Well, it’s true … Brian McLaren is not big in Malaysia 🙂 But for some of us he was the face of the what the emerging church/emergent conversation is all about. He was kind of the usher for many of us in order to face our doubts, honestly deal with our questions, and see an example of how one deals with his critics. In short, be a Christian as well as a Christian leader in today’s world full of polarities.
My introduction of him was more as a pastor who wrote what I still think is a pretty good book considering the purposes it set out to do. The Church on the other side was my entry point (ok to be more precise it was the earlier book “Reinventing the Church” but seriously I prefer the revised version). Here’s a sample pdf.
Here are some self-descriptive comments on himself and insightful statements in his preface and introduction which got me sitting up. One thing I learnt about reading Brian’s books, his prefaces and introductions are very important to understand him properly. 🙂
“This book really deals with the church as a love affair, a spiritual romance, a labor of love, a work of faith and art. It sees the church as a community that must be understood and befriended, not just a machine to be tinkered with and tuned up.” (p. 7)
Every pastor needs to hear those words. So often being part of the church especially in leadership feels more like a burden rather than a blessing.
“.. the church isn’t ours; it’s God’s. … it isn’t ours; it’s us.” (p. 7)
This is so liberating … and changes the whole way we can view “church”.
“The question for us is how the church will emerge, take form, and develop in the postmodern matrix. And if I am right, this isn’t just something we think or read about; this is something we can participate in.” (p. 8)
After hearing more than one merely academic and intellectual discussion on ecclesiology, as a pastor we always ask “So, What’s next?” or “what are some things we can do about it?”. I can understand why many pastors or leaders find it easier to go for “how to fix the church” kind of conferences (I confess I’ve been to many too) because at least they can go away feeling they can do something about it. So, while mere pragmatism is always a danger lurking behind the scenes, I guess the initial desire is to want to participate in how the church can develop. It’s easy to get lost along the way and get caught in the busyness of it all … but it’s never too late to stop, pause and reconsider where we are going.
“I am more interested in stretching your thinking here than tweaking your techniques, so what you learn here won’t be easily boiled down into new tricks you can try this Sunday. In the same way, I must similarly advise all you thinkers and academics: I am a practitioner, not an academic (although I used to be a college teacher). As a “practicing pastor” I am rooted in the everyday and down-to-earth tasks of giving sermons, causing and resolving conflicts, answering phone calls and emails about who’s singing what in the second service this Sunday, performing weddings and funerals, and that sort of thing. I guess you could say I am a reflective practitioner … focused on the down-and-dirty of doing ministry, but trying to have a high-altitude understanding of when, where, how, and why we are doing it.” (p. 8)
This I think was the first time I read the phrase “reflective practitioner” and thought to myself … “Hey! I can be that .. and I want to!”. It was interesting the other day when I shared with someone about the upcoming Friends 2007 event and Brian who’s coming to speak (it’s nice to be able to say I’ve got a friend whom I knew for the last 6 years who’s coming). The person looked interested and then asked, “How big is his church?” My reply is “I don’t know”. And then we conversed further on what is the content of the event. For me, it didn’t matter how big or “successful” Brian’s church was even when I first read the book. What I was looking for was how can I be a faithful pastor leading a young congregation that got “resurrected” in the here and now! This particular book gave me some confidence to authentically work this process out without falling trap into the popular trends and forces which can easily demoralize one (if they define their self-worth by them).
For me, I believe the answer/s to the many rumblings and rants and frustrations to what many people are not Christians as well as unchurched Christians about the church isn’t more explanations and excuses (which may or may not be helpful). And even though Biblical as well as theological expositions on the vision of the church are important but often may sound distant and makes us feel we’ll never reach the ideals in our lifetime. What’s crucial is (with all the theological, biblical and historical resources as well as openness, creativity and sensitivity to the Spirit working in and through community) … There needs to be “alternatives” – community of Christ-followers, friends and family who are willing to “participate” in a kind of church which consciously guards against the idolatry of consumerism or traditionalism and humbly engages the context of our lives while reengaging with the Biblical story we find ourselves in 🙂 And pastors and church leaders play an important role in this process – whether it’s being a hindrance or helpful along the way.
There are times when it’s easy to slip into a kind of “Elijah-am-I-the-only-one” syndrome. But, in recent years there are grounds for me to be a little more hopeful. That’s where I would like to put my energies in.
Phew! … I feel better doing this post. Very therapeutic. Just before I turn softy and fuzzy … I’ll leave the quote Brian left behind on p. 16 in his introduction:
“In 1970, Francis Schaeffer saw the change coming:
The church today should be getting ready and talking about issues of tomorrow and not issues 20 and 30 years ago, because the church is going to be squeezed in a wringer. If we found it tough in these last few years, what are we going to do when we are faced with the real changes that are ahead? …
One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary. To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservatism means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us …
If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo.”
Brian’s comments made me think about the kind of church and Christianity I pray my children would see and grow into and something I want to participate in.
“I was in college when I first read those words. Now, over the threshold of the twenty-first century, with my own kids in college, Schaeffer’s words about revolution feel even more poignant, more stirring. I want to give my children a faith intended for revolution, not status quo. And not just for my children. I want that for myself — and for you.”