An outsider’s history of the emerging church part III

I talked about roots in the last post. Roots are important because nothing comes out of a vacuum. There’s always a context that pushes people to react in certain ways, to ask certain questions, to develop certain responses. One of the big problem so many people have with interpreting contemporary issues is that they have attached other contexts to present answers, or present contexts to older answers. So, people reject early church writings because of what Popes did in the 15th century. Or they reject contemporary forms of church or emphases because of what what was taught by similar emphasizing folks in the early 20th century. It’s a social Gospel! That means they reject the Bible and reject Jesus as God!

So, context is important. But, that’s not the story I’m trying to tell.

My roots led into my continued active church involvement throughout my growing up years. For a variety of reasons we attended a number of different churches when I was young. My first church was a non-denom Bible church–Wheaton Bible Church–broadly Evangelical–as that fits into the pattern of my religious tradition. I was born in Wheaton, but my family is all Californian going back, mostly, generations. My parents moved back to California and at some point early on we started going to a Wesleyan church. I was baptized there at the age of 4 or so. Yeah, it was a conscious choice on my part. I asked to be baptized. I wasn’t an adult, but I still very much remember that time and there was a conscious awareness of wanting to be identified with Christ that I feel has been maintained.

We moved to Santa Barbara when I was about 8 or so. Now, my memory of churches there is a little bit hazy. We moved from there in 1988, and we went to a Baptist church part of the time and an Assemblies of God church the other part. Got our Pentecostal on. My parents were, from my earliest memories in churches, always involved in some aspect of teaching or leading children’s groups. Both had degrees in Christian ministry, so it’s not surprising. Being involved and active in churches was the modeling I had–as was seeing the various kinds of reactions being too invested in a church can bring. Churches are, after all, territories, and the alpha male sometimes feels there’s a need to defend his own territory. My parents were also, a bit before then really, involved in some of the Third Wave charismatic movements happening at that time. We were never really entirely enmeshed in those communities, though I do remember going to at least one Kenneth Copeland event, and we did attend the wedding of Matt Crouch–the apparent heir to the TBN throne–something that was open to all who were interested in supporting the TBN family.

I remember speaking in tongues beginning, well, I think I must have been probably about 11 or 12. I don’t remember when that first started–though I distinctly remember being really turned off in a kids group that was rather oppressive about the “have you received the gift of the Spirit?” question. I remember saying “I had”, even though I’m not sure I had ever spoken in tongues (the sign!) before that. So, I was certainly answering to get them off my case, but I don’t remember if I was lying. Anyhow, I have memories of speaking in tongues at various church events.

So, I was always pretty spiritually forward thinking. I still remember asking, and being really nervous about asking, my mom the question, “How does one know if he’s been called to be a pastor?” I was probably about 12 at the time. I think I was so nervous (because I strongly felt I had that call) that I tape recorded the question and played it for her, and we talked about it. That’s when I also first decided to go to Wheaton College.

Life happened. Won’t go into the details, but we left Santa Barbara without any of us having any desire to do so. Moved back to the LA suburbs where I had spent my early life. There was a significant amount of trauma in that transition, and that trauma at a key developmental stage in my life had significant repercussions. My spirituality seemed to get left behind for a while, though I can’t say I was really backslidden. Just spiritually vague and unconnected. We started going to a Brethren church, where there was a good pastor and a pretty active youth group–though the youth group was mostly made up of upper middle class kids–and I was decidedly not dealing with the same issues they were dealing with. Felt really alienated and alone. Church had absolutely nothing to say to me, the issues we were dealing with, and while it tried to include me within its package of generalized ministry, there was utterly nothing that shared with me good news about God’s work.

I met a friend in Junior high. His dad was a pastor of a Foursquare Church (a pentecostal denomination). Sometime I guess my sophomore year, or early junior year, of high school we started going to this small church. Had all the ups and downs, with their particularly Pentecostal versions of the same common church characters. The youth group here stood out to me. I’m not sure why, thinking back, but I suspect it was because there was an inclusion. All my three close friends started going, so there was a real deep friendship happening as, I think, we were all going through pretty distinct problems, though each of us had quite different problems we were dealing with. There was also a pretty strong involvement and participation. It wasn’t about entertaining. Or about dealing with adolescent angst. It was a really solid Pentecostal church that took even us seriously as participants with the Spirit of God. I was active, I was involved, I was full on Pentecostal and there was a mutual respect happening. Not that I was some stand out spiritual giant. No, just that the spirituality and depth I did have as a somewhat normal teenager (who had encountered a series of not as normal problems) were given acknowledgment and room to find expression. Pentecostals are good at that.

The youth group was great. We started a wee little band. I played saxophone. I was involved in a lot of different directions. Graduated high school and didn’t go straight to college. Spent a year off and worked at a retail clothing store. Out of high school my connections to the church somewhat broke. There was something new going on not too far away, after all, and it was particularly geared towards Gen-X, that up and coming generation who were such a curiosity to themselves and to researchers for a season of time. I was on the tail end of Gen-X, but was still part of it, and at some point my senior year of high school I stopped attending the Sunday services at the Foursquare church and started attending the weekend services at NewSong. This was early 1992.

NewSong, for those keeping track of such things, is considered one of the proto-emerging churches. The founder of the church, Dieter Zander, is considered one of the key shapers of what later transitioned into the emerging/missional church we know today.

And I was there. At age 17. At what was by all estimation its peak.

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