(First Published 03/05/07)
The Emergent Church describes itself as "Missional." My simplified definition of the term refers to reaching out beyond the walls of the our churches to reach the truly needy. The Emergents ask the question: "Would Jesus attend the average evangelical church, or would He be found ministering to the homeless, drug-addicted, AIDS afflicted, or with any other vulnerable group?" Good question. The last ten years of my twenty year walk with God has been affected by this question. I am in my third year of prison ministry. My current involvement with such a ministry is discipling those who have served their sentences so they will not return to their former ways. When I was a pastor, I was on the board of a Crises Pregnancy Center. My question is this: "What is the best direction for the Church to emphasize as a whole as it seeks to be missional? Cutting edge, or stategic?" Let me explain.
Emergents reject much of the ministry the Evangelical Church has engaged in. They believe the evangelicals have sold their souls to the religious right, that the Church has pursued a political agenda that is at odds with the Gospel. The result has been the ignoring of the very kind of people Jesus focused on during His earthly ministry, particularly the poor. Emergents believe that campaigns against abortion and homosexuality have resulted in the condemnation of people Jesus loves. The emphasis on keeping the family out of poverty, intact and sexually pure irks many Emergents.
Emergents believe that ministry to the poor is "the cutting edge", not just "where it is at", but what Jesus would be most concerned about. If that is where they feel led to minister, then praise God for them. I too believe with Wesley that there is no holiness without social holiness. We are not just to proclaim the Gospel to the world, but we should fight to undo what Satan has brought through poverty and injustice. Paul exhorted Titus that as a pastor he was to show himself a model of good works. (Titus 2:7) But are the Emergents right in claiming that such an emphasis on poverty and homelessness is to be sought by the church, rather than "Focusing on the Family?" Are they right in their assertions that the church has excluded the poor from its focus? My answer is in agreement with the following quote by Don Feder. (I have never heard of Mr. Feder before. I do not know who he is.)
"Since their political awakening in the mid 1970's, while evangelicals worked to end the scourge of abortion and stay the steady mark of social decay...they have simultaneously raised billions to fight famine in Africa, build houses for the poor, rehabilitate addicts and to provide to the most destitute among us. The Religious Right's crusade to save the family---opposition to abortion and so-called safe sex marriage---might itself be seen as charity. The family is the first and most important social welfare agency. Funcional families raise children who won't end up living on the streets or pregnant and on welfare at age 16. If the left succeeds at distroying the American family, there will be homeless shelters, soup kitchens and rehab centers as far as the eye can see---assuming there is anyone left to man them." ( http://archive.patriotpost.us/pub/06-49_Brief/ )
Yes, we must minister too all groups most Churches ignore. But we need not reject the campaign the church has waged on behalf of the family. By waging this fight, there will be fewer joining those ranks who the Emergents prefer to focus upon. We need to be missional. But our outreach needs to be strategic, not cutting edge. It makes more sense to work to keep families intact than just to focus alone on those who have fallen victim to its destruction. And yes, while the evangelical church has waged this campaign, those who have been seperated from homelife have been ministered to as well. I am not one who wants to paint a rosey picture of the church or family life. Views as to the weaknesses of both will be reserved for future posts.