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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

nextchurch, pt 2 - who we are and who we're not

I'd like to reflect on another aspect of the NEXTchurch conference I attended in Dallas: how NEXT relates or doesn't relate to the Fellowship of Presbyterians.  I have seen numerous tweets, FB comments, and other commentary noting that very similar conversations are being held around the church (NEXT, Fellowship, Mid-Council Commission, 21st Century Church Commission, nFOG, etc...) on new, open, flexible, emerging models of mission, witness, and BEING the church in the world.   And I agree that very similar conversations are being shared in many places.

I went to the Orlando conference of the Fellowship of Presbyterians.  And we were having that conversation.  I just got back from the NEXT conference in Dallas, and we were having that conversation.  And here's the thing... my focus in this post is on NEXT, but I will say that the Fellowship/ECO is facing and will have to face what I think is a pull in two directions.  One is to have this, shall we call it "emerging missional church" conversation, and the other is the "how will we separate from or differentiate from the Presbyterian Church?"  And I understand the importance of that second conversation (not really the focus here), but I think it pulls in a different direction than the first.  And so you have folks in Orlando who aren't really in "all that missional stuff"; they just want out.  Etc...

Well, I think NEXT has a similar dual-pull.  And I heard it throughout the conference.  On the one hand, like the Fellowship, GA commissions, and others, we were having that conversation about where God seems to be leading the church in terms of mission, witness, community, authenticity, etc...   And that vision of WHAT WE ARE (or could be) was what was most exciting at the conference.  And then I kept hearing bits and pieces of WHO WE AREN'T.... and I couldn't help filling in the blanks.  In prayers and keynotes and liturgy and sermons:
  • We aren't pulling away from the denomination (like them).... 
  • I have some conservative friends who are way out of step with the culture (no argument; should we not then be at NEXT?).... 
  • A prayer full of paired opposites - Jew/Greek, slave/free, gay/straight - and including evangelical/mainline (is that the right pairing?  I know many evangelicals remaining in the mainline)... 
  • And the ending message with a very clear dig at the Fellowship/ECO, "an ecosystem that is monocultural is NOT sustainable"
In a geographic break-out group, I raised this point... NEXT is going to feel pressure internally and externally (and systemically) to define itself by who and what it is not.  And if it does that, it's going to become an affinity group (I've already heard "Covenant Network 2.0" floating around).  And if it becomes that, it's okay, but I think it will have missed becoming what many present in Dallas (including I'd say at least 50-100 evangelicals present*) sense that it could be, which is a broad new expression of what God is doing in and with the Presbyterian Church.

My challenge to the NEXT leadership and participants?   Keep saying WHO YOU ARE and resist the pull to say who you are not.  That alone will go a long way in keeping this what you/we say we want it to be.



*My observation is also that of those listening and looking at the Fellowship, there are no small number who are not looking to leave the PCUSA, but are interested in the emerging/missional conversation found there.  There is great potential to come together around core Christian identity or to keep settling back into our corners.

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