I often hear that both are prone to style over content. Both suffer from a tendancy towards the flash and attractive. I’ve seen it and can hold my hand up and say that I’ve also done it.
But I’m not sure that lack of substance is a fair criticism of either Emerging Church or Youth Work done well.
At the heart of both seems to be a desire for relationship.
Youth work has struggled to get past the attractional model where we put on some big fancy event that lots of young people will come to and hope that for some strange reason that will be enough to get them to stay for the rather naff games and poor attempts at bible study where we tell them what the Bible should mean to them.
Emerging Church is informed by a similar process where big church for grown ups had a go at being all interesting and attractive. It was called ‘Alternative Worship’. Churches discovered that presentation mattered and that people wanted to be involved but many of the ‘Alternative Worship’ experiments were little more than a reformatted version of the standard church service. People saw through it and discovered that, like attractional youth work, all that glitters is not gold.
Substance is the goal for both. Depth of relationship, participation, learning, sharing and growing together seem to be the key factors in youth work… and in emerging church.
The cycle has been the same. Attractional followed by a move to deeper more substantial communities.
I wonder if that is because those who now inhabit leadership positions in the church and experienced the attractional youth work model are now being joined by a younger generation of leaders who have grown up on incarnational youth work and who experienced youth groups where they were loved and valued and experienced opportunities to know God?
It seems to me that both areas are rediscovering something that has been lost. Both youth work and emerging church are pursuing models where stillness, spiritual practices, relationship building and learning in a collaborative manner are all valued.
These seem to me to be the practices that grow from the values of community work I outlined in part 2.
It also grows from a sense of disconnection. I heard Mark Lau Branson talk about how he has abandoned the lectionary because the people in his church don’t understand the context of these weekly fragments of scripture as they jump around the highlights of the Christian story. That seems to bear out my own experience and those of many worship leaders I meet.
I think that’s partly the fault of the attractional youth work model which focused on highlights, particularly from the Gospel because that was the most important bit and the rest didn’t matter much.
Church has been the same. Scotland has never been big on Bible Study for adults. The 15 minute sermon on a Sunday morning has been the main teaching for the majority of adults. In any other context 15 minutes a week would be laughable. Can you imagine trying to learn a language, to play an instrument or to build a relationship by spending 15 minutes a week on it?
Youth work is about building community. Church should be too. Emerging Church seems to be up for going deeper… but still needs to guard against the ‘cool for the sake of it’ phenomena which happens when any group of creative people get together… apparently.emerging