Emerging churches intentionally try to model Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom. One of the key kingdom practices is inclusion. Following N.T. Wright’s model of Jesus’ kingdom teaching in which Jesus offered a counter-temple movement that signaled the end of exile, the emerging church integrates worship and welcome.
“A truly missional church integrates worship with welcome. This does not mean that such churches merely welcome people over the threshold of the church. Rather, they demonstrate welcome by identifying with people of all walks of life in their contexts (p. 119).”
“Emerging churches hold to Christian orthodoxy, affirming the uniqueness of Christ. This understanding, however, rather than being a reason to exclude, empowers them to include those of other faiths, cultures, and traditions (p. 134).”
It seems that the United Methodist Church is uniquely poised to take advantage of this aspect of the emergent church, particularly based on our embrace of open communion. We also have embraced a similar mindset in our Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors publicity campaign. However, we seem to be simply thinking in the ‘threshold crossing’ model that the emergent church hopes to overcome. Sure, we want to welcome folks in the church, but true welcome is an extension of Christ’s ministry. True welcome is going into new contexts and embodying/incarnating the gospel.
This is the real challenge. How do we do this in rural/small town/urban/suburban contexts? United Methodism is in a multitude of diverse contexts and this is just within the United States. Emergent churches, as surveyed in the book, are only in large urban contexts: Las Vegas, London, New York, Seattle. The authors talk a lot about club culture and coffee houses. What about cattle auctions and wheat farms? In order to be a faithful pastor in small town/rural settings, does one have to “go native” so to speak? Maybe. I’ll admit, I’ve been really influenced by the post-colonial understanding of missions. I’ve also been influenced by Wendell Berry’s understanding of “place.” As a result, I’m interested in indigenous forms of worship that take place and location seriously. Unfortunately this cannot happen overnight. Longer appointments are probably key to this kind of missional seriousness. This is a big question that needs some serious thought.