TransformingChurch.com is a new emerging church site sponsored by the ELCA-Southeastern Synod. I'm trying to make sense of their mission statement:
The Commission for Transforming Congregations was born out of our vision to become the Great Commission Synod. Our mission is to equip congregations to thrive in a changing world. It is this mission which directs the work of the Commission. Members of the Commission view congregational transformation as people passionately engaged, moving outside of the walls of their church and engaging their community, reaching the church homeless, moving people from membership to discipleship, creating channels for the Holy Spirit to work. The mark of transformation changed people changing lives!
It's out job to create channels for the Holy Spirit to work? As a person of the trinity, I thought He was capable of doing work Himself. Certainly the Spirit works through baptism, but it is not the work of the pastor or any man, but of the living and active Word of God.
What does "engaging culture" mean? "Engaging" from dictionary.com:
1. To involve oneself or become occupied; participate: engage in conversation.
2. To assume an obligation; agree.
3. To enter into conflict or battle: The armies engaged at dawn.
4. To become meshed or interlocked: The gears engaged.
The only use of the word I can see as sort of fitting would be the first, "to engage in conversation." The church has a responsibility to preach to people, and people come from some kind of culture. I guess speaking the truth about Christ (calling people to repentance, preaching the gospel) could be "engaging the culture," but beyond that I'm really unsure of what the emergent church is looking for.
Let's remember: We are aliens and strangers in this world. The church's culture is the Gospel, her language is the cross of Christ, her food is His body and blood. By her very nature, the bride of Christ transcends the temporal culture of this world.
When the church is not gathered, her members are called to their vocations. Perhaps this is the church's conversation with culture: The body of Christ dispersed in offices, schools, houses, on the streets and in the community. Any other effort the church makes to engage culture has always (and always will) seem superficial and false, because the church cannot be secular culture, and has not yet replaced it. Christian contemporary music began as an effort to engage culture, but ended up creating a ghetto of mediocre music and vapid lyrics.
"Changed lives" sounds great, but there's danger in a term so ambiguous. In my experience the phrase potentially disguises legalistic leanings, specifically that a Christian's highest calling is to benevolence or self-righteous perfection, rather than the Gospel. If "changed lives" means a person's acknowledgement of sin and belief and joyful acceptance of forgiveness of sins through Christ, then I'm with you.
Either way, changed people don't change lives. Change is internally driven. Any positive change in the life of a Christian is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, not of some happy person clamoring about their changed life. Perhaps a person can affect another's external circumstances, but none of us can do surgery on the spirit.