Emergent church leader says ‘everything must change’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Emergent church leader says ‘everything must change’

March 28, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0820}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

He was named one of TIME Magazine’s 25 most influential evangelical leaders in America, ranked with Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” and Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago.

Brian McLaren (second from left), a leader in the emergent church movement, prays with attendees at the “Everything Must Change” event Feb. 29-March 1. The gathering, sponsored by the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office and held at First Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, was one stop on an 11-city tour. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0790.

His message? The changes society needs must do much more than scratch the surface. They must be radical.

Brian McLaren, author of the book “Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope,” challenged Christians to heed that message at the “Everything Must Change” event Feb. 29-March 1.

Sponsored by the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office, the gathering was one stop along McLaren’s multi-city tour.

In his book and at speaking engagements, McLaren surveys what he calls global crisis literature and identifies four underlying dysfunctions in the way the emerging global society is being organized. Each dysfunction, if left unaddressed, he said, makes the other three worse.

“Unless we understand and address the four underlying dysfunctions, we’ll keep sliding downward or ricocheting from crisis to crisis,” he said. “I’m suggesting that the changes we need are radical, not cosmetic.”

McLaren summarizes the four crises around four “P’s.”

The first is the crisis of the planet — people living a lifestyle of resource consumption and waste production that the planet can’t sustain. The second is a crisis of poverty, in which the gap between the high-consuming rich and the low-consuming poor is growing wider and wider.

The third, a crisis of peace, is due to growing environmental stress and rising tension between the rich minority and the poor majority. McLaren says tensions grow between classes, religions, ethnic groups and nations, increasing the likelihood of crime, mass migration and displacement, war, and terrorism.

The fourth, a crisis of purpose and priorities, relates to religious beliefs. McLaren says religious beliefs should be mobilizing people to deal wisely with the first three crises, but too often they distract from the crises or actually inspire destructive responses.

If these crises are even “half as real” as he believes they are and if “the good news of Jesus is even half as relevant,” McLaren said the church is entering a season of great opportunity and all Christians will have a key role to play.

Stacy Gasgins, from created., a nonprofit, non-denomination Christian ministry to women involved in the sex industry, shares her experiences working with prostitutes in the Tampa Bay area. It was part of the recent “Everything Must Change” event, led by Brian McLaren, a leader in the emergent church movement, and sponsored by the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office. McLaren said the church must engage in radical change if it’s going to impact crises facing an ever-more global society. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #08-0791.

The Rev. David Dodge, director of the Florida Conference Center For Clergy Excellence, was among the more than 250 people who attended the event. He said he was challenged by McLaren’s views “to take a holistic view of my life and ministry.”

The event was “one of the most personally challenging events I have attended,” he said. “I was forced to look at what I am doing to create a better world as an individual and as a follower of Jesus.”

On the tour Web site, McLaren says the church is in “deep shift” as leaders and members try to discern how to be a Christian in today’s church and world. The tour strives to help people understand what it means to follow God “in the way of Jesus,” how individuals and faith communities can respond to crises facing the world, and how Christians can engage in “personal formation and theological reformulation for global transformation,” among other questions.

Kelly Moore, who works in the Connectional Ministries office with youth, young adults and campus ministries and helped organize the event, said one of the event’s goals was to have members of The United Methodist Church “come in contact with the emergent church … to have them be introduced to the thoughts and ideas of the emergent church movement … to allow members of the UMC to ask questions and have discussions about this topic.”

A recent article in Christianity Today defines the emergent church movement as “the global reshaping of how to ‘do church’ in postmodern culture.” McLaren is considered a leader in that movement.

This particular leg on the tour was sponsored by the Florida Conference, but held at First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg. McLaren said he sees the collaboration as a good sign.

“It’s been thrilling in each of the 11 cities of our tour to see a wide range of Christians coming together — Evangelicals, mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics … traditional and contemporary and emergent, high church and low church, and even no church,” he said. “I think it's a great thing when we see Christians coming together from many backgrounds, united around a holistic and integral understanding of the gospel.”

McLaren said being a Christian is a “truly high and radical calling,” not just a calling to a nice quiet moral life. He likened it to joining God in the “world-changing revolution of hope launched through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.”

“So many of our churches are mired in complacency or wracked by conflict or stuck in polarization, but I believe this is our time, our moment, to get a higher vision and move up to a higher perspective and come together in a time of great need and opportunity,” he said.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of Global Life and Learning for the Florida Conference, said he appreciated McLaren’s insights, especially the “deep spirituality, the connection with people of many traditions and lifestyles in one room.” 

“I appreciated the mission challenges with a holistic approach,” Rankin said. “Through the (five practices of) The Methodist Way, United Methodist Christians know what it means to live and promote the way of Christ spiritually, as well as through acts of mission with compassion and hospitality. The challenge of The United Methodist Church today is to live the Wesleyan tradition it already has and embraces.”

Warren Pattison, media and worship arts director at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, has been a fan of McLaren for years.
Pattison says the church must find ways of raising awareness about “the destructive cycles we have created and find constructive life-giving ways to deal with them.”

“If we keep going in the direction we’re going in terms of our blatant abuse of God’s creation, our lack of concern for issues of equity and justice, our pattern of seeking peace through violence, our habit of only paying lip service to the challenging teachings of Jesus on love of enemy and care for the widow, the orphan and the alien, then we’re heading for destruction,” he said. “This is about partnering with God in waking up to the Kingdom reality.”

McLaren graduated from the University of Maryland with a master’s degree in English and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

In addition to being a guest on television, radio and news media programs, including “Larry King Live,” Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and “Nightline,” McLaren has been featured in articles by Christianity Today, Christian Century and The Washington Post.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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