I haven't always been a traditional conservative type. Though I'm mad-keen on Isaac Watts and the Authorised Version now, t'wasn't always the case. Some of my readers know that, having been acquainted with me when I was young and slightly more foolish than now.
I did genuinely used to be a marginally enthusiastic charismatic who liked Terry Virgo (well, ok, I still like him..) and thought that St Matt of Redman was the giddy height of Lead worshipping (you have to get those words round the right way, 'kay?). I was even at the concert in Wembley Stadium to hear Delirious? and watch Gerald Coates wrapping some bemused children in flags. I was a part of the dance ministry, I wore skinny rib t-shirts with trendy slogans across the chest, and I have a tattoo on my arm of the Icthus fish.
Though I didn't know it at the time, and it wasn't called it at the time either, I even created an 'emergent' style service for the church.
I don't know if you're familiar with 'Bolds Fold' a series of pen and ink cartoons taking the royal mickey out of charismatic evangelicals in a good natured sort of way.
One of these very funny cartoons has three or so people all standing in a bowl of water, holding candles.
One asks 'What are we doing again?'
The other answers 'I don't know, but it's cutting edge'
Well, here was the issue at church. We had the morning service - children running around, an uncomfortable mix of hippy-hoppy-happy-clappy kids songs and the usual Redman/Delirious?/Kendrick-if-we've-got-older-members-in-the-congregation-today. The sermon/motivational talk and some perfunctory 'ministry' at the end while the children came back in from Sunday school groups.
Then we had the evening youth service - young people being very intense, an uncomfortably loud mix of Redman/Delirious?/David Ruis if we're running-early-and-need-more-songs. The youth pastor telling poo-jokes and a video of the youth-group trespassing on the local multi-storey carpark at night.
For those of us of a more 'contemplative' nature, it could be a bit difficult to find a place in the middle. Attracted as I was, and still am, to the multi-sensory approach of Roman Catholicism and Celtic Christianity, and yearning, as I was, and still am, for a sense of connection and depth, I helped put together an alternative service.
I do understand, really I do, the dissatisfaction and weariness of those who are part of the emergent church. I am no longer dissatisfied to that degree, but I still understand it and can feel the pain of it at times. But it doesn't lead anywhere. It seems brave and authentic, but it just left me emptier than before. Now, I also know that the emergent vision is a whole lot bigger than just a style of worship. It's a social move as much as anything else - a desire to see the church making a real and radical difference in the world around us. I can understand that too. In fact, radical, servant-hearted love is still, as far as I am concerned, part and parcel of the Christian walk. It never went away. But serving alone is just sanctified Boy Scouts at best - and works salvation at worst. If our servant-heartedness doesn't arise from a copper-bottomed commitment to real grace - the bible kind, not the jellybean kind - then it's just really pretty self-righteousness.
And you can grab for all the multi-sensory kitsch to make yourself feel you have been spiritual as well as practical, but you're never going to feel fed and healthy unless you start eating the bread of life. When you eat candyfloss, no matter how much you cram down, you'll have a short-lived buzz and then have to work really hard to have the energy to do the things you feel called to. When you digest the bread of life, good works follow because they must and they're not the practical bit to the spiritual bit in church. It's all of a piece.