pay phones and the emerging church
i thought it might be most helpful to just copy his analogy verbatim so i don’t screw it up in translation. (hey tony…if you are reading my blog—which i’m sure you do—i realize i didn’t get permission, but just throw me a frickin’ bone here…this is like a theological shout-out…). here’s what he says in a section called “church is dead”:
In the twenty-first century, it’s not God who’s dead. It’s the church. Or at least conventional forms of church. Dead? you say. Isn’t that overstating the case a bit? Indeed, churches still abound. So do pay phones. You can still find pay phones around, in airports and train stations and shopping malls—there are plenty of working pay phones. But look around your local airport and you’ll likely see the sad remnants where pay phones used to hang—the strange row of rectangles on the wall and the empty slot where a phone book used to sit.
There are under a million pay phones in the United States today. In 1997, there were over two million.
Of course, the death of the pay phone doesn’t mean that we don’t make phone calls anymore. Now we make far more calls than ever before, but we make them differently. Now we make phone calls from home or on the mobile device clasped to our belt or through our computers. Phone calls aren’t obsolete, but the pay phone is—or at least quickly becoming so.
Similarly, the modern church is changing and evolving and emerging. To extend the analogy a bit, no one is saying that the pay phone was a bad idea. Most people would agree that it was a good idea at the time—it was an excellent way to communicate. But communication was the goal, and pay phones were merely a means to an end.
The modern church—or at least as it is characterized by imposing physical buildings, professional clergy, denominational bureaucracies, residential seminary training, and other trappings—was an endeavor by faithful men and women in their time and place, attempting to live into the biblical gospel. But the church was never the end, only the means. The desire of the emergents is to live Christianly, to build something wonderful for the future on the legacy of the past.