Poeima: A New Church for Tempe

John ArmstrongEmergent Church

John Mitchell is a forty-two year old visionary. He has served on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for eleven years. Then for seven years he was a pastor, serving the past four plus years as pastor of evangelism and discipleship in a large suburban evangelical boomer church. His heart is deeply moved to plant a church that will reach 20’s and 30’s, a drifting generation of adults without moorings. John and Deborah Mitchell move to Tempe, Arizona, next week to launch Poeima, a new "emergent" church (www.poeimachurch.com). John and I both think the "emergent" description needs to go sooner than later so I will increasingly try to find ways to refer to this generation, and this type of evangelism, without this not-so-helpful term. But for now, at least, I will call John’s vision "emergent."

John got this burden for evangelism by discipling this particular generation and by understanding several basic things about them. This is a generation that generally thinks "wrong" is an opinion and truth is a "myth." Meaning is what you make it to be and there simply are no absolutes. Among these young adults to be right is to be "arrogant."

This is sometimes called postmodernism but the term is one that is quite often unhelpfully employed. I believe that there is such a thing as the postmodern condition but I also believe the term is widely misused. It is particularly misused by some Christians who think that anything associated with this term is, ipso facto, a bad thing. One fact must be agreed upon, however. The reality of what postmodernity is, and how postmodern people think and live, cannot be denied.

Whatever you call this philosophical mega-shift in thinking and decision making there is a rising generation that has been robbed of moorings, both emotionally and religiously. It is a wandering generation, disillusioned with religion and desperately seeking to make sense of the world. These 20-something adults are turned off by what they perceive to be Christianity but they are deeply intrigued by spirituality. They increasingly seem to welcome an encounter with God but not with most church people.

John Mitchell believes that they "crave significance, thrive on deep relationships, enjoy soul-searching music, and welcome spiritual conversation." And, he adds, "They want to shape culture, not follow it, contribute not merely consume. They want to find their place in the cosmos and leave a mark that lasts forever." Mitchell has concluded that "This generation is longing to meet and follow Jesus. They just don’t know it yet."

I relate all of this because Chris Bonga, a beloved nephew, brought John Mitchell by my study on Monday morning so the three of us could converse about John’s vision for Tempe. Chris supports John’s new work and knew of my potential interest in such a vision. John is presently gathering a core of radically faithful disciples who will relocate with him to Tempe. They have been preparing this group for four months now. In Tempe they will draw others to their core group and then plant the new church. The public launch of the new church will not take place until sometime in 2006. The strategy behind this effort is to fuel a revolution by utilizing passionate people who radiate vision and then compel others to join with them in evangelizing their peers. This is not a "transfer growth" model for building another mega-church. John refers to his growing team as a "white-hot core of people [who] will become a multiplying community that reflects a deep love for God, and draws the lost to follow Jesus."

I am impressed with John’s vision and his deep love for Jesus. Both are palpably real. He writes that "God has given us a remarkable opportunity for evangelism. But this generation won’t turn to the church for answers. We must go to them, in coffee shops and clubs, on campuses and at concerts, in our neighborhoods and on the job. We must cultivate authentic relationships, invite them into our community, engage in honest dialogue, and invite them to journey toward Jesus."

This model of church-planting is clearly growing in America. The specifics vary from place to place, and from leader to leader. Simplistic evaluations and sweeping generalizations about this phenomenon are both inadequate and grossly unfair. John’s particular work is part of the Acts 29 network, a group related to leaders like Mark Driscoll in Seattle, and a work cited in several of my blogs in May. Like Mark Driscoll, John is solid theologically, a seasoned and wise leader, and a man who has both feet firmly planted in the gospel of grace. He loves theology, understands it quite well, and is not likely to mess up the important issues of faith and life. What makes John’s dream fresh is that he understands this generation and what it takes to reach them with the gospel. This is why I am increasingly seeking to serve within this wider network of leaders and specifically with dreamers for the kingdom like John. These guys radiate love for Christ and love for the lost. They are driven by a clear, strong missional vision. As an evangelist I share that vision.