I re-read Josh Packard’s paper, Emerging Church Research Summary today. Josh has done a great job of summarizing what is the challenge of formto all those who take up the challenge of living the life of a disciple in fellowship with other believers not just for those who are part of the “emerging church conversation.” What Packard calls the “danger of institutionalization” is this key point: “Routines are dangerous for groups and people which value diversity in individual expression.” In other words, the longer a group exists the more likely that the group will establish patterns and routines and then exercise controls in order to maintain those patterns and routines. These controls are particularly problematic to organizations when people stop adjusting to a changing environment; they pursue traditions for the sake of traditions; they forget why they are doing what they are doing; they become entrenched in behaviours that may no longer yield the intended life once envisioned.
The latter issues are close to my heart. Developing form and patterns of life is what living organism do so I am not up in arms about form; all things living, except the Spirit of God have form. The problem is when form is no longer functional to the intended vision. Or when form is imposed on a people for whom it makes no sense. Packard’s research on emerging church congregations demonstrates that these congregations have developed meaningful strategies that resist institutionalism and regularly re-new contextualized patterns of interaction.
Packard highlights 4 strategies: be intentional; don’t reinvent the wheel; use professionals wisely; and compel questioning. I won’t unpack these–read his summary. However, I do want to note that these strategies are healthy for any organization–its just that some are unwilling to pursue them. I have watched some churches close with their generation because they were unwilling to go through such a process of metamorphosis.
Perhaps the church as a whole benefits from the emerging church conversation through their appeal to what Packard calls the “de-churched.” He writes,
“Many people, commonly referred to as the “de-churched” as opposed to the “un-churched,” are disenchanted with traditional, institutionalized churches due to bad prior experiences and are thus drawn to those congregations which take avoiding institutionalization as a primary goal or pathway to success. The previous half-century has witnessed the consistent marginalization of a particular kind of believer by the institutionalized church, and thse people now make up a very broad market of potential congregants.”
Beck in 1995 Carol Davis from Church on Brady now Mosaic shared with Cityview that it would be healthy for our small groups to seek one new group, two restorations, and three salvations per year. These very simple outcomes of a small group actually highlight for me how two types of patterns need to exist parallelto each other; the development of routine or patterns and the creation of new relationships in response to where God is working. I, my family, my small group, and our church have routines and patterns–some might call them disciplines, we call them stances–that help connect us to God and to each other. However we are holding some values that also move us outside of those to respond to God and people when He shows us that He is doing something new. We may need to stop doing something in order to take up the new; or we may to commit ourselves to the new for a season in order to pursue it well.
I suppose I hope that we are continually emerging from form to form with a keen sense of the kind of disciples that will respond to Jesus as Lord and hold to vibrant biblical and theological perspectives. I hope we can avoid confusing unity with conformity. Jesus has created us as individuals in the church and called us to be distinct even though we are diverse. The church is not a Borg–resistance is necessary.