Introducing the “Contemporancient Church”

It has been written about exhaustively.  The Church in America is dying.  Responding to this reality have been numerous voices speculating about the causes of this slow death, and strategies that can be employed to reverse this trend and resuscitate this valuable institution.  However, I learned from Dr. John Perkins a long time ago that “the solutions are already present within the community.”  We just need to listen.

And the more we listen we discover that there is a generation within the Church that is emerging.  It is a generation that bridges generations.  It is young and old, Korean and Latino, suburban and urban.  And this generation will tell you that the conversation really isn’t about solutions.  The Church isn’t something that we fix.  The Church is alive.  She breathes.  She moves.  She changes her shape over time.  And this generation is a reflection of her current shape.  It is not as simple as a new movement within the Church that is reacting to the prior movement.  It is not that dualistic.  It is much more woven together than that.

Then Jesus said to the followers, “So every teacher of the law who has learned about God’s kingdom has some new things to teach. He is like the owner of a house. He has new things and old things saved in that house. And he brings out the new with the old.” Matthew 13:52

Maybe what the Spirit is doing in this generation can’t simply be reduced to the “next thing” or a reaction to the prior movement.  Maybe something entirely different is happening!  Maybe we have misunderstood all of these “movements” to begin with.  Maybe what has been happening in the Church is less like the assembly of a new piece of office furniture that came in a box, and more like what happens in living organisms.  The organism is maturing, not just moving onto assembly instruction #16.

Maybe the uniquenesses of this generation will so clearly violate the rules of modernity that we will have to become comfortable with a Church that is comfortable looking backward and forward at the same time.  This is what I am calling the “Contemporancient Church.”

The Contemporancient Church is characterized by six postures of this generation, each of which I will expound upon in future posts:

Each of these postures reflects the maturity of the Church into a non-dualistic organism, where we once began before there was an Eastern Church and a Western Church – when there was one Church.  And now, after nearly 1,000 years and 41,000 divisions this generation might be returning us to a practical ecclesiology that is both pulling us forward while reaching backward.  Some say this is altruistic and impractical, while others say it is incomprehensible.  I say it is inevitable; for the Church was created to live.

Posture #2: “Parish-Minded”

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The Contemporancient Church is a generation* that is bridging the ancient and the contemporary; bringing together elements, language, and practices from what has been with what is now emerging.  One way in which this generation is living out its sense of call is through its conviction that “place matters.”  For this generation the location of its gatherings is not about being highly visible, but about making a visible impact wherever its gatherings take place.  This is a paradigm that finds its roots in the parish model of the 13th Century English Church, where parish churches have been at the center of 1,500 years of social change.  In other words, when parish churches gather in a particular place, that place can expect to be transformed at the same time the people that are gathering are being transformed.

“For this generation the location of its gatherings is not about being highly visible, but about making a visible impact wherever its gatherings take place.”

The word “parish” finds its origins in the Greek word πάροικος (paroikos), which means to “dwell alongside a sojourner.”  In 13th Century England there were three types of churches being established: cathedrals, collegiate churches, and parishes. Many parishes were established at sites of spiritual significance, where people had a commitment to a place.  Over the years, across the world, some faith traditions have continued to use the language of parish, but often in ways that attributed those traditions to “what has been.”  The parish model has given way to more contemporary church models that focus upon gathering people from many places. People who are part of these more contemporary models do not gather out of a missional commitment to a place, but out of a common desire for higher quality children’s programming, better teaching, or other common causes.

The Contemporancient Church generation doesn’t see the parish church model as something of the past, but as the only model that places the “light on the lamp stand” (Matthew 5:15).  The parish church is called to a place, and then makes its dwelling in that place to carry out its mission among all who would come through that place. This commitment to a place gives context to the prayer that “God’s Kingdom would come and will be done in earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).  The place the church calls its “parish” is where it looks to see God’s Kingdom manifested.

For this reason, the church establishes its priorities to set the place on a trajectory toward becoming the picture scripture paints of God’s Kingdom.  The church’s hope is to thrust the place toward a vision of Shalom where every part of the community harmoniously functions together, and all things work for everyone all of the time and no one is left out.

The parish-minded church is not as susceptible to the modernist divide between evangelism and social justice.  It understands that the two are inseparable because all social justice activities are evangelistic, and any evangelistic activities must include a good news message that doesn’t leave people in chaotic places.

Therefore, the Contemporancient Church is a generation that longs for the Church to be known for more than its free coffee, sparsely used buildings, and yard signs. This generation desires more than anything that earth would look more like heaven, because a multi-ethnic, inter-generational, multi-class, multi-cultural movement of transformed people have transformed places.

A church that preaches about individual redemption, without also aligning its worship gatherings, resources, discipleship strategies, and other priorities to introduce its surrounding community to the grace of God is not reflective of the heartbeat of this generation.  Instead, because of this generation’s commitment to place, we gravitate toward imitating a God that “causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45) which is why we practice resurrection among those who do not believe in Jesus.  As God gives us the grace, it is our conviction that anything the church can do to move the entire community closer to God’s vision of Shalom will result in unbelievers making personal professions of faith in Jesus in the future.

For the Contemporancient Church, this driving ecclesiology is rooted in a healthy theology of place.  People matter, and so do places because though people shape places, places also shape people.  Joseph was known as being from Arimathea, Saul was from Tarsus, and Jesus was from Nazareth.  For the contemporary church, place has lost its importance.  For the ancient church, place was always very important.  This is why for the Contemporancient Church, place has emerged as a core value – because this generation stands as a bridge between what was and what is becoming, pursuing Shalom upon an earth that last knew it over 4.5 billion years ago.

*Generation as used in this entry is defined as a people whose hearts the Spirit of God has united in pursuit of similar things.  This transcends age, ethnic, gender, economic, cultural, and geographic boundaries.


(In my next blog post I will talk about what is required of leaders who feel called to lead a parish-minded church)

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Leading a “Tension-Embracing” Church

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The thought of leading a church that willingly embraces tension can certainly invoke anxiety and accelerate the thinning of your hair.  However, that is only if you view tension as an enemy.  If you profess your call to lead a tension-embracing church which welcomes a diversity of expressions, but privately brace for its arrival in fear, you will fail.  Your family will be stressed, and the congregation will be frustrated.

Leading a tension-embracing church is a wonderful, unique privilege!  It gives us greater perspective on how God intended for us to live in relationship.  For example, on the sixth day of creation, after God had created all living things He said for the final time, that it was “very good.”  The Hebrew context of this statement speaks not just to the goodness of each individual thing, but to the goodness of their inter-connectedness.  Today, it may be difficult to imagine the goodness of God’s creation in the beginning because things have changed so much. However, when we look at created things through ecosystems you can begin to understand how good things were independently, but also how good they were in relationship to each other.

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When you look at a tree’s relationship with its environment you can begin to see how good God created everything to be.  Though the soil is made of different substance than the tree, and the tree is made of different substance than the air – each element increases the health of the other through their relationship. The soil provides nutrients for the tree; the tree fertilizes the soil; the air provides oxygen so trees can convert their nutrients into energy, while the tree cleans the air by absorbing particles and carbon dioxide.

And so it is in a diverse, tension-embracing church!  It is in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-liturgical context, where each person, tradition, and worldview can express the goodness of their creation together, that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).  One of the great gifts of leading a tension-embracing church is that God uses the community itself, through relationships, to make disciples.  You don’t have to be “Super Pastor” in order to witness people’s lives transformed!  And the best thing?  You will be transformed in relationship to the community as well.  In the tension-embracing church, as it is in our ecosystems, when this diverse community is allowed to function as God intended, everyone who enters into it becomes healthier and more mature.

“…everyone who enters into it becomes healthier and more mature.”

And this is where leadership comes in.  One of your key roles as leader of a tension-embracing church is to ensure the system (i.e. church), consisting of various members, functions as God intended.

A Different Paradigm

Empowerer vs. Director – To lead a tension-embracing church effectively you must see yourself as an empowerer rather than as a director.  In other words, the posture that welcomes diverse people, thought, behavior, and values requires that you are interested in the unique gifts people carry and that you share space well enough for those gifts to be activated and developed. This is very different than seeing yourself as the one who must be the source of all vision and wisdom, and must preach from the pulpit all 52 weeks of the year.  As empowerer, this means that you spend more time facilitating conversations and processes than giving direction.  It also means that asking questions will become your preferred method of engagement, rather than instructing.  A key word that will begin to define your leadership is “release.”

A Tension-Embracing Leader’s Toolkit

Below are a few tools I have found are critical in the life of a tension-embracing church leader:

  • Prayer – Anyone who is going to lead a tension-embracing church must have a vibrant prayer life.  Prayer will prevent the fears cultivated in the discomfort of diversity from manifesting in your leadership and will make room for Holy Spirit to build trust and community among very different people.
  • Vision – “Where there is no vision, people perish [cast off their restraint]” (Proverbs 29:18).  The greater the diversity within a congregation, the greater the number of forces pulling that congregation in different directions.  A diverse church needs a very clearly communicated vision – one that states the value and role of diversity in their own healing mission.  If the vision is not frequently communicated and does not clearly state a value for embracing tension then various groups within the congregation will develop their own values and sense of purpose. If this happens, you will have “a house divided against itself” – and it will not be able to stand (Mark 3:25).
  • Cultural Intelligence – One of the most relationally-damaging things you can do is extend an invitation for people to come into your home and then offend them. Any leader seeking to lead a tension-embracing church must develop a high Cultural IQ in order that they can plan inclusively and greet hospitably.  David Livermore writes a good book on this subject.
  • Generosity – Any leader of a tension-embracing church will undermine his/her community if they are always “RIGHT.” Instead, leaders of tension-embracing churches should represent their perspective on a matter but also be willing to represent other perspectives.  Doing this successfully will build trust within a diverse community of faith – conveying to the congregation that more than just your viewpoint is valued, and creating a culture where each member can mature.  Your leadership will be compromised and the ability of the church to embrace tension will be diminished if people begin to believe that your perspective is the only one that matters.  Being “generous” in the ways in which you lead is essential to the tension-embracing church living out her call.

(My next post will be on the second “Posture of the Contemporancient Church: Parish-Minded)

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Posture #1: “Tension-Embracing”

living in tension

Just the name, “Contemporancient Church” tells you that this generation is comfortable living in tension with things that we have previously been told don’t belong together.  It is part of the response (or evolution) of this generation to modernity and the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries where for something to be “real” it had to be “proven.”  This drive to prove things had a profound impact upon an entire Church generation who historically had lived its life in relationship to a God who can’t be proven.  Even though people have tried, developed incredible arguments, and produced feature films – at the end of the day, the Contemporancient Church knows that proving God exists doesn’t really prove God exists.  There is an intangible, life-altering, consummate PRESENCE that can’t be understood by proof that is the essence of our relationship with God and is the source of this world-changing movement we call the “Church.”

Nevertheless, over the past 200-300 years most people who have encountered the Church, have encountered a Church that was playing by the rules of modernity.  One rule I will call out here is what Thomas Oden refers to as “reductive naturalism” –  reducing what is reliably known to what one can see, hear, and empirically investigate (Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements, Page 118).  Consequently, during the time of Modernity the Church began to strengthen its core and do a lot more work around systematic theology and Christian apologetics, much of which came out in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

One of the costs of Modernity’s influence upon the Church was the loss of the Church’s value for our EXPERIENCE with God.  Christian mystics were pushed to the margins and replaced by a group of “God experts” who dogmatically told us what to believe from stages.

However, the value of people’s experience with the living God was not the only thing the Church lost at the hands of Modernity.  During Modernity, the Church also lost its value for the past.  This is why much of what has defined Protestantism in the 19th and 20th Centuries has been innovation – new music, new books, new architecture, and new strategies for the Church.  Everything became new, and the Church behaved as though the new things were inherently better than anything that had happened in the first 2,000 years of its own history!

Consequently, this generation has inherited a Church that has drawn some big, thick lines to distinguish between what is good and what is not.  Between what is holy, and what is not.  Between what is sacred, and what is not.  Between where God is, and where He is not.  This generation has inherited a Church that, like being the child of divorced parents, is being forced to choose between two parents that it wants to be in relationship with.  “You must choose!” said the prior generation.  “Choose between Mom and Dad,” we asked.

The Church has insisted that we choose between the suburban church and the urban church.  We have been forced to choose between high church tradition and low church tradition, between hymns and Hillsong, between social action and evangelism, and so much more.  But the Contemporancient Church is a Church generation that refuses to choose between two Holy things.  We declare, “If it is from God, then we want it!” And not only do we want it, but we will create space for it.

This expression of God’s heart in this generation has given birth to a new movement of churches and church leaders who embrace the tension that comes when you invite classes of people to be in relationship with each other in the same church.  This movement understands what it means to embrace the tension that comes when you welcome people from different ethnic heritages to not just sit together, but be reconciled.  This movement embraces the tension that comes when you create space for the Lutheran, Baptist, COGIC, Episcopal, and Renewal movement members of your church to share the regular preaching responsibility.

“If it is from God, we want it!”

The Contemporancient Church is a Jesus-centered, stained-glass displaying, justice-seeking, sacrament-participating, flip flop-wearing, spiritual discipline-practicing, liturgical flag-waving, book of Common Prayer-reading, evangelizing, prophesying, contemplative, dancing generation.

The Contemporancient Church leans into tension, and invites others to do the hard work necessary to be reconciled to others who are made in the image of God, but who are different than you are.

The Contemporancient Church is a reconciling Church who refuses to sacrifice God’s Kingdom vision for anything less.

The Contemporancient Church seeks first the Kingdom of God and His right-justice, and believes that anything else we need will come in connection to that pursuit – not by discarding that pursuit.

The Contemporancient Church, believing in God’s multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, inter-generational Kingdom, creates space for the things in which God has manifested His presence, AND trusts that the Spirit of God who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17) will perform His reconciling work amidst the tension created between things that others have said cannot co-exist.


(In my next blog post I will talk about what is required of leaders who feel called to lead a tension-embracing church)

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