Can emerging churches survive the "wish dream" phase?


I recently read for the second time Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together, the Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. Bonhoeffer writes:

"Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

Bonhoeffer continues:

"Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hinderance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming...."

I am a firm believer in the importance and value of the nebulous conversation that has come to be known as the "emerging church movement." The deeper theological reflection that is being done, as well as, the renewed awareness of the possibility of our cultural captivity to methods, means and forces that neuter our faithfulness to Christ and his true mission are profoundly important in my opinion. Running along side of this conversation, communities of practice are emerging all over the world as groups of people committed to the ways of Jesus seek to live faithfully in their local context.

I believe one of the most significant challenges facing these emerging churches has to do with whether or not they can move beyond the "wish dream" phase and survive the season of "disillusionment" that Bonhoeffer claims is inevitable if the community is to become authentic.

A little over four years ago I became the pastor of a small church that would later be known as the Aqueous Community. Raised in various U.S. expressions of institutional evangelicism and having served for 6 years as an assistant pastor on the staff of a larger church, I began to long for the opportunity to be involved in the forging of a new kind of church community that would break from some of the patterns of institutionalized church life that I was growing impatient with.

The desire to become "more missional" became my favorite buzzword, and, I was not alone. A small number of "revolutionaries" joined me and with the blessing of our denomination and parent church, we ventured forth. A new "Wish Dream" was soon born. A little more than four years into this journey, I look back on the road we have travelled and I can see how God has so faithfully "shattered" many aspects of our dreaming. The desire to live faithfully, intentionally and missionally burns as brightly as ever, but I can see how so many aspects of our "Wish Dream" idealisms as a people eventually gave way to disillusionment, and ultimately, to a posture of humility and brokenness from which a deep and humble yearning for authentic Christ centered living could emerge.

Little remains of our passion to be "cutting edge" or "alternative." In its place has risen a renewed passion to simply and authentically care for one another in quiet ways and to serve the world and give witness to Christ through very plain "earthen vessel" lives. We're not very sexy, we're not very cool, we're not very "edgy," but perhaps, we are beginning to become more authentic as a Christ centered people in our context.

Your thoughts:

1. Has the Christian community you are involved in had to face disillusionment resulting from the shattering of a wish dream?

2. Can you briefly describe this process and what has arisen from it?

3. In an attempt to correct the problems inherent in "modern" or "institutional" church expressions, are emerging church practicioners tempted to simply impose another form of humanly conceived "Wish Dream?"

Billy Calderwood is the lead pastor of Aqueous, an Emerging/Missional Church in Santa Barbara, California.