Islam has its five pillars. Buddhism has its eight-fold path. Evangelicalism has its four spiritual laws. And now the Emerging Church has its seven layers of conversation.
Last month I was part of a small gathering of church leaders that hosted an evening with Brian McLaren. And the conversation turned as hot as the chutney. A number of participants were eager to discuss the criticisms that have been levied against the emerging church in recent months. The hijacking of the emergent movement by those merely interested in new worship trends rather than more substantive issues aggravated others. Everyone was looking to McLaren to chime in.
Always more likely to defuse than to detonate, McLaren entered the spicy conversation casually while slouched into the sofa with beverage in hand. He cautioned us against judging where others were in the "emergent conversation." Leaning forward, he outlined what he saw as the seven layers of the emergent conversation. "We all enter at a different layer," he said, "but everyone should be welcomed into the conversation no matter where they may be."
Based on McLaren's description, I've outlined the seven layers below.
I've added my own titles and used the imaginary "Seeker Community Church" to illustrate each point.
Layer 1: Style
Seeker Community Church realizes they're ineffective at reaching the coveted 18-32 year old demographic. They send a few staff members to a conference and they come back with goatees and candles.
Layer 2: Evangelism
After trying every facial hair permutation, Seeker Community Church discovers that to actually communicate the gospel to a younger generation they've got to learn to speak their language. They hire a former youth pastor to start an evening worship service with an "x" in its name.
Layer 3: Culture
It gradually dawns upon Seeker Community Church that the new challenges they are encountering are not limited to the younger generation. The entire culture is shifting away from the modern presuppositions their church was built upon. Some of the language and practices of the "x" service trickle into the rest of the church.
Layer 4: Mission
The emergence of Postmodernism causes Seeker Community Church to reevaluate the effectiveness of their mission strategy. Altar calls and gospel tracks are left behind in favor of community groups and relationships. Conversion is accepted as a journey and not merely a point of decision.
Layer 5: Church
Seeker Community Church begins to wonder if a multi million-dollar building housing a theatrical production every weekend is the only way to do church. Drawing from new and ancient forms of church, they launch alternative communities - one meets in a bar on Sunday night, and the other is a liturgical gathering. The church also partners with an inner city monastic group to reach street kids.
Layer 6: Gospel
The leadership of Seeker Community Church is stunned when the senior pastor confesses, "I'm not sure I've really understood the gospel." He begins to wonder why Jesus never said God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? And why Paul never asked anyone to invite Jesus into your heart? He starts to realize that the Good News is much more than he'd ever imagined.
Layer 7: World
Maybe the mission of the church isn't simply to become a bigger church? Maybe, like Jesus, the church is to engage the larger world to reveal that the kingdom of God has drawn near? To their amazement, Seeker Community Church discovers significant swaths of the Bible (such as the Pentateuch, prophets, gospels, and epistles) talk about justice, poverty, and compassion. The church begins to speak about social issues and participates in efforts to combat poverty, AIDS, and global injustice.
So, how emergent are you?