Thursday, April 28, 2005
An Emerging Church in Austin TX

Julie, Emma and I were in Texas this past week, and had a great time visiting family. I also had the opportunity to attend an emerging church called Mosaic, and have lunch with the pastor, Don Vanderslice. It was a good experience. Here are my observations:

1) Their space (an unfinished room in a large downtown church) was creatively arranged, with chairs and couches in a half-round, with artists tables and journaling tables in the back. They used black fabric, crosses, Christmas lights, and other elements to contribute to the ambiance. In short, it looked like the stereotypical "emerging church" service (if there is such a thing). However, in conversation with the pastor, I learned that their philosophy of ministry goes far beyond simply style or ambiance. If anything, their stylistic elements flow out of a much deeper ecclesiology that values creativity, art, and aesthetics as means to worship God and lead others into worship.

2)Pastor Don seems to be another one of those pastors (along with Rob Bell of Mars Hill and Erwin McManus of Mosaic, LA) who doesn't like claiming the terms "emerging" or "postmodern" because of all the hype and superficiality associated with them, and yet nevertheless succeeds in embodying all the more substantial values that define the emerging church (e.g. post-foundationalist theology, recognition of the complexity of faith issues, an emphasis on messiness and grace, acknowledging imagination and emotion as equal partners alongside intellect in understanding and expressing our faith, reclamation of ancient forms of spirituality and worship, etc.)

3) The congregation of about 90 people was overwhelmingly young twenty-somethings. Given their setting in downtown Austin (very near to the University of Texas) and their emerging ethos, this is not suprising; though for me at least is was a little disappointing as I've heard too many people criticize the emerging church as only being for young people and lacking an intergenerational element. Of course, I doubt that Mosaic is deliberately targeting young people to the exclusion of old. I'm sure that this is just the group of people they've had the fortune of attracting to their community.

4) The only aspect of the church's Sunday night gathering that I was disappointed with was the lack of interactive participation by the worshippers. The entire thing was fairly passive. I came, I sat, I listened, I left. No singing, no discussion, no action (with the exception of coming forward for communion at the end). While words to the songs were put up on the screen, it was hard to sing along with the style of music, and few people seemed to be joining in. The sermon, while very well crafted and very interesting, was still a typical "sit and listen" experience. I'm not saying that any of that is wrong at all... I just personally would prefer a church to encourage discussion and interaction as part of the "sermon" experience, and that invites worshippers to join in with the singing rather than just passively appreciating the music as one appreciates a concert.

But all in all, it was a good experience and I'm very encouraged to know that a church like this exists in Austin. If any of you happen to be in Austin, TX on a Sunday night you should drop by.

posted by Mike Clawson at 10:03 AM | Permalink |


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