Defy The Trend
in Change Leadership

The Emergent Church: Making Old New Again

“Pastor Nicole? Can I do it again?” came the too-loud frantic, staccato voice emanating from a jittery 12-year-old girl. I nod assent and she darts back into the fabric labyrinth set out on the cold tile of the giant school foyer. Fueled by more anxiety and energy than her slight, wiry body could hold, she walked the meditative path over and over again until her staff ordered her to stop and so they could take her back to the cottage where she lived on campus.

Walking a labyrinth as a spiritual practice may predate Christianity.
Walking a labyrinth as a spiritual practice may predate Christianity.

Six or seven years ago, I brought those ancient prayer and meditative practices to my work as a chaplain at a treatment facility for young people with behavioral disorders and mental illness. Little did I know that their attraction to ancient spiritual practices like labyrinth walking and yoga would foreshadow the emergence of the “new church” rising from the ashes of the church’s hold on Western Culture.

Countless times I have sat at church coffee hours, polite lunches and committee meetings in which well-meaning church folks ask about whether a “contemporary” worship service would resonate with young people; they desperately hope and wish that the addition of drum sets, amps and guitars will send those much coveted young people flocking back through the doors of the church. I’m here to tell you, “No.” You don’t need a contemporary service. Instead, reach back into the treasure trove and pull out really old religious traditions and present them with a modern twist.

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‘Beer and Hymns’ sung under the glow of the beer tent at Wild Goose Fest 2014.

My recent attendance at the Wild Goose Festival demonstrated this point yet again. During “Beer and Hymns” (one of the most popular festival activities, by far), I almost never heard a contemporary Christian song nor secular music. Instead you heard old standards — “Amazing Grace” and “It is Well With My Soul” — sung by young and old alike with arms ecstatically outstretched. The only different between this and what happens in most churches on Sunday morning is … well … the clink of beer glasses and the “Hear, Hear!” shouted in between the hymns … AND the passionate spirit glowing so transparently on the shining faces, voices lifted in song. Nothing is held back. The unsurpassed love and grace of God pours out among us and through us.

That Wild Goose, the unpredictable energy of the Holy Spirit, has not shoved us away from tradition into some completely unfamiliar future; it has pushed us back into tradition. It has shoved us back farther into the past than we may have even wanted to go. Back to the spiritual practices that give us soul-rocking experiences of God and feeds our spirit so that we can go out into the world transformed and transforming all around us with God’s love and peace.

This blog explores further one of the 6 key features of the Emerging Church I observed while attending the Wild Goose Festival June 26-29, 2014. To read my previous blogs about the festival, please click here.

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