Thank you, Taylor, for your hard work. This is actually a response to your initial invitation. My name is Billy Watson. I am the associate pastor of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Katy, Texas. Shortly after coming to St. Peter’s about three years ago I was asked to revive the contemporary service which had folded before I arrived. I wasn’t very interested in a traditional contemporary service, and what has emerged as our “harbor” service (though I didn’t exactly realize it initially) is a result of my attempts at post modern or emergent worship.
I think the service is a strong one, but we struggle with attendance. St. Peter’s has a reputation as a traditional worship style church, so most of the members are here because they prefer traditional worship. That’s okay, because the service was meant to be evangelistic in nature…at least in the sense that the outside community was our target and we felt a church the size of St. Peter’s should offer the community other alternatives in terms of worship.
Several elements have influenced my interest in the emergent church:
Like Greg in Kentucky one of my influences is a strong sense of disillusionment with “contemporary” worship. When I hear the phrase “contemporary worship” several adjectives come to mind: shallow, feel-good, flashy, showy, consumer-oriented, fake, entertainment, pep rally—you get the idea. I enjoy traditional worship, but at the same time long for alternative approaches. Given the choice between contemporary, traditional, or even the two-headed beast known as “blended” worship, I would choose traditional. However, with the emergence (pun intended) of emergent worship there is another, meaningful alternative.
Music, though not the most important, is a vital aspect of and tool for worship. When I hear a song from Integrity/Hosanna/Vineyard/Hillsong-with admittedly a few notable exceptions-I cringe, and feel physically ill. This is not conducive to worship. Seriously, there is clearly a difference substantively, stylistically, lyrically, and in my opinion in terms of quality between what you typically hear at a contemporary worship service and what is coming from those on the forefront of emerging/post-modern/modern/ancient-future worship (i.e., Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Matt Redman, and others). The music of the latter-again, this is my opinion-has a great deal more depth, and touches on the entire spectrum of human experience (not just the triumphalism Sara in Texas mentioned in her post.)
I grew up in the Episcopal Church, so for the first 15 years of my life I was immersed in very high, formal worship. Adjusting to worship in the Methodist Church, even what we Methodists consider “traditional” was not automatic for me. After making the adjustment I went through a period of rebellion against the formalism of my Episcopal upbringing, but I have since found my soul longs for the real meat of traditional elements such as liturgy, chanting, incense, etc. Why should I be surprised? All of these ancient modes and means of worship are part of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. What was I thinking running from it?
Another strong attraction of emerging worship for me is the experiential element. Of course, as a worship leader it can become exhausting trying to imagine and incorporate new experiences. I welcome any ideas.
The language of the emerging conversation resonates with me. Confession time…I have an addiction…I buy more books than I could ever possibly read. Most of them I begin, read for a little while, then move on to something else. I am finding, though, that I get farther along and more deeply engaged in books shaped by the emergent conversation. Brain McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy was a frightening experience for me…it was as if he opened a window into my soul and wrote what he found.
I would describe myself theologically as conservative/evangelical/orthodox, however there are many with whom I share that label that I don’t necessarily want to be associated with. That might be a little self-righteous, but I know the feeling is mutual. It would be nice if I could just ignore the whole label thing, but let’s face it…we all have leanings one way or another and we’re only kidding ourselves to say otherwise. One thing I am grateful for is that I have experienced both sides of the theological spectrum in my own training, having attended a “liberal” college and a “conservative” seminary. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of both camps first hand. The people who frighten me are those who have for the most part only been around others who share their point of view, and have only had to or chosen to interact with members of the other camp in the context of debate. These are the people, liberal or conservative, who KNOW they are right and the other person is wrong, regardless. I think I’m right, but I know I might be wrong, and that’s okay with me. There seems to be more room in the emergent church for such a perspective, which leads me to my final point:
I love the ambiguity of the emergent movement. I know many people cite this as a criticism of the emerging church, but let’s face it, life is ambiguous. I feel that anything with integrity, anything that is real, authentic, and honest in this life (even if it points to something beyond this life) should reflect that uncertainty.
Okay, that was probably more than Taylor was asking for, so please forgive my ramblings. All that to say that, in response to the question “is it PRIMARILY about worship, or evangelism, or mission, or spiritual formation?”, my answer is “yes” and “no.” My emergent pursuit has all of the above elements in it, but it is at the root simply a search for something real…whatever that means. What it does not mean is that those not engaged in the emergent conversation are somehow fake. It’s more subjective and personal. For me, the search for authenticity and integrity has led to this path, and I’m going to keep following my nose where it leads.