"Yours is kind of a 200-level church," my mom concluded after her first visit to KC. She was making reference to the way college courses are often classified: beginning level classes are 100-level, but 200-level classes require some kind of prerequisite. Those classes are for people who have already been exposed to the topic, have some background in the area of study, and are interested in going deeper.
There's some obvious reasons why my mom would make this assessment of our community. For one thing, there are a number of people in our community who are "recovering" from their childhoods or young adulthoods in some other church or tradition. We've got former Roman Catholics, evangelicals, Mennonites and Christian Scientists, each with their own story of why they left and why they aren't going back. In addition, there are a number of people around KC who have been engaged in a very serious way in their spiritual journey for many years--people who have been trained as pastoral counselors or spiritual directors, people who have gone on many retreats and pilgrimages, people who read about spirituality and biblical scholarship and Christian theology for fun.
So there are a lot of people who see KC as a "next step" in their spiritual journey. They didn't start that journey here, but they came to KC because it seemed like the kind of place that would help them go further.
I'm proud to be part of a community like this. It makes me feel like I can go deeper with my teaching and preaching, and there will be plenty of people who can keep up. What's more, I find it very encouraging to be around people who are farther along the path than I am. It makes me want to keep walking with Jesus. It helps me stay unstuck.
But there was a part of my mom's comment that gave me pause when she first said it. I wondered, are there "pre-requisites" to being a part of our community? There aren't any explicit pre-requisites. We're a pretty friendly bunch, and when you walk into our barn, we are really good at welcoming you, whoever you are. But I wonder if there are implicit prerequisites? If you are a brand-new Christian, or if you aren't a Christian at all, and you walked into KC, would you have a sense of stepping into a 200 level class without having had the introduction? Would you get drawn into the journey by hearing about ours, or would you end up feeling left behind?
These questions re-surfaced for me last week at the Emergent Gathering, and they seem to have been on the minds of other people as well. Is Emergent a 200-level organization, or even a 300-level one? If it is, what about the people who step into the conversation without having done any background work? Is it really right to invite such people in to every event, or would it be better to establish a beginner track and an advanced track? If there are too many beginners, won't all the advanced people lose interest and leave?
I'm not sure if organizations like Emergent work the same way that churches like KC work, but I imagine there are some parallels. And my experience at KC has led me to think that the whole idea of entry-level religion is not nearly as helpful as one might think. I think we often underestimate how much preparation God has done in our hearts and souls before we even step into a church, a conference or a conversation. My experience at KC has taught me that a huge amount of growth can happen in someone when the moment is finally right. Maybe the people who stick around our community for more than a week or two are people who are ready to grow. But that's a pre-requisite I can live with. You don't have to be there already, but you do have to be willing to walk.
Having enough high intentional Christians around this place means that this place will never be defined as entry-level only. But I'm okay with that. An easy-to-follow, easy-to-understand version of the Christian journey doesn't catch a person up in the same way as the real thing. If it's shallow, it usually feels that way, even to a newbie.
What's more, I have been struck time and again by how much the "advanced" Christians at KC get out of talking to someone who is much newer on the spiritual journey. This happened last spring when John Lobell and I taught a class on evil to an amazingly mixed group. We all learned from each other in that group--we learned different things from different people, but we all were learning.
So while there are many other things that we don't really have a handle on at KC, this one feels about right. The high level of intentional spiritual journeying in this community makes it a good entry-level congregation, as strange as that may sound. Our experience has been instructive for me as I continue to engage in Emergent Village's visioning process.