Vision

(I received an e-mail today, concerned as they read my blog that perhaps one of the visions for the future of NFC is to become an emergent church. As I responded, I realized that what I had written might be helpful for more people, so I’ve adapted my answer and post it here.)

The first thing I want to say is that my blog started as a personal outlet for me, a chance to think through some issues with a very limited set of people. What I have written has been with that audience in mind, and I’ve been doing it for over a year. It’s only in the last couple of months that it’s been more widely “noticed”.

Even so, I think it’s clear from what I have written here that it is not my desire to make NFC an emergent church. We are not a church plant, but a church with a 127 year history, a church with people who have been a part of its community for a long time. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to read my post from December 7. In my mind, that very clearly shows that I love who NFC is, and that we must be who God is calling US to be. We aren’t aiming to copy anyone else.

My interest in emergent is not because I want to copy what some are doing, but rather because many in that movement are asking what are very important questions in the world that we live in. The world is changing in fundamental ways. In the last 15 years, I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking and talking and praying about generational shifts, philosophical shifts, sociological shifts, and the growing gap between churched and unchurched people. It’s frightening. The church as an institution in the United States is becoming more and more irrelevant to a larger and larger segment of society.

The answer to that for followers of Jesus, I believe, is not to look for worship styles or “tricks” to appear more relevant. The answer is to look deeper, to question whether we have missed something essential in the message of Jesus. Being a disciple is about more than what we believe. It is about more than praying a prayer to be in heaven someday. It is about more than gathering a lot of people in a building on Sunday morning. It is about more than finding ways to attract new people out of the world into some kind of Christian sub-culture.

I think God is calling us to something much harder and more wonderful: to be a church that challenges and equips each other to live life completely for God. To be a church that helps people not just believe facts about Jesus, but to also know Jesus intimately and live differently because of it (“love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself”). To be a church that doesn’t separate ourselves from the world we live in, but struggles with the power of the Holy Spirit to be salt and light in a dark world. We don’t just want to build a big and strong church, to measure success by numbers of people who show up on Sunday. We want to learn together to be disciples and join what God is doing in the world every day of every month of every year that we live.

End of the mini sermon. I guess I don’t want to get sidetracked by the question, “Are we supposed to be an emergent church or not?” I don’t want that to be our vision. I want us to follow Jesus and be like missionaries are when they go and learn the language and the customs and the culture of a group of people and figure out how Jesus can be shared there. We must look at the town and community we live in, understand its language and customs and culture, and figure out how Jesus can be shared here. We must each take responsibility to listen to Christ and find our place of service. We must be creative, cross-cultural missionaries who listen to Jesus intimately, who worship in community with others, and who serve and love our neighbors.

And even all that stuff, in my opinion, isn’t where we at NFC are right at this moment. God will lead us through some interesting and challenging discussions about what that will look like, I’m sure. But right at this moment, we’re wrestling with a really difficult decision about what we do as a community when we don’t have the resources to keep the same level of staffing that we have had. We’re grieving at the thought of losing a pastor who has served effectively and well. We’re all struggling to see what’s ahead and how we’ll make it.

But I am so confident in the God we serve. I am so trusting that Jesus has a way for us. I don’t have all the answers, but I do feel strongly about some of the questions we have to wrestle with and our call to extend God’s kingdom to those who don’t yet know how Christ wants to change their life.

I hope this eases some of your concerns, and I hope you’ll join me in praying for God’s direction this Sunday at the business meeting and as we continue to try to be a faithful church together.

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5 thoughts on “Vision

  1. Way to go, Gregg! You took on the issue of the major cultural shift that is well under way and did so in a way that shows your heart for the people of the church you pastor AND those around you that need the Lord. We moved to Newberg five months ago from Medford, a city that THE ATLANTIC magazine recently called the most godless locale in the nation. Is Newberg so different? I have reached three unscientific conclusions since establishing a business in downtown Newberg: 1) A significant majority of people in the area do not attend church. 2) Most of that group are very interested in spiritual things, but very disinterested in institutional churh. 3) A shocking number of people have said “I used to go to church but…”. Emergent people would most likely respond without shock and talk about how God WILL lead THEM in connecting with that group. Not your typical church culture response, but exciting.

    So keep your air speed up Gregg. We need more leaders who are willing to look at our culture and respond as God leads. More church people who are willing to “emerge” and join what God is doing. Hopefully historians won’t have to name the early twenty first century “The Great Nonawakening”.

    Dave Woolsey

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  2. One of the great parts of Quaker Heritage Day at Berkeley Friends Church this last weekend was listening to Marge and Peggy talking about how “When we are transformed in holy love, fear loses its hold on us. As we cooperate with God and are obedient we come to live truth more fully. Motivation for an action-based fearless faith comes both from knowing God’s love and the undeniable truth that people are dying for want of what we have.”

    I think I hear you acting on this truth.

    I think I see the slo-mo effect kicking in… 🙂

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  3. Gregg, thank you for this thoughtful post. I agree that it shouldn’t be every churches desire to be an emerging church. What I like about the emergent movement is they also think that, they don’t (at least from my reading on it) think they have the one right way for everyone, rather it is one among many ways to follow Jesus. They do show us some really great examples too. There are a couple things that a church like yours can do (and you know this), but I believe any and every church should be missional (as defined by Guder and others), that what it does should be organic and reflective of the people in the body, and of course it should embodying Jesus’ practices in that local community (as spelled out by Yoder, NT Wright, and others). I don’t know where you are on these things being that I’ve never been to your church so please take this comment at face value. Its great that you are having this conversation and trying to move forward in it.

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  4. Thanks for this Gregg. I appreciate your desire for NFC to follow the Spirit, digging deeper into the message of Christ himself, rather than a trend. You said, “I think God is calling us to something much harder and more wonderful: to be a church that challenges and equips each other to live life completely for God.” I am appreciating that our Quaker heritage has positioned us nicely with freedom to live prophetically in our neighborhoods, communities, and world and has taught us how to be faithful to God as we work, play, live and serve. I have felt that challenge and you’re right, it is hard. Hard but worth it. There is great freedom in it.

    You mentioned those who don’t know how Christ wants to change their lives. Could it be that before that, they just need to know how he wants to embrace them in pure, unadulterated love? It seems like the message is subtly different but important. Just wondering.

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  5. Dave, thanks for your words. We’re glad to have you in Newberg, and I’ve been praying that God will use you as you build new relationships here.

    Robin, your words are helpful. I wish I could have joined you all for Quaker Heritage Day. I’m a big Peggy Parsons fan. And, you made me laugh out loud with the slo-mo reference!

    Wess, I’ve been a fan of yours from afar…I’m a Fuller alum, and am glad you’re there now! Your words very much reflect my heart for ministry everywhere, and especially at NFC.

    And Kathy, yes, your suggestion is much better…and what I actually believe. The first thing God wants to communicate to anyone is overwhelming and deep love and acceptance.

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