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this was my first stab at a reply...

Great questions!

I think the post modern world/context has some broad features but actually there are a plurality of cultures. So it is a pretty safe bet that there are lots of people who will think/feel as you do with your ‘modern mindset’. I think that frustration can be a good energy for change – the key is trying to channel that in a creative way. What will be important in terms of either creating something new or adapting what already exists is that it is true to who you and the team creating it are and faithful to Christ – don’t try and be something you are not (authenticity is an important po-mo value). The key may actually be whether you can get a team of people to shape something together.

In answer to your second question, it is possible but it depends! I’m at St Mary’s church which is quite traditional and has a guaranteed elderly population. It just wouldn’t make sense to do what we do at Grace there. So we have set up something in relationship with what exists but very different. But at the same time, the wider church have a team meeting to discuss how the wider church needs to change – it will be interesting to see what they come up with. Without knowing your context better I don’t know...


Jonny: Here is what I believe to be the fundamental question - is God still active? We look for labels - 'alternative', 'emerging', etc. - as saying what we are going to 'do' now. I am not saying you do this, but I think this can be the danger when people realize what they have isn't working. They look for a new form.

When the prophets realized things weren't aligned, they went to God and said, "Whatchu got for me?" That is what so many of us, including you guys who have led the alternative scene in Britain have done. But this person needs to do that as well. We look to others for counsel, but we look to God for prophetic direction.

Pete Leveson

I definately believe traditional churches can change and "transition". With larger churches (maybe 50++) it can be traumatic and painful. But I know small churches change and kicked in to growth and "relevance" (deadful word).
The key I think is to do what God is calling you to and not to try and be something you're not. Work it out for your situation.


will and pete, you are right on. there are so many churches that are small or heading that way who realize that there is something that needs to change if they want to grow larger or continue to exist. first, never forget that there is nothing wrong with being a small church. many needs can be better met in a small, intimate setting that can not be met in larger ones where it is easy for people to get lost or not be given a chance to grow because they do not stand out. also, large churches have been trying recently to recreate the intimate settings that is prevelant in small churches forming small groups and house churches that meet it different times.
also, like pete said, don't try to be something that you are not. modern/postmodern thought are really just glorified fads with a long lifespan. i would suggest that you try not to be a modern or a postmodern chrisitan or any _________ christian (fill in the blank with some label like traditional, conservative, liberal, progressive, etc.) Just be disciples of Christ. Look to the Bible as your ultimate guide, esp. the teachings and example of Jesus. Realize that if you want to be a revolutionary, simply be Jesus. Don't be afraid to strip things out of your assemblies that is simply there for ritualistic purposes. Try simplifying everything. Try making your assembly more intimate. Find what makes your family there comfortable and free and build on that. Try to find out what make them open up freely and incorporate that into times for worship and growth. Combine your times of fellowship meals (if you have something like that) with communion, recreate the passover meal.
Just don't try to be trendy, just be yourself. Trendy is over-rated, shortlived, frustrating, and exhausting.


oh, i forgot the most important things. Read God's Word, especially Acts to find out what they did and adapt it. Look for the ultimate focus of their communities and make it yours.
THE MOST IIMPORTANT: PRAY, individually and corporately and ask God to lead you to the place He wants you to be. Listen for His voice and do not be afraid to go there.


my persepctive as someone who used to be involved in a church that tried to 'transition' something *new* out of it's traditional 'form' is that the most important thing you need is a culture of acceptance, not neccessarily understanding. What we tried to do didn't really work because too many people where sceptical, misunderstood us, resisted the need for change etc. Of course undertsanding helps! but i don't think this was the main issue for us. When i look back on the experience now the strongest memory i have is of a faithful 90 year old man saying to me "i don't understand why you are trying to do this, but i completely accept you are different to me and need to do this"! we never had a conversation about postmodernity becasue it was irrelevant for him. The issue was about finding a maturity and wisdom that could accept and value diversity. If there where more people like this in our churches maybe we'd see more change...

Paul Fromont

I think Barky's comments make an important point - "acceptance," a willingness to experiment and reflect together on those experiments; listening for what the Spirit is saying to the church (comprising specific people, within a specific tradition, within a specific context....

There needs to be a willingess to share the responsibility for change; a willingess to experience the discomfort of stepping outside of the familiar; a willingess to journey together, trusting each other, trusting God who accompanies his people, trusting and responding to God who invites his people to cross over from the wilderness into the 'promise' of life & fruitfulness (bringing their possessions; the riches of their past, their experiences etc with them)...A good practical thing is to "Godly play" the biblical narrative of Israel crossing over into Jordon...wondering together, talking together, locating themselves in the story....

Paul Fromont

I forgot to say. I think there has to be a genuine willingenss to put aside agenda's in order to honestly listen as a group for God; too often people have agenda's (often they also hold the power) and their agenda's prevent them from genuinely listening for signs of new life, for possibilities, and for invitations (from God). This was really hammered home to me in a leadership team, which appeared willing to really wrestle with radical alternatives, there was lot's of affirming signals, BUT intuiting beneath the surface it was clear the conversation was generally half-hearted, agenda's were quietly operating...when the option was given of a return to the traditional way of doing things, I was stunned at the speed with which weeks of conversation and debate was discarded and the decision was made to return to the comfortable and the familiar. Now this may have been the 'right' response for this particular congregation, but what struck me was the lack of transparency, the lack of informed debate, and the lack of honesty.

Tom Allen

I think the things that I have learnt from three years of being with a Christian community who had declared that they wanted to change and respond to the needs of a wide range of people within the local community is that
1 God is changing people all the time - both inside and outside the institutions - and that a response to that in the form of change comes among the most surprising of people.
2, You can't argue people into change - even if you argument is logical and obvious emotion actually determines how people respond.
3. That it is right for some people to stay where they are if there is genuine spirituality there, and others will join them.
4. Whether or not a formal church can change will depend on whether people will allow a change of leadership - and then whether that new leadership has the wisdom to allow others to remain how and where they are without the need to convert them to the new way.
5. Ultimately new forms will need to establish relationships with current forms unless we are not to develop a new kind of denominationalism which I guess is my biggest fear about so much of the talk about "The Emergent Church" at least in its USA form.


as one also with a brethren background (US), i remember the words of a long time 'full-time worker' who had these words above his desk 'people change slowly'.

i'm not commenting on your 'flock', but i know that it's sometimes easier to birth something new than it is to raise something from the dead.

i think there are a lot of things about the brethren that could really appeal to a postmodern generation - but the usual power structures in place will rarely allow those things to flourish in the grace that would be necessary to give freedom and voice to a post modern mindset.

the communion/breaking of bread/lord's supper if allowed could be one of the most post-modern services around - it's free form, spontaneous, spirit led format in it's ideal is ripe for inclusion, unfortunately the 'ideal' is usually far from reality.

it's usually the same 5 men who change a couple of verses, a couple of hymns and pretty much the same prayers each week - at least that is my experience, and i've found it to be true throughout north america.

the difficulty i've found in the brethren is that the 'lowest common denominator' of grace sets the standard of acceptance for the rest of the church body. for my own 'emergence' it was understanding grace that cracked the door. if you can begin to help those you fellowship with to fully (not that we ever fully do) grasp grace they will begin to be more welcoming of others that may not be just like them.

any grace police present will rob others of their liberty and create an environment that is hostile for a postmodern mindset.

i think the best thing you can do is to emerge personally and live transparently so that others notice the difference enough to want what you have.

just my 3 cents...


As a new contributor to this blog, I should state up front that I’m not a pastor nor (currently) a lay-leader, so I don’t have a full appreciation for the practical realities of change. But I have given these questions considerable thought, and I’ve noted a subtle distinction in how the question tends to be framed.

Most commonly, we tend to think of church, members of the congregation, etc. as that which must be changed or acted upon. Ironically, this tends to be a more modernistic and mechanistic approach to change. Instead, what if we think of change as something that emerges from within when constraints, expectations, norms, etc. are intentionally removed.

For example, this could involve something very simple like creating space for new forms of expression. Space could be created physically on a wall for any and all kinds of artistic expression, or an out-of-the-way room could be set aside for musical expression or simply for someone to go and scream at the top of their lungs when they want to.

Space can be created in terms of freedom to ask questions or make comments. For example, what about creating something like a physical blog board, where people can write (or draw or paint or whatever) virtually anything they want for the rest of the congregation to see and respond to – either anonymously or otherwise.

Or space can be created in the context of a sermon by seriously inviting questions and comments in-process, or by asking questions of specific individuals (forwarned in advance).

These are somewhat silly examples, but the point is that the way that we “do” church tends to be defined in accordance with incredibly narrow parameters. Real people aren’t nearly so narrow given the chance to see new possibilities. I would suggest that church can be thought of in part as a forum for the expression of gifts, passions, ideas, frustrations, etc. that real people have and seldom express because the expression is outside the boundaries of what church supposedly is.

Admittedly, this puts many people well outside of their comfort zone. To that I say: so did Jesus.

I’ve rambled too long with ideas that are very nebulous in my own thinking. Perhaps others who may have at least an intuitive sense of what I’m talking about can chime in.


1) Do you think it's possible for someone with a 'modern' mindset (which I can't help having) to create/develop an effective/satisfying/relevant church in a post modern culture?
I find enourmous frustration with most expressions of church (including my own!) and want to create something different - but my 'default' settings are strong! I think/learn/interpret using the brain & experience of a 48 year old.

I would say here that your 'frustrations' are a sign of something taking place in you that signals a discontent to be open to step beyond whgat you know. Sure we all have our 'default' psoitions, but here is where I think it is important to gather some key people aound and through this process if there is enough openness and honesty among you, as a team you can call one another to account, and someone always draws everyone up by recalling the vision core. I would simply also strongly agree with barky and Paul Fromont. "The issue was about finding a maturity and wisdom that could accept and value diversity." and "There needs to be a willingess to share the responsibility for change; a willingess to experience the discomfort of stepping outside of the familiar; a willingess to journey together, trusting each other, trusting God who accompanies his people, trusting and responding to God who invites his people to cross over from the wilderness into the 'promise' of life & fruitfulness (bringing their possessions; the riches of their past, their experiences etc with them)...A good practical thing is to "Godly play" the biblical narrative of Israel crossing over into Jordon...wondering together, talking together, locating themselves in the story...."
PAul is very honest too on what this meant in his context. I have recently moved to do some new mission in a NEw Zealand Presbyterian context. I am amazed at the buy in in the midst of uncertainty and no guarantees. We have worked hard at openness and transparency, allowing the hard things to be shared and expressed, without, we hope the simplistic, pat answers to escape the issues. As Barky told, I too saw most people, even in my previous context of a church plant in Scotland, maybe not get it all nor in deep theological terms, but in time they gradually got it. Indeed, their lives were changing, being transformed. It takes time. Also it isn't all our creating, waiting and careful, prayerful discernment in being prepared to do the Petrine thing and go to the place you think you owuld never go and discover God at work in the lives of others (ACTS 10) its wonderful, thrilling and all much more, but there is in the risk the point that you will change, be changed and changing in the whole process. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead and create and develop the new. respond to that. Don't try and generate action, programe or be clever and smart about it - faithful and obedient.
I am also delighted here in the new context of Dunedin NZ that with Martin, we ahve had significant accessible acceptance to the new, not everyone fully understands, but we are underway with Highgate.

2) Can a church which has existed in a traditional format change/evolve into a genuine 'alternative church'?
The 28 'members' are a pretty flexible bunch, but, again, it's so difficult to get 'mature' Christians to think, let alone act, differently.

Not sure what you mean by 'genuine alt. church'. However, people do seem slow, I agree to think outwith their default modes.Mindset shifts are slow things. Equally not everyone is creative in thinking. MAybe you have to develpp space in your times together and find ways to help them through. For me it was weekly study, prayer and food, laughter and learning, sharing stuff together over a year when I was church planting in Scotland. By the end of it, this group felt they had 'learned so much', but it was the small shift to help them realise that they had gifts, brains and they had a role in the body. Years later they testified to doing things in worship they otherwise wold not have ever seen themsleves do in mainstream. It was slow, hard, steady work, but worthy I'd say. Again, it isn't for you as leader to twist arms, in a way it is in the very act of reversing what it is temptng to do, that you actually allow God, I think, to work within us all and build confidence in ways that we couldn't and that is how the 'heart' response comes. Too often we actually perpetuate the model we want to escape when we start to manoevre things, calculate and control things to MAKE people different and do what WE think needs done. After all (2 Corinth. 3:18) we are BEING transformed, metamorphoumetha - is present continuous tense - ie it is a process present and continous. A dynamic, progression of Christlikeness, no arrival here! Also it is Passive in mood - not something we do, but something done to us as we are open in faith to the Lord. Check out Tom Smail Reflected Glory, chpt 2.

Wish you well.


thanks for the thoughts/comments... keep them coming.

reminds me of something i liked that tony jones said in response to some heated debate on his blog - 'there is only discourse' - wisdom seems to come out of dialogue like this.

i think this debate is a helpful reminder that slowness is part of mission - being patient, faithful, caring and in it for the long term and not the quick fix...


Further comment drawing in the idea of 'scientific practitioner' as a training paradigm at http://nouslife.blogspot.com/2004/11/training-church-leadership.html


I'm reminded of the joke; "How many Social Workers does it take to change a light bulb?" - "Just the one - but the light bulb has to really WANT to change!" - There's no indication in your questions as to whether or not the people who make up the church are thinking similarly to you. I’m interested to see that you describe them as being ‘a flexible bunch’ but then give the impression that they’re immature (‘mature’) and intractable. I wonder if this a shared sense of 'frustration' or something that you are personally wrestling with from a position of boredom and lack of purpose. There's a big difference between personal change and corporate change and I have been witness to too many examples of the corporate going belly-up because of the needs of one or two individuals in leadership who are at a crisis point in their lives (maybe even ‘mid-life crisis’ point at that? I'm 49 so I know what it feels like to be 48 and see all the 'beautiful' people doing their 'alternative' thing) I don't mean this to sound harsh but I think that for a fuller and perhaps more informed debate you need to give more background information and a broader picture of your situation - otherwise it could sound as though you're just a bit stuck and the grass could look greener on the alt.worship side of the fence (not that there is such a thing - but I hope you get my drift . . .) ;0)

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