The first chapter of Gibbs and Bolger’s book deals with the question of culture. Because of the shift from Christendom to Post-Christendom and from modernity to post-modernity, we need to reevaluate the way we reach out missionally. There are a few assumptions here that I hold very dear. First, the Church is a missional community. Second, we (people in the United States) are now in a context that requires us to understand a shifting culture in order to best communicate the gospel. I have noticed that my denomination, the United Methodists, still tends to seperate mission into a neat category of what we do overseas and in urban areas. Evangelism is handled by a different group within the conference. I strongly believe this is a false and very counterproductive distinction. We should be missional in our evangelistic efforts and attempt to understand local cultures in everything that we do. The Church is missional at its very core, and this is a real strength of the emergent church – probably influenced by folks like Leslie Newbigin and Darrell Guder.
There are a lot of compexities that Gibbs and Bolger do not deal with. The questions of modernity/post-modernity are important. However, we forget about large sections of the United States, especially rural areas like the ones I serve, that are still heavily influenced by modernity. I’ve noticed that there has to be some blending of approaches depending on one’s context. For instance, people are still asking modernistic questions in my context. However, they have also been deeply touched by multi-sensory worship experiences such as Ash Wednesday services and Candlelight Services on Christmas Eve.
Overall, I would love to hear more folks talk about the Emergent Church in rural areas. In the UMC, many young pastors with emergent sensibilities, such as myself, are placed in rural areas. I believe I’m doing some “emergent” things in my Churches, but it requires a great deal of care. When you are in start-up congregations, I assume you would have a great deal more control over all aspects of the life of the Church. In rural and existing urban/suburban Churches, it seems like emergentism becomes more of a mentality of the pastor and less of a stylistic emphasis. In other words, I’ve been influenced to explain everything symbolic to our congregations – but we don’t have icons and candlelit prayer stations…yet!