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Friday, July 08, 2005

Back for Round 2

Let me preface this post by saying that I love the church. If I am being very honest, and you give me a little room to possibly be silly, I am bonkers over the church. I love her people and anything I say, both good and bad, about Christ’s bride is motivated by my love for her. It is my love of the church that set me on my current journey to find out what is going on with the church, where it is headed, and where I fit in. No matter what form they choose to take on in the way they do church and be the church, I have more love than anyone could know.

In my post yesterday I explained a couple of tension points for anyone interested in emerging church ideas in my part of the southeast. There are many, many more and I am sure I will be adding to the list as I post here. Today I want to talk about the church culture here in my corner of the region. It’s where I was born and raised. Church and church culture has been a part of all 33 of my years. So what is the church community like in my neck of the woods?

Most churches in this area are 200 or less in attendees. They are normally filled with people they have gone to church with all of their lives and their parents and grandparents went there as well. This causes most churches to be tight knit groups and inwardly focused. Mega churches are a fairly new thing here and surprisingly, do well. I would have thought that their seeker friendly models would turn folks off in this area, but they do get good responses. This is an encouragement to anyone looking to different models whether emerging or some other expression. There are a good number of people, like myself, looking for something different.

As stated before, there are over 1000 churches in the area. One reason for the large number of churches is a direct result of a problem this area struggles with mightily. Church splits. It is one of the issues we deal with here that both saddens and angers me greatly. It is almost a way of life here. If you do not run the pastor out, you leave and take a large number of people with you to start another church. A joke around here has been that the SBC doesn’t have to spend any money in the state of Tennessee for church planting because they only need to wait for their churches to split.

For the most part you will find the area to be very conservative and lean towards fundamentalist expressions of the gospel. This is a direct result of Southern Baptists being the biggest part of the church at large here and another sizable portion being made up of other types of Baptists and Pentecostals. Politically, you are looking at a heavily republican area and that translates into the church being republican for the most part. Or it could be the area is republican because the church is. That is how much the church and the community at large is intertwined. It’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins at times.

What are the issues outside the church that most people seem to focus on? Abortion, gay marriage and other homosexual issues, and the Ten Commandments being posted in public and government places are ones you will hear the most about. If you do not believe that, go to Timesnews.net and read the letters to the editor on a daily basis. Social justice issues such as poverty (either here or overseas), racism, or gender bias are either not given attention or are not viewed as problems we need to be dealing with. (Adding a personal note here, I think all of these things are important and that it is a mistake for any side to drop them. Especially if you are dropping them because it’s an issue that someone not like you is championing. An example if the way some would not be a part of the Make Poverty History campaign because they view it as a liberal issue not be associated with. Another example would be an emergent steering clear of the Abortion issue because they wouldn’t want to be associated with fundamentalists.)

Ending on a positive note, the church in this area is very generous and generally looks to impact the community around them in a positive way. A great number of Christians in this area truly wish to reach people for Jesus. I have personally been cared for by folks in the local church all of my life. My grandparents were part of the local church and my family has benefited from their guidance. As much as the church in this area can frustrate and upset me, it was a factor in my coming to Jesus. That brings us full circle and explains why I am so interested in the Emerging Church conversation. I love the body of Christ and I know there are other, maybe even better ways, to be the body. I know that we do not have all the answers or the perfect expression of being the church and I am finding many good ideas and questions in the conversation.

Till next time…

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