Many a holiday during my childhood years saw our family car heading across the border to South Australia in order to visit family and old friends. I remember clearly watching the mileposts along the side of the road marking our progress, each indicating how far we had traveled from Melbourne. It was a source of annoyance to my parents that the mileposts on the Victorian side of the border indicated only distance from Melbourne, while on the other side, they referred to the remaining distance to the upcoming town.
There is always more than one way to define ourselves, but this memory reminds me of the challenge that we face as we seek to create a unique sense of church community. It strikes me that much of the “Emerging Church” movement defines itself by that which it has turned its back on: the traditional church. So long as they are heading away from it, there is a sense of comfort and hope. In other words, the movement is defined by its back: what is to be escaped. It reflects in an apparent lack of theological reflection and foundation for much of what takes place, sometimes appearing to be faddish, rather than intentional. It is a danger to be recognised in any time of transition, that in moving away from a pattern or model which has recognised failings, we discard more than we ought.
The journey which we have embarked upon is more than a mere reaction to the past. It is born of a recognition that we now inhabit a different landscape: we need different skills of leadership, different ways of catalyzing community and mission, and fresh reflection upon the theological imperatives for action. In other words, we need to be intentional about where we are heading, and what we might face along the way, so that we are aware of necessary skills and values for the journey. It is not enough to simply declare that which exists to be deficient or defective, we need to identify what is missing in order to embark upon a search for it.
But the difference for us is that we are not necessarily heading to a place where others have gone before. Nor are we laying a path which others might follow. What is appropriate for our journey in Christ may be unique to us; something God wants to unfold in this place, at this time. Our call and task is a humble but important one: to be the people of God in ways which reflect His grace today. We must look forward, seeking to articulate and incarnate God’s future purposes today.
But then again, there is One who always goes before us. And we need to keep our eyes fixed on Him.
June 20, 2004