John Burke is lead pastor of Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas, and a leading member of the Emergent Leadership Initiative, an Evangelical movement to plant and grow authentic new churches in emergent culture. Winning young people for Christ is not just about packaging, but about authenticity, allowing God to change us hardened burned out religious people into bearers of grace.
From ten years’ rich, fruitful experience of growing an evangelical church among the generation most cagey about Christian commitment, John spoke of creating the right soil for faith to grow, not expecting people to get everything sorted at the check-in. God requires Mercy not Sacrifice, raising a significant question — are we leading like Jesus or like the pharisees? The world does law not grace. Grace says come as you are, and that is the essence of the good news.
John reports that the two big stumbling blocks people have every time are about other religions and homosexuality. So the question for would-be prevailing Evangelical Churches is one a young neighbour asked him of Gateway, “Does your Church teach people to love others? because I could never attend a Church that teaches people to hate gay people.”
It was fascinating, gievn the all-too-open discussions of this subject among Anglicans, how very coy non-Anglicans are, with much coded communication. Having brought it up, John simply referred people to a chapter of his book, as does the follow up Website. Nobody was willing to discuss it in real time. Even in code, however, John brought exact corroboration, hot off the streets, of the Barna Group research last year indicating we have a major missional issue here. Pretending that this is a subject about which we are either in the 1950’s or can return to the 1950’s is just idiotic. Making it a lead issue seems to be missional suicide.
John’s book takes a commendable pragmatic line — keeping Christ at the forefront, not homosexuality, whilst being wide open personally to accept gay people just as they are. He believes people’s lives turn around in the light of Christian faith in ways they never could if cultural stumbling blocks were erected in the way of their coming to that commitment in the first place. So say all of us, no doubt, but I suspect it will be a good while before many US Evangelicals feel comfortable about discussing openly the follow on — is this, some gay people may feel, in the end a kindly but ultimaterly inadequate, even patronising, response to this personal, moral and cultural issue?