BLOG 5/1/2016. WHAT ON EARTH IS THE CHURCH? AN INQUIRER’S GUIDE
In addition to writing these Blogs, you need to know that I also have written a number of books focusing on the essence and mission of the church—or ecclesiology and missiology. This past week my publisher, Wipf and Stock, of Eugene, Oregon, announced the release of my latest project under the title: What On Earth Is the Church? An Inquirer’s Guide (www.wipfandstock.com). Of course, as an author that makes this past week quite fulfilling for me since the writing of this project has consumed me for the past fifteen months.
But you may be interested in knowing something of the genesis of this particular book. Having cut my teeth decades ago as a teaching pastor working with university students, I have from those days always been forced into thinking into the cultural context that has produced each generation. That, in turn, fixed in me a perennial prayer concern that whatever I was doing would somehow form, equip, and encourage the emerging generation. Since my early days several generations have emerged and each with its own particular characteristics. The reality of this moment is that now 50% of the world’s population is under 25 years of age (the Millennial, or iY Generation), and, not only that, it is also a generation that it fully into (formed by?) the post-Christian era.
That said, in my octogenarian years, being widowed and living alone, I find my socialization regularly at a popular coffee shop in the nearby suburban community, which is also near a major university, and is populated by young urban professionals who are very much a part of this emerging generation, probably a majority of them of the Millennial Generation. The coffee shop is what the New York Times once called: laptopopia, where all the folk bring their laptops (I counted 35 laptops one day) and make that coffee shop their study, or office. Others sit at counters with their iPhones dealing with clients or customers. Fascinating.
But once in a while, sitting next to one of these folk, we both look up at the same time and conversations occur. I frequently ask them what they’re working on, or what their profession is, and they usually are appreciative that someone recognizes them as a real person and is interested. And not infrequently they we respond by asking me what my career has been. Part of the stimulus of this book is that more than once, when I respond that my career was as a teaching-pastor in the church, they have responded: “Pardon me, but exactly what is the church?” Isn’t that fascinating? Here we are with an emerging generation many of whom have no connection with, or understanding about what the church is, that it is even a factor—this even though through the plate-glass windows next to the stand-up counters of the coffee shop you can see two major church buildings. The church is an unknown.
This blank spot kept coming up in different ways in many conversation, until I began to process what ultimately became this book. I thought to myself: If I had to explain, from Square # 1, to such an inquirer exactly what the church was and how it was a part of the good news of what Jesus came to be and do (also a category much misunderstood) what would I say? How would I avoid ‘churchy’ jargon? How would I make it reasonably compelling for them to pursue? How would I deal with many popular distortions? The church’s diversity?
So I plunged in, and sought to make it reasonably short (since Millennials are not ordinarily book-readers). When I was reading the proofs, I asked myself: Did I say too much? Or too little? And the answer to both of those is probably: Yes! In a couple of weeks I will have the publicity flyer from Wipf and Stock and will post it on this blog, but meanwhile I am sharing with you that it is now in publication … just in case you are interested Those wedded to the traditional church probably won’t understand it. They may have never asked themselves what is the church’s purpose in the design of Jesus Christ. But those seriously engaged as Christian missioners to such communities of Millennials and young urban professional will tune-in quickly.