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NEXT Church: Living Witness

The last post on NEXT Church ended with a question about what the church’s responsibility is in the face of a culture of individualized spirituality and disengagement from the establishment of church. Based on what I heard at NEXT Church, I will offer what this responsibility might look like if the church took action.

     Rodger Nishioka is a highly respected Pastor, Professor, and Christian Educator. He offered one of the plenary talks at NEXT Church. When Nishioka spoke, he showed two videos. Both are probably familiar to most of us. The first was a Budweiser commercial that ran during the 2017 Super Bowl. The second is a Cadillac commericial that ran during the Oscars. You probably remember them.
     Each commercial makes a large truth claim. Budweiser is telling a founder’s story that expresses that our knowledge is relational. It shows the great possibility that comes from welcome, hospitality, and partnership. Cadillac is telling a story of society at large that expresses that our knowledge is incarnational (that is, what we believe is lived out in the way we act). Cadillac says “We carry each other forward regardless of who we are, what we believe, or where we come from.”

After he played these two commercials, Nishioka offered a lament. His lament to these two profound, engaging proclamations of large truths that offer significant impact was that they were offered by companies advertising products. Part of his lament were that these large truth claims were not offered by the church.

     The church makes bold proclamations about God’s grace week after week in worship. Commercial companies are beginning to make similar truth claims as the church and are getting out into the world in ways the church is not. While the church may not run Super Bowl ads (and that is not the goal), the church is the caretaker and proclaimer of one of the boldest and most astonishing truth’s the world has ever known: God’s grace in Christ unites people, promises hope, knows reconciliation, and offers a love beyond our ordinary knowledge. But the church, in all of its work, effort, and toil, is contained and being outplayed by beer and car companies at their own game.

Linda Mercadante finished her presentation with some ideas for action in the church. On the positive side of Mercadante’s research, she found that people in the United States are searching for lives that know “fullness.” The responsibility of the church, she said, was to see the opportunities and respond. Mercadante said “the church needs a new generation of apologists.” What she means is that the church needs theologically and culturally knowledgeable people to become more active in doing what Nishioka’s lament suggested: the church needs to take the bold and beautiful experience of God’s promises and reveal it to the world. The church needs to get out to the world with messages of hope, peace, love, joy, and grace. And where others in the name of the church proclaim judgement, despair, prejudice, and violence, such false messages should face the scrutiny of the church community that is living the mission of building up instead of tearing down.

The church must get out into the world in new ways to proclaim an ancient message.
It was Nishioka who pointed to one essential of what needs to be done to broaden the message of the church. We in the church must design opportunities for experiential knowledge to meet the process of developing meaning from such experiences connected to faith formation. No simple task. What we know is that this knowledge is transcendent (beyond us). It is relational (the task of interpretation is shared in the community). It is incarnational (embodied and lived out).
We must wrestle with a question that Nishioka offered: What are emerging new ways of knowing “the Lord” for the next church? It is a question our church and it’s leaders should ask regularly. It is one that will stay with me and continue to challenge me. I hope it challenges you too.

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