a love affair with transitioning?

on the plane yesterday afternoon, i was making some progress in the very interesting, but a bit too long hip: the history, by john leland (right now i’m in a great chapter about the historicity of bugs bunny as the archetype for hip, bringing “hip” to the masses of american culture, displacing the minstrely micky mouse, in the middle part of the last century).

a paragraph caught my attention:

hip entails an acceptance of the imperfect – the low-fi, uncombed or unpolished. such is the license of living in the present tense: you don’t have to worry about mistakes, because their consequences are off in the future. at its most problematic, this devolves into hip’s fetish for failure and self-destruction. hip is imperfect in the sense of being incomplete, transitional.

the author had previously spent a good deal of time building a case that hip always lives in the present tense, with no value for history, and no use for future.

this paragraph put words around a previously unworded, nebulously formed thought that’s been percolating in my mind about the emerging church. now, bear with me – this is merely a rumination, not an accusation or a judgement. and this thought may or may not be true of the pace-setters in the emerging church; but i fear it may be moreso true in the popular expression of the emerging church…

is the emerging church having a love affair with transitioning?

here’s what i mean. for most (certainly not all), the original impetus for the emerging church has been a reaction away from things about the church we thought needed course re-alignment, or change. for most (certainly not all), this was a reaction to the shift within evangelicalism toward a more bounded set (rather than centered set) of beliefs and practices (this wording, which i originally got from tony jones, is developed extensively in frost and hirsch’s book, the shaping of things to come). any post-something reaction, of course, moves one into a period of transition. this is normal and good (or at least ok). this is how change occurs. but the transition has to lead somewhere.

we’re in the midst of a massive transition at ys. we kicked it off in may of 04, so we’re 18 months into the transition. until now, the transition has been all about reworking our organizational interior — how we work as a staff, what values we embrace, how power is distributed, how ideas (especially new ones) are processed and acted on. but it’s clear that we’re at a juncture in this transition. it’s time for the rubber to meet the road; it’s time for the internal to start showing up in external. if we don’t accomplish this in the next 18 months, the first half of the transition will have been somewhat of a waste of time and effort, really. because the point of change isn’t merely to say “we’re not that anymore.” eventually, it has to land on “now we’re this.”

back to the emerging church: my concern (my question, really) is that much (some?) of the emerging church is so enamoured of the transition itself (and possibly fueled by a side affair with being hip) that it won’t actually get anywhere, won’t “land”. early in our emergentys publishing line, we had a hard time getting authors — even those who were thought-leaders — to put words on paper, because they were extremely concerned about the finality (read: consequences) of those words. obviously, with the massive rush by so many publishers to release emergent-type books, this no longer seems to be a primary issue. but i’m thinking the general tendency, especially at the popular level, continues to be present. the very fact that the emerging church is so resistant to definition seems to bolster this thought.

i’m an emerging church insider. i love the questions being asked. i think some of the new expressions of church being fleshed out have great value — certainly for those who attend, but even as a course-correcter for the church at large.

but we can’t be in transition forever. and, at some point, the comfortability of being in transition will become the downfall of the emerging church (by downfall, i mean: it could neuter the movement).

being present in the moment (living in present tense) is important, even critical. living in the past doesn’t make sense, just as an obsession with consequences can lead to over-caution that impedes progress. but being stuck in transitioning ain’t so hot either.

13 thoughts on “a love affair with transitioning?”

  1. I think that you are right.
    I think the emergent church does better at asking questions than giving answers. I dont think that is all a bad thing.
    Part of the emerging church stuff is anti-institutional in nature. That by definition means that there must be constant transition, because once transition stops, institutionalization begins.
    I wonder though, how the emergent stuff looks different in different contexts. Most writers and spokepersons in the emergent church are practicioners in urban settings. How does the emergent dialogue look the same in rural settings? In traditional churches instead of church plants? in evangelical circles vs. mainline circles.

    Ok I am rambling.

    Have fun it Pittsburg.

  2. What a great question marko! I am not only having a love affair with the transition and idea (because I am still in a PCA church in SC, enough said) but I have made this an idol. Something I have convicted about lately.

    I think the transitions are needed in most areas and the questions are great and should be asked…but I think we need to take caution. Thanks for the post today!

  3. Wow… you put in words what a lot of us pseudo-pomo-pseudo-traditional Christians might be thinking. I have struggled with embracing much of what the emergent church articulates simply because it focuses on the questions (sometimes for the sake of just asking questions); but have also struggled with embracing a traditionalist view because they refuse to even listen to the questions because “this is the way that is has always been done.”

    I want real questions (so I hope those don’t stop), but I think we can land on real answers and reshape our traditions!


    P.S. Great Sac-town NYWC, fantastic options this year… where/when is West Coast NYWC next year Marko?

  4. Our church is in the middle of a building program. We are not remotely “emerging” but not for any particular reason other than we feel we have been called to reach a particular community in a particular way. Not every method is for everybody. In two weeks I get to preach part of a sermon on Jesus asking Peter if he loves Him. My point is focus. Peter asks about John’s role in all this, and Jesus rebukes him. Don’t worry about John, worry about your part in it.

    I think you are dead on. Too often we focus on the method, the tool, the people around us, or the transition instead of the purpose. The rest of the sermon is love Jesus and feed His sheep. John isn’t important, The church down the road isn’t important, and our building program isn’t important except as a tool in reaching the community. If I focused as much on what software I was buying as the answer to my ministry problems as we focus on the other things, people would think we missed the point.

    Thanks for your insight. I may use this thought in my sermon.

  5. first in reading your comment i wanted to say that no matter what happens in the future, i don’t think that there could be a “failure” for ys if you have been intentional about change. the rubber meeting the road may not be what you intended but something will happen. and second, i’m not sure what you mean by landing…isn’t that one of the downfalls of many churches today, they have landed and are reluctant to change so they become stagnent? are you wanting to land and yet stay open to transition???? to me this post sounds like your contradicting an earlier thought you had that the question is always better then the answer…

  6. To the church: Fix your eyes on Jesus, and you will emerge as the church God meant you to be.

    The whole Emergent thing (of which I am a recent observer) seems to be at the stage where it is in danger of fixating on itself. When you fix your eyes on yourself instead of Christ, you become self-focused (self-centered). This is something that can happen corporately as well as individually. Emergent (and the rest of us) just need to make sure that “it’s all about Jesus.”

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