I’m half-way through “Emergent Manifesto” and hope to comment more thoroughly, and thoughtfully, after I’ve finished and processed it all. But one common theme that occurs in several of the essays is the need for church to be a safe place where people can “come clean” with their doubts, their questions, their dreams for Christianity and their struggles and still be accepted. One chapter by an addiction counselor says he finds that prisoners and AA meeting attendees tend to be best at these kind of raw, honest and often very fruitful exchanges, and suggests that in most churches people speak very cautiously – if at all – about the serious challenges posed by actively living out one’s faith for fear of being marginalized or outright rejected.
I have found this to be true in my own experience in Catholic, Presbyterian and now Methodist churches. Outside of the formal worship service (which is itself highly formalized and scripted), serious, vivid talk of God is rare in church. I don’t know if, because this is Iowa, modesty is at play, or whether church-goers tend to be shy or embarrassed about trying to discuss the ineffable. But as this book suggests, I’ve yet to really feel either safe or encouraged to go deep, and I've found that truly disappointing.
I think the real challenge facing traditional churches isn’t that they ask too much of their members, but that they ask – and expect – so very little.