How far can your imagination go?

If there is to be hope amidst the despair of impotence, we must reimagine what the church can be. While studying many manifestations of the emerging church, in South Wales, three themes became clear.. These are reimagined worship, reimagined discipleship and reimagined building.

Reimagined worship: from the intoned chants of high church liturgy to the ¾ rhythm of 1970’s country rock choruses, there is a consensual belief in sung music as the ultimate expression of corporate worship. This corporate worship, preferably in sacred places, whether they be ancient sanctuaries or blessed warehouse space, is led by a hierarchy of “experts” with its own language and jargon. Participation is expected but shaping and intervention controlled by the experts.

Some churches and organisations are beginning to challenge these assumptions, questioning the necessity for participative singing, reworking what could be “sacred space”, finding themselves involved in acts of worship in a pub or nightclub but not recognisably so to the average churchgoer. Jargon and religiosity are being consciously shunned, patterns of leadership rethought and hierarchical certainty, the confidence that experts have all the answers, disdained.

Reimagined discipleship: churches may have been saying all the right things but there is an increasing awareness that the way of saying and the practical demonstration of these words have been sadly lacking. Creative discipleship programmes have focussed more on equipping than protecting. The droves of young people bleeding from the Church are looking for more than a cerebral dot-to-dot programme of Bible truths framed by an assumption that “do your quiet-time each day and all will go well”.

The leadership of young people is becoming more about empowering their decisions and responses in a world where they are bombarded by choices before they are even four years old. Words are being matched with deeds, role-models, visuals, backing tracks and email.

Reimagined building: into this melting pot goes the place of church building. If corporate worship can be evinced in pubs, then surely social responsibility and community action can be demonstrated in the church building!

Many churches, tired of searching for bridges to get people into the church building are using the building as a tool for responding to the practical needs of the community around them. They are thus putting the church at the top of the list of “where to go if in need” rather than in the appendix under “where my grandmother used to go in the days when they didn’t know better”.

Traditionally, the “setting up of church” has begun by defining what, where and how worship will be done. A meeting, on a Sunday, with a particular flavour, has set the tone for how that church sees itself. Gradually, one aspires to develop a sense of community, of shared goals and values, of mutual support and encouragement. Eventually, but not necessarily, one strives to implement some form of mission, a goal for being that looks beyond the boundaries of the fellowship itself.

This process has coloured the spirituality of the Church in the West so that the “mission” is constantly an add-on, a guilt-ridden extra to be squeezed in alongside the defining structures of worship and community.What happens when we make a shift toward focusing church on the point of mission rather than worship?

The blue-prints for worship are momentarily discarded and Church sees itself primarily in terms of: what is our purpose here and what would Church look like in order to make that purpose possible?

Arguably this goes back to the very roots of the birth of the Church; it was defined at the beginning of the book of Acts by the injunction of Jesus in the Great Commission. The instruction to meet in a room in Jerusalem was only ever meant to be a stop-gap measure until the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out.

There are many projects, both in South Wales and elsewhere that have deliberately sought to push out the boundaries of what was typically done by way of church life and mission and sought to rethink how they themselves should change at a time of inordinate culture change. They are those who have left the comfort of the Upper Room.

This article is an extract from “The Outside-In Church”, a report produced for CMS, by Richard Sudworth