Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Liturgical v. Contemporary Church, Part 2

Three months ago, I wrote a post noting some observations I had about liturgical versus contemporary churches. I recently read this article, entitled The Living Emerging Movement. Many readers of this blog know that I do consider myself best described by the emerging movement. I appreciate it because (from my perspective and my version of it as it seems everyone's definition is different), the conversation is just that: A conversation. There is the ability to discuss life and theology and be critical thinkers in the search for Truth with the hope and belief that there is an ultimate Truth. I think the emerging movement has also reignited discussions and focus on lively worship.

There is a lot of talk of the emerging church being dead or almost dead. I hope it doesn't, in part because of what the above article mentions. McKnight guessed several years ago that emerging Christians each will go one of three ways: into the mainline denominations, back into old evangelicalism, or leading evangelicalism into a missional direction.

I personally can really feel the tension between these options. I'm not sure where I land, which is why I don't want the emerging church to die. It's something with which I can associate that is the best descriptor of me. And I know many people also feel like they are not accurately described by any movement, denomination, or label.

Anyway, one of the reasons I struggle with this is the feeling of worship and what the mainline versus evangelical churches emphasize. I realized this weekend that mainline churches do a very nice job of being critical thinkers. They nail the cognitive elements of Christianity, usually much better than the evangelical churches. I've been a member and a part of evangelicalism for many years, and I can say it often advocates much less than critical thinking.

However, the evangelical churches historically have done an excellent job of having more lively worship. By that I mean more affective, referring to emotion and the full range of emotion. While some people are very moved by the liturgical, traditional services (I went to a service like that for quite a while myself), these models do often have the implication of displaying less affect. Now, as one of my friends has said, evangelical churches have become rather stale recently, focusing more of inauthentic performance rather than real, affective worship. And that's one of the things the emerging movement has challenged.

So in many ways, it seems we have found ourselves in the age-old cognitive-affective, head-heart, thinking-emotion split. It's hard to integrate the two together (believe me--I've worked with many clients on that issue). Yet I long for a church community that can do just that. They exist, but they're hard to find in my experience. What about yours?


  1. This is a great post! I think that everyone can take something away from this. I have the feeling that some of the churches now are putting up too much of a show to gain members. I do not go to church anymore, mainly because I have felt forced to all my life. I grew up in the traditional setting with hymns and such, and i feel there is no right way for it to be done, however I do not enjoy the churches that are only "recruiting centers" for their congregation, I enjoy the ones that actually teach and show you an objective opinion.

  2. I have seen it all come together but it's rare. When I was pastoring in Glendale (CA) a number of years ago I became close friends and prayer partners with the head pastor of a neighboring church that was both "mainline" and evangelical (Glendale Presbyterian Church). When I would visit the church I found a combination of inspiring worship and sermons that were profoundly Biblical, passionately Christ centered, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally moving. It was, at that time (and I have no idea what it's like now) a church that defied labels and offered a glimpse of something I will always long for and never forget. Churches (like pastors and people in general) are "earthen vessels." None of them are perfect. But what I experienced there continues to inspire me many years later and give me at least a glimpse of what church can be when it isn't stuffed safely into some neat little box with a stick-on label. At least I know what's possible.

    One thing I appreciate about the emerging church movement is the commitment to ongoing conversation and to keeping the dream of authentic church alive. It probably won't reinvent church and, like all movements, it will have a "life-cycle." But it may help all of us ask the right questions and think about what we can do to allow the Spirit to breathe life into existing churches. Some things I've gleaned both from churches like GPC and from the emerging church movement at least allow me to travel hopefully even if they don't mean that I've "arrived."




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