Conference examines evolving Church

Church leaders consider postmodernity's challenges for ministry

TORONTO, ON—The existing Church needs to better understand, and communicate, the message of Jesus to a changing world.

Such was the message Brian McLaren and other emergent church leaders brought to the recent Epiphaneia (from the same root word as epiphany) Evolving Church conference held April 8 at Tyndale University College & Seminary.

Communicating Jesus' message is not about creating a new church or movement, says McLaren, a common misunderstanding he encounters from critics of his work that includes the books A New Kind of Christian, Generous Orthodoxy and The Secret Message of Jesus.

The central issue, he told about 450 leaders, is that in these days of postmodernity, "we need to recentre the gospel on Christ and the Kingdom of God."

Keynote speakers also included Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller, who says in many churches, a "slick PR marketing style sales pitch" has been substituted for the message of Christ.

"We have accepted a free market translation of the Scripture," said Miller. "While the Church peddles an offer that will make your life better and fulfil you emotionally and in every other way, Jesus' message was different.

"Jesus essentially says, 'When you are done with all the self-centred wish fulfillment silliness—when you are ready to see the reality of life for what it really is—then come to me.'"

Miller notes that self-centeredness is even reflected in church architecture.

"We went from large, gothic architecture that emphasized the grandeur of God, to churches that looked like classrooms where we were educated. Then we went to the conference centre model where we attended seminar-like Sunday services that offered how-to advice on everything from improving our finances to raising our children."

"Now we have gone even further, with some of our churches looking like nightclubs and coffee houses where we go to be entertained by a band or performer."

Other conference workshops focused on very specific areas of ministry in a postmodern world, including urban outreach, working with the poor and hospitality.

During his workshop "So what's the problem with the Bible?" Brian Walsh encouraged participants to come to terms with some of the difficulties postmodernists have in reading the Scriptures.

Walsh, a Christian Reformed Campus minister at the University of Toronto, urged participants not to dodge the problems they have with the text, nor to cop out, but to deal with the issues head on.

"We must learn to read the text with a double discernment—of the context in which it was written and of our own. We must read it narratively, inquisitively, communally, missionally and incarnationally."

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