas of traditional church out of people and filling them with the DNA of Myriad. Some people don't like this. One woman told me it invalidates what happens at my church by saying it's bad. I told her that I do believe some of what goes on is bad and the word detox is used very carefully to shock people into thinking about what they're doing.
Throughout this process there has been one constant (well two if you count God), people. Myriad is all about people. About being authentically linked with people, both inside and outside of the kingdom. I sometimes joke that when it was juts me it was the best church in the world, but without others coming in and bring in their vision, time, gifts and abilities it wouldn't happen.
So there it is, my story. Maybe some of it will apply to you, maybe not. Each one of us has their own story to find and grow through. For me, that's been the true joy.