An Outsider’s History of the Emerging Church (part 13)

I came back to Southern California with an odd combination of being really high and really low at the same time. My plan to attend law school didn’t work out right away, and so I decided to move on back to the parents while finances and such were sorted out. I really had been so focused on attending law school that I had no other back up options. When my finances continued crashing through my senior year–to the point that it really is an absolute miracle of God and God’s people that I was allowed to graduate–I didn’t know which direction to turn. I flirted with joining the military–something that seemed to whisper at me for years and years on and off–but I felt like it would be, oddly enough, running away from my being, rather than running towards opportunity. I also was pressed with the barest whisper of the sense that I hadn’t lost my “call” to ministry. Though, I didn’t know what that whisper was saying at the time, nor how to interpret it except by being aware when that whisper yelled “no!” to certain paths.

What this meant for me was a summer in which I was really not sure what the next step was. It was, in a way, a summer break for me. I was able to relax, get a lot of sun, and spend time re-connecting with all the great people at NewSong. Some of the friends I knew when I started had moved on to other directions, moving away from the area, but others replaced them, keeping a steady, active feel to what NewSong was trying to do. My brother and his girlfriend (future wife) was really involved in leadership. She even was, I believe, asked to be on staff. She turned it down, but not because of rejection of the community. They were both extremely passionate and involved with the church even still. And I, through them, began to meet more and more people. Some of whom, for the first time, were insiders.

I wasn’t an insider, by any means, but I started hanging out with them.

NewSong, in 1997, probably wasn’t still at its creative peak, but it was still extremely interesting to people who made it their business to learn what was going on in the church world. And, now that I think about it, maybe it was still at its peak. Dieter was gone, engaged in his travail at Willowcreek. But others had stepped up, and then others, and then others.

Some of those who had very early been invested in by Dieter were now the leaders of the church. I think invested in is the right word. Each of them had very strong talents, to be sure, but they were not necessarily the polished figures other churches might have immediately endorsed. They were given responsibilities and space to explore their passions and gifts. And they were given room to grow, and occasionally stumble, and wander, and experiment, and lead. Before they had shown dazzling skills of dynamic leadership, they were shown a great deal of trust. And this trust, I believe, characterized not only those who took the leap and joined the staff of the church, it also was shown to all kinds of people, men and women, with all kinds of interests, methods, passions, talents, goals. NewSong was often known for the dynamic, cutting edge worship services and other more immediately visible Gen-X focused methods. What I saw throughout the nineties was what was happening outside of the Weekend services. There was a dynamic interest in a broad range of ministries. Certainly there was an evangelistic strain, but with this was also an interest in going beyond evangelism and seeking more of a holistic ministry. There was simply a lot of things happening, and these lots of things were more often than not being entirely spearheaded by people who weren’t on staff. There was a centralized leadership, but as they continued to wrestle with their own interests and passions, the church continued to move along, involving more and more people along the way, bringing in new leaders as others moved to new directions.

What was key in this transitioning period was that, as far as I know, people did not tend to leave NewSong due to burn-out, or alienation, or maturing past the ministry style. For the most part, as far as I could tell, the primary movement away from NewSong came with the realities of the demographic. If your church is primarily young, early to mid-20s, single, and often in the area for colleges or other temporary life positions, then as the years pass life moves people on. People got married, had kids, moved away after graduation or for a better job opportunity that would propel their early career. A solid group of people stayed, and as people moved away it seemed the ministry was able to maintain a fluid participation that somehow could incorporate both loss and newness in the overall ministry life of the church. A big part of this was the continued success of the small groups, which functioned as small house churches involving holistic participation for a small group of people.

People were invested in, given space and place to grow. They were trusted and valued even as different gifts and interests continued to blossom. The first wave of leadership was joined by a second major wave of leadership in the mid-90s. Some of these were not from NewSongs neighborhood but joined up as they caught sight of the vision of the church. Indeed, Dieter in Illinois inspired some of these new leaders to move west and see what church was doing on this left coast. The church expanded to include the new faces, some of whom were more officially acknowledge as interns, or staff, but these were not necessarily the only source of dynamic leadership.

And these new faces, with the old, continued to push for new forms, new expressions, new approaches. The Gen-X language began to be dropped. Postmodern ministry began to be emphasized. And from NewSong, some of these leaders expanded out and started new churches. These new churches were some of the early, more exact, representations of what were later termed emerging churches.

I wasn’t a part of either of these. But I knew a number of people involved in them. As for me… I remained on the outside.

This entry was posted in emerging history. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *