Young pastors explore new forms of worship in search of an 'authentic' Christian experience
For a modern evangelical pastor, it was a dream come true. A successful ministry in one of the country's fastest growing megachurches, spanking new facilities even the opportunity to start a Saturday night service aimed at youths not drawn to the regular programs.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"The only problem," Spencer Burke realized, was "that I'm not a modern evangelical pastor."
In anguish, he walked away from the church, not knowing where he was headed next.
What he did know was that the institutional church wasn't attuned to the world he lived in; open to theological questioning; or responding to the challenge of a postmodern culture in which institutional authority, absolute truth, and even a rationalistic world view no longer hold sway.
And young people in particular are staying away from churches in droves.
Today, working out of his garage in Newport Beach, Calif., Mr. Burke runs THE OOZE, a Web-based community for some 50,000 Christian leaders in 60 countries who are part of a new "emerging church" movement aimed at reinventing the church for the 21st century. They are responding to what many consider the most dramatic cultural shift since the Enlightenment.
These innovators who come from evangelical and mainline denominations, as well as independent churches see both traditional churches and seeker-oriented megachurches as out of tune with current needs and styles. Not only are those approaches not reaching people born since the mid-1960s, but they are driving away individuals seeking to rethink their faith.
Yet the established church still meets the need for many, Burke says. "The post office will still run even though we've got e-mail, which will become extremely popular and accessible; what we're doing is the e-mail, and the established church has the postal routes."
In response to the changing culture, these spiritual leaders are experimenting with new forms of worship and looking at theology in fresh ways. In an age skeptical of dogma and creeds, their aim is to return to a simpler Christian experience based on the original message: the gospels. They're also trying to establish a more communal sense of worship like Jesus' disciples did.
"We do have a church that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, and old models are probably inadequate," says Edmund Gibbs, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He studies church growth and is writing a book on the emerging-church movement. "[It is] placing a lot of emphasis on community worship, a new spirituality of people really committed to Christ and one another."
This can mean the formation of "house," or home-based, churches, or rediscovery of ancient spiritual disciplines of the early church. Many are also reaching out to unchurched youths through services that incorporate multimedia and the arts in an interactive style of worship.
"Church needs to be a family rather than a place you go once a week for an event," says Rudy Carrasco, who helped form an urban church for teens unable to find a "real connection" in other churches.
Styles of music and worship are important for youths to feel at home, but "what it really comes down to is, 'How do I do my life?' " says Jason Evans, a youth pastor who has formed a network of small house churches in San Diego.