When we stop emerging

images-5I was just wondering . . . what happens when those of us in the emerging church stop emerging. I mean, we are always changing and keeping up with the Spirit, but when our new church structures actually settle down, and stop evolving, then we will no longer be able to call ourselves emerging church and we will just have to settle for “church”. Maybe thats not a bad thing. It has happened before.
In the 80’s, we were youth church or “contemporary church”. But we either grew up, or the “contemporary” word got stuck and no longer defined us.
In the early 90’s, we were “Gen X Church”, but the name came to be associated with slackers and go-tees and some of us moved on from being boxed up by the boomers into a tidy marketable package.
In the late nineties, we were “postmodern church” but the pomo argument became very abstract and locked into philosophies of the 70’s, and we were more holistic than that so we dropped the name. (Although others still call us “pomo”)

images-4Also in the nineties was the concept of “rave church” and and “club church” which was somewhat helpful, sometimes. But many of us now are post-club and too old to stay up really late. And having kids changes everything.
“Emerging church” was a good option – bigger than philosophy, not locked into age-specific ministry, non-reactive, and highlighted because of its evolution and constant change – the new thing on the horizon, taking shape, not yet formed, quasi-modo. But the fact is that many of us have already taken shape and we are not actually changing enough to be accurately defined as “emerging”. We have done house church, celtic spirituality, moved into monastic structures, done rave worship, tapped into ancient liturgies, utilized internet technologies, and now we are settling down into a new way of being church – a new way that is not necessarily changing or emerging.
So, what happens when it is dishonest to use the word “emerging”? Will we be the emerged church? No. Because there will be another wave of emergence happening in the margins, quite possibly ignored by us as well as the mainstream. What goes around . . .

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

53 Comments

  • exactly – unfortunately at some point we must leave off change to those coming behind us – i just pray we’ll be more receptive to it than the generation before us was/is. that’s why i love to work with and inspire youth. i tell them frequently they are potential personified. i can’t wait to see what they make church into.

  • i went to a church the other day who’d told me they were using contempory songs.
    the songs were from 1978.
    perhaps we’ll just keep the word emerging and the next group of people will look upon us as old and out of touch.
    i hope thats not the case

  • I think Darren’s right. My daughter and her peers will look at us as hopelessly out of date, invent new forms of worship and discussion and expression, and they will contextualize the Gospel for their friends.
    I hope that’s what happens. And that I realize it’s the natural order of things. And that I’m still out in the street, seeking the lost and helping the poor in whatever form that takes.

  • The emerging process will continue for another 5-6 years as the rest of us catch up and as emergent becomes transferable (oh, no!, or ist that good after all?). A move of the Spirit must be able to move to and fro, from postmodern to modern, to boomer and buster, to Latino and African American, from Europe and Asia, through current emergent, post-emergent and barely-emergent. To those of you ahead of the curve, don’t get bored, keep learning, keep growing, but realize that there are many of us still emerging.

  • if the emerging church is of value at all it is as a presuppositional critique leveled at our convenient stories of triumphal self-centeredness (aka our happily dominating little metanarratives that presume an object divine view that just so happens to coincide with our own and the blunt historical minimalism that presupposes a direct line of continuity between Jesus and our hip, new, insufferable pretenses in his name).
    perhaps the future of emergence is divergence: allowing the marginal a seat at the table in the kingdom that we are beginning to realize was never ours in the first place.
    Divergence: A Generative Friendship of Otherness

  • i’m looking forward to the eventual systems approach to discipleship and, as a result, to more intentional and indigenous developments of ministry/church strategies and structures. i believe that in this next shift beyond emergent, we’ll have developed a far more comprehensive set of criteria for thinking about life biblically, and critiqued ourselves and our church expressions accordingly. our system will account for abstract principles and concrete realities, being and doing, continuity and discontinuity, identity-destiny-and-trajectory. our system will offer us precepts for developing elegant local structures to go beyond the existing imports from other cultures that would actually colonize our culture. our system will allow for both bold intuitive leaps in strategies and structures and methods, as well as incremental experimentation. our system will get rid of non-biblical (legalistic) requirements that we be monocultural or multicultural, simple or mega, purpose-driven or seeker-sensitive … and get us back to the radix of “thinking for ourselves” individually and collectively, and back to developing a thoughtful and intentional and Spirit-trusting expression of discipleship where we’re at, not where others wish we were.
    i’ll turn 50 next summer. i’ve lived in and through the shift in mainline liturgical churches to irrelevant social gospel, the incremental church renewal movement, and the radical Jesus People movement. as a born-again believer i’ve lived in and through various iterations of “the next big thing” concepts in evangelicalism: boomer contempo church, ancient-future church, church growth movement, GenX church, pomo church, emerging church, tribal church. i’ve worked at a seminary, helped plant six churches and pioneer three far-edge intergenerational/intercultural youth ministries, served in parachurch and recovery ministries, lived in three residential Christian communities. i’ve worked with people doing spiritual mapping, city reaching, and probably just about any other ‘-ing thing’ you can imagine.
    after all that, i’ve concluded that while all these movements and models have some constructive things to offer, when they become “the thing,” they become destructive. they are too narrow … even when they seem far roomier than what came before.
    my best piece of advice to those who consider themselves in the emerging church framework is this: i believe a systems approach beyond all the emergent stuff will help any of us who’ve been exhausted by the challenges and inherent toxicities of various too-narrow forms of churchdom and kingdom. so, keep developing that system!
    i’m really Really REALLY looking forward to finding systems theoreticians who are also theologians who are also practitioners. i suspect such men and women are the next wave of intercultural apostolic disciples who can, through great intentionality and humility and personal sacrifice, be able to help others discover genuine discipleship ways beyond any too-narrow model or system or approach to Christian life. what the emerging movement contributes to that eventuality is a stretching of the system to include more categories and concepts. keep going! even if you find church/ministry structures that fit your local cultural context, never stop learning and adapting!
    go beyond emergent. there is far, far more room to maneuver around in, without going outside the boundaries of Scripture.

  • I like “emerging” because it has the same sociological value as “reformation.” This separates from so many of the movements in the past that were purely practical in nature (i.e. “seeker sensitive”). Taken apart from its context as a movement, emerging speaks to a posture which should always be true if we are seeking to live out God’s story in fresh, new ways as the culture around us changes. I am sure that the church will latch on to some new word given time. I hope that many of the concepts driving the emerging church survive.

  • Ultimately, the emergent church cannot be the way out of our dilemma in this rapidly changing cultural landscape. It exists only as an initial attempt at reframing of the Gospel within the current moment. Culture is an ever-changing web of influences and values. In time, the churches emergent form and expression will alienate future generations just as we have felt alienated in the past. We cannot escape the grip of cultural change. We must be open to the continual transformation of the church and not become fixed in any one area of emergence.
    We often try to build things that last forever. Nature is not like that. The life cycle applies to movements as well as people. Like other movements, the “emergent church” will eventually wither and die. If the emergent church becomes intentionally transformational, we may be elastic enough act as midwife to the continuing emergence of the church in the future. I would hope that our legacy will continue to transform the world around us long after we have drifted from the cultural scene.

  • Curious to know how the emerging church defines discipleship? What does it look like for you guys personally? Can’t seem to see, hear, or find any talk of discipleship among the emerging church conversations.

  • I think Darren has given one of the most insightful comments on culture and structures I’ve seen in quite some time. Here’s one of my favorite quotes that offers more perspective on the same theme, from the world of music. “From what has been told to me by elders, I’m not here to continue to try to be them, but I’m here to know their story which is the ancient oral tradition, the history of how I came to be here as a person of culture. My responsibility is to define myself based on that knowledge, and to include the experiences that I have in the world now as part of that history.” — R. Carlos Nakai, member of the Ute and Navajo tribes, in the world music compilation, Planet Soup —

  • Eric, you said:
    “What does it look like for you guys personally? Can’t seem to see, hear, or find any talk of discipleship among the emerging church conversations.”
    Eric, you will find that we also talk less about worship, community, evangelism, and other great topics for conversation. But that may be because we are generally more experiential than philosophical . . . or in other words, we learn by doing it. Abstract discussion takes a back seat to walking it out.
    Tell you what it has looked like for me. Almost 20 years ago i obeyed the call to follow Jesus into the areas of the world where people had not yet heard. I sold my car, said goodbye to my family, and gave up the idea of a career. Now i am 40. I dont own any property , dont have a career, dont have any savings, no retirement . . BUT . i know the joy and pain of following Jesus and being his “Disciple”, somthing i would not trade for all those things that i gave up.
    And Eric, if you would like to learn discipleship from me, then sell your car, give up your small ambitions, say goodbye to your friends and come over to Europe to spend a day with me, before you head off on your pilgrimage. I would be honored to send you out into some difficult places where God has been calling believers unsuccessully to go for many years. I am sure your need to discuss discipleship will be met over and above your expectations.

  • I like ’emerging’ not so much as something that we are doing but as something to go on being.
    Someone said that biblically we are not so much human ‘beings’ as human ‘becomings’, we are still in the creation process, we are still work in progress.
    In fact I wonder whether we need to have a more ’emerging’ image of heaven rather than seeing it as a static, final destination?

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that the concept of an emergent church is just….. a man made myth. To me, the Church seems to be divided into 2 halves – those that want to go on with God and those that don’t. The labels people apply to themselves aren’t really important, so much as their heart toward God.
    It’s taken a long time, but I think I’m losing the idea that it matters how you worship (it matters how I worship, but that’s different). The ‘why’, not the ‘way’ is the key.

  • Already in the middle of the pilgrimage friend. Perhaps one day I will take you up on the invitation to come to Europe and continue along the path He is leading. “Abstract discussions” are a part of living it out for some as we follow Jesus in being his Disciples. I hope my “need” to discuss is not confused with my desire to take some along with me in abstract discussions and living out discipleship with Jesus.

  • I think the exchanges between you two, Eric and Andrew, are a great illustration of what could go wrong with the emerging church movement as a flip-flop of the traditional church movement. The emerging learning focus tends to be concrete, experiential first, associative (multitasked). The traditional learning focus tends to be abstract, theoretical first, and linear. The learning focus in the “beyond all of the above” movement needs to be both/and, not either/or. That ties in Dan Hughes’ excellent comments about divergence and drawing in the marginalized to a seat at table that was never ours in the first place. There simply are some of us who are “wired” by God to be more abstract in our learning styles, others more concrete. Some more “big picture,” others more detailed. Etc. etc.
    Some of us “lucky” people (myself included, and perhaps Eric as well, from his comments) have such even combinations of all styles that it drives us nuts. And discipleship for us looks, I think, far more holistic, more integrative. And we hold more supposedly opposite items in tension with each other than most other people do. We bridge between divergent learning styles, which affect the kinds of strategies, structures, and methods we create. Personally, I don’t appreciate when people who are on opposite sides of the learning style approaches marginalizing those of us who are providentially in the paradoxical middle. We could hold some keys to the holding together of old and new, this and that, abstract and concrete – – just as most of the apostolic types in the Scripture are at least bicultural. (Check that one out, eh?!)

  • I think the exchanges between you two, Eric and Andrew, are a great illustration of what could go wrong with the emerging church movement as a flip-flop of the traditional church movement. The emerging learning focus tends to be concrete, experiential first, associative (multitasked). The traditional learning focus tends to be abstract, theoretical first, and linear. The learning focus in the “beyond all of the above” movement needs to be both/and, not either/or. That ties in Dan Hughes’ excellent comments about divergence and drawing in the marginalized to a seat at table that was never ours in the first place. There simply are some of us who are “wired” by God to be more abstract in our learning styles, others more concrete. Some more “big picture,” others more detailed. Etc. etc.
    Some of us “lucky” people (myself included, and perhaps Eric as well, from his comments) have such even combinations of all styles that it drives us nuts. And discipleship for us looks, I think, far more holistic, more integrative. And we hold more supposedly opposite items in tension with each other than most other people do. We bridge between divergent learning styles, which affect the kinds of strategies, structures, and methods we create. Personally, I don’t appreciate when people who are on opposite sides of the learning style approaches marginalizing those of us who are providentially in the paradoxical middle. We could hold some keys to the holding together of old and new, this and that, abstract and concrete – – just as most of the apostolic types in the Scripture are at least bicultural. (Check that one out, eh?!)

  • I’ve always found it odd to label churches. Why must they be Gen-X or Postmodern or whatever. It seems like a lot of people invest too much time trying to describe what church they want to be than actually just being a part of the body (church) as God intended.
    Let’s skip the labelling and focus on the being.

  • I have thought about this quite a bit. Since “emerging” supposes momentum, it also suggests a destination. It’s natural to wonder where are we going with this. With the whole future-antient thing, are we headed towards pre modernism (that would be PreMo)? I don’t think there’s any harm in labeling eras. It helps us keep context in discussion. There is a challenge to sidestep any label and “be” a disciple. My prayer is that “emergence” will at the very least transform our faith beyond the bumper sticker and into souls rubbed raw by the presence of God.

  • I like the thought of the convergent church. A place where tradition, be it 1000 yrs old or 20 yrs old, meets innovation. Maybe we have to completely emerge at some point, but there is always room for innovation. Convergence in our spiritual life is continual.

  • I’ll be honest. I enjoy reading this blog – and lots of other em-church blogs as well. But this post – which asks a good question – and all the comments below, thoughtful as they are – scare me.

  • Eric
    thanks for coming back from my harsh and naughty reply – good rebound, dude! This puts us on an even keel and we can now talk.
    Sometimes i do rant on the subject of discipleship – yes, there is a place for discussion – and this is my contribution. I teach on a pattern for discipleship from the Scriptures that i inherited from my mentor Bro.Thom Wolf. It is a movement called “A Tree by the River” and it uses 5 key teachings on discipleship from the Bible. Here is it in its most aliterated form:
    1. Renew Everything – put off old and put on new
    2. Remain Enthused – let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and be filled with the Spirit
    3. Respect Everyone – Support those responsible for you and nourish those under your care.
    4. Resist Evil- watch (defensive) and pray (proactive)
    5. Release Energy – let God’s life flow out through leaves (medicinal) and fruit (nutritional).
    There you go, Eric. I am guessing you have a unique contribution regarding discipleship and the emerging church, otherwise you would not have persevered through my harsh answer. Go ahead and shoot . . .

  • Eric, you are so pesky!!
    A bit more would be the link on my old blog, when i taught the Tree by The River in Japan 2 years ago. link is here if you want to read what i taught. Australians have taken it further and so have some Americans.
    But Eric, i would not want you to think that i go around teaching discipleship concepts from a stage, or that my teaching is necessarily effective for everyone. It isnt. The facts are:
    1. The teaching i just described is for modern institutional church people who love alliteration and highly processed teachings. When i speak to them, i speak in their language, at least the best i know how. The really edgy alt. people i know have never heard me teach this formula, and probably never will in this form-its just too abstract for them. They are more impressed with the living example and they are smart enough to figure out the explanation that goes with the example.
    2. Discipleship discussion is normally brought up at the dinner table in direct relation to a life decision that someone is about to make.
    It goes like “Hey, i am thinking about changing my job/leaving my wife/buying a timeshare/switching from pc to mac/fill in the blank . . ., what you guys think of that” And then the Bibles come out, prayer is made, God speaks with a subtle voice, advice is given and life changing decisions are committed to in community – and that is what it normally looks like – and it happens without a stage or a pulpit.
    but you know that.

  • Andrew,
    Someone has stolen my identity in the last post that asked for more info on the tree by the river. I’m not the pesky one!! Integrity…..

  • dang . . how many erics are out there!!!!
    actually, that was my fault for not checking the links to your names – i would have seen that there were two different Erics. My apologies to both of you.

  • I think that the emergent church will not have done its real work until you can learn about it and experience from inside the institutions of the church–namely credentialing agencies, denominations and seminaries. I do not think it will be done until Barna’s or Warren’s textbooks are replaced by ones by Doug Pagit.
    Then we’ll be rigid enough to be replaced by another movement;) And not that that is the goal or aspiration of the emergent church, but it may be a natural byproduct.
    Or maybe not, maybe the emergent church is simply the natural counter/corrective-force to mainstream Christianity.
    Really, the only place to learn about it is on the web, meeting other emergers and going to the odd conference. We have not done much that is on the radar screen of the mainstream church except to have a couple books and put on a couple conferences. I do not think that we are taken seriously inside academics.
    We also have done little about really changing anything beyond our own congregations. The emergent church STILL does not address social justice, race or gender issues in a pervasive way. It also has little or nothing written about how children and teens fit into the emergent church. Or how parents ought to disciple their kids. To a large extent, we have not offered mainstream churches a way to become emergent. We have largely discussed it from the perspective of church plants and have done little to explain how to re-engineer existing churches or missions.
    Actually for me, I assume that this will be my life’s work. Call it what you like.
    I “joined” the so-called emergent church not because I wanted to, but because the people who live where I’m planting a church are “emergent”. I just found myself floating in the same clouds as other emergers.
    I think I’m missional before I’m emergent.

  • well-noted comments, Tim. one of the problems lies with the christian publishing industry, which is just now rushing to fill the vacuum they themselves created for the last 12 years or so by accepting manuscripts almost exclusively from “big name” writers like Leonard Sweet and Brian McLaren. now others like Dan Kimball and Doug Pagitt are on the radar – people who’ve been long involved as emergent voices. there may be a rash of trash soon being thrown into the mix as many of these publishers try to fit into the niche, so they’re finding whoever they think is “successful” in an emergent kind of way, but still very few editors and publishers that i know of from 20 years involvement in christian publishing really “get it.” so, at least one point being that emergent writers need to develop these other areas, perhaps still on the web, as traditional christian publishers likely won’t be ready for a while yet. [translation: perhaps 3 to 5 years, barring a miraculous move of God, which could happen. it’s just that publishing in general is a very “conservative”/slow-changing arena. in the late ’90s, the statistic was still that over 90% of ALL books published in America only break-even or lose money; less than 10% keeps the industry afloat.)

  • hey brad, my “rash of trash” book is out soon – i love that phrase – i might even rename my blog from “emergent-kiwi” to “rash to trash”! or perhaps “divergent rash of trash!” in honour of you and dan!

  • aaah! Steve – how cool is that? don’t know about dan (hi dan!). however, i’m sure i’ve been called many names before, but after me nothing has been named!
    there is a “rash of trash” out there, so i’m never in a “rush to trust,” but from our various interactions and bloggations, yours is certainly a voice i seriously trust as theologically rich, practical, insightful, original. congrats to you (books take forever to write!) and to E-YS for choosing a solid author.
    when’s the release date?

  • feb 05 – the out-of-bounds church?: learning to create a community of faith in a culture of change.
    thanks for the “rush to trust” with your vote of confidence. the “rash of trash” is still a great line that I have chuckled about all day.

  • This week’s commuter reading list: PHP, Sustainable Economics, The “Emerging Church”, and Calligraphy

    Here’s this week’s commuter reading list: articles on the web printed out on the blank side of former printouts for my light-rail commute-home reading pleasure. PHP From The Command Line, Part 1 (SitePoint) Web Exclusive: Wendell Berry interview comple…

  • What comes after “emerging”?

    Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) has posted a question that has plagued me for some time… He says… I was just wondering . . . what happens when those of us in the emerging church stop emerging. I mean, we are always

  • I have never been much of a fan of the phrase “emerging church”, it sounds like too much angst or a zit or something.
    When we named an organization I am part of called Emergent we were intentional to not use emerging. (Emergent has as much to do with forestry language. Emergent growth is the growth under the surface that shows the health of the forest much more than the above ground growth).
    But maybe we should think about emerging as an on going process rather than a destination. What if we thought of it like serving, of loving?
    Something we will always be doing.
    So the church is not jsut now emerging it is constantly emerging. The question is not just what happend when we have emerged? But, what happens if the church is not always emerging?
    Emerging is the churches way of being and there are times when the church emerges in particular ways.

  • Thanks Doug – you are the horse’s mouth. great to have you here to give your thoughts and add to the history lesson.
    Everyone, you know Doug, but if not, then he is the guy who really pulled the Young Leaders (pre-Emergent) together as well as the New Edge Conference 1998 – which i consider the single most important emerging church event in USA in the 90’s.
    Glad to hear you are not rah rah about the title, since that keeps us all adequately removed from the title and free to pursue the high calling, rather than what we are called.
    I do think, however, that Emergent is a word that characterizes the early development stage in any life cycle – the conception/birth stage to an early puberty stage – a stage that involves a lot of mistakes, falling down, growing up, etc.
    it is possible that the hugely significant changes in church structure and thought that we have been going through in the past 7 years are peculiar to that era, and will not be repeated in the same way.
    Evolution will continue, but not emergence from newness. Emergence should therefore not be confused with evolution.
    If i were to pick and choose words from the various and excellent comments this blog post has produced (far superior, btw, to the original post) then the process may look like this:
    1. Emergence – as the new takes shape and defines itself against the old, dead or dying.
    2. Divergence – as the new defines itself in relation to the dominant/One, caresses the edges of culture to realign, recalibrate and find justice to previous imbalance.
    3. Convergence – as the new finds its place alongside the residual, finding definition by comparison rather than contrast, and seeks to aggregate rather than agitate, to harmonize rather than homogenise, and to create vocabulary not for itself but rather for the newly complex system of church that has evolved.

  • you give a great summary of emergence-divergence-convergence, andrew.
    don’t mean to be a stick-in-the-mud, however, this sounds very much like an organically veiled restatement of Hegelian dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. which happens to be a backbone of modernist analysis, isn’t it? so, doesn’t this set of words actually keep us in the same old residual modernist framework? are we sure we can’t we find anything else … perhaps look at “macrohistory” for other possible patterns of time-space-change frameworks?

  • err. while we’re all are farting around trying to think up a clever new name for the latest ‘thang’ in church, peoples is goin’ to hell by the truck load. or am i missing somethin ?

  • hi alexander – welcome back from philippines!
    i am as happy as anyone not to have a title or tag for what we are seeing, and instead just call it “church”.
    None of us really need a name, nor do we care if it is the lastest thang or not – i am quite sure is isnt.
    The problems happen when traditional people discover that they way we are doing church is radically different from what they expected or feared, and so they give us a name.
    For example, when they discover that although we worship, many of us do not hold a regular worship service like the traditional church, or that we break pizza in a house for communion instead of a wafer in a santuary – this is hard for them.
    The name is something normally given to us, rather than us coming up with it ourselves, (like “Christians”) and it is something that outsiders and traditional folk create to get a handle on what we are doing.
    We spend more time getting out from under names than we do constructing them, and if we are co-constructing some terms and concepts, then it is for the sake of clarity and unity for the body of Christ.
    and Brad, i certainly wasnt tapping into Hegel for this, but even if i was, and even if it was as modernist as it could possibly get . . .
    . . then so what ?. . lets take the fragements from pre-modern, modern and post-modern times and use them if they work. No need to react negatively to concepts because of their issue date.
    I sense that God is just wanting to see His Bride altogether in one piece, looking HOT, and forward-slashing her way into where God is calling her to go.
    If we can throw a few bones of vocabulary over to the trad. side, then we might stem the flow of miscommunication, mistrust and incorrect assumptions.

  • Well-said Andrew!
    The church has been in a state “emergence” for many centuries. There have been many different cultural expression of the church in its two thousand years of existence. Our time is not the only time that matters.
    As the Spirit leads the transformation of a society, the church is spread throughout the world. Call it emergent, modern, postmodern, ancient, mystical, traditional, African, Eastern, South American, Australian, European, Orthodox, Protestant or Catholic, whatever floats your boat and fits your worldview. It is the Church.

  • Andrew, yeah communication in all directions is important, I realise that. apologies for my brief belligerant interjection yesterday. it was a bad hair day! am wrestling with some fairly major issues, hoping the bell will ring soon for the end of the last round.

  • so, andrew, i wasn’t intending to object to concepts because of their date of issue, and sorry if that’s how it came across. it’s the processes involved that i wonder about, along with the underlying assumptions.
    perhaps pastiche of practices from across the millennia “works,” but at some point, i think the process of raw pragmatism will bite us in the butt, just as much as uniform programs did for the traditional churches. i think we’d do better to look at the underlying systems by which we’re putting stuff together, otherwise it’s all just issues of external style. we talk about being “organic,” but the DNA is really in the processes and systems, isn’t it? the structures and practices are the branches and flowers. how much of this emerging conversation is really about flowers, and not about the DNA that naturally and inherently leads to those kinds of flowers?
    we want to change things up in ways that better match our context? then, from my perspective, we’ve got to figure out what biblically-friendly plus culturally-friendly-but-not-biblically-unfriendly DNA fits in the plant – – and then the structures and methods and practices and stuff naturally follow. (which doesn’t negate our responsibility to be intentional about “management,” which happens to be one of the primary factors in vineyard-keeping, along with soil composition, variety of grapevine, and weather.)
    “traditionals” may have buildings and programs, “emergings” may have progressive practices, but “integratives” are working for coherent systems. sorry my integrative insistence on trying to comprehend Spirit-led, contextual systems seems to be an irritant within the emergings dialog. it’s just that after seeing so many of my friends’ “postmodern” church plants and ministries do poorly, and wondering why, given what looked like great models and practices, i’ve had enough of what seems to be the same-old, same-old overfocus on twigs, flowers, and fruit instead of soil, weather, and roots.

  • Hope you don’t mind my jumping in as a lurker.
    I am not trolling here, so please take my question at face value. I’m trying to figure out the attraction of the “emerging church” phenomenon. What place do the sacraments have in the emerging church? The Reformation defined the true church as the place where the true word was preached and where the sacraments were truly offered. Does this sort of understanding of the church have any place in the “emerging church” paradigm?
    Bill

  • hi bill
    good question.
    i think in the emerging church,
    1. the eucharist has gained a restored position – regaining its centrality within a service as we move toward story and multi-media and away from a talking head.
    Pete Ward/Jonny Baker and Co. have written a book on this that i have in my library (cant remember the name of it though)
    2. baptism doesn’t appear to have been tampered with but its form may become more flexible in the coming years.

  • Bill, excellent question. And especially pertinent, as (in my opinion) there is no such thing as a “Reformed post-postmodern disciple,” just as the concept of a “post-postmodern atheist” is an oxymoron. (Shocking thoughts, perhaps, but I would also say there are no Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. disciples in the far more holistic edge of emerging church, which is where I reside. To me, the issues go deeper than surface practices; they are about the far deeper systems by which we then organize and integrate our theologies.
    Anyway, speaking for myself as one kind of “emerging disciple,” I can tell you some specific points in the Reformation definition that raise a sense of caution. Where the Reformation definition of “true” church emphasizes “where the true word is preached,” I would say that true church is where called-out ones (ekklesia – disciples) gather together and both share the word and live it out, as well as share how they are living it out when not gathered.
    I think my version helps de-institutionalize the reality of “church,” and gets beyond the usual forms of analyzing theological stance as conservative versus liberal. It makes more sense to me to speak of holistic/systemic/narrative theology versus fragmented/systematic/cognitive theology. The systems underlying my form of emerging church require the paradoxical tension between preach-and-practice. In my opinion, the systems underlying traditional forms of church use a far more analytic approach that inherently fragments and segments, leaving a church with an either/or, black-or-white mentality.
    I’m very much for the “true” word, but many forms of disciple-gathering either do not have the whole truth, or do not live out the truth – regardless of whether they would be classified theologically as conservative or liberal. A Kingdom lifestyle moves on a trajectory toward both the whole truth (filling in our theological gaps and getting rid of our cultural syncretisms) and a righteously holistic lifestyle (filling in our praxological gaps and getting rid of our cultural and faulty-church-subcultural syncretisms).
    I also think that the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper are relatively “safe” in my form of emerging discipleship. However, the concept of what constitutes “sacramental” is far more expanded. There is no analytic division between secular and sacred; all things are sacred; all domains of existence/activity hold spiritual implications. I’m all for the Reformation concept of “special presence” in the Lord’s Supper, for instance, and agree there is perhaps something uniquely special about the gatherings of the called-out ones. But there is also a special presence of the Triune God as we, His adopted children, go about our work, recreation, relating with neighbors, serving others locally and globally, voting, etc. This de-specializes the “church-as-institution” as the one locale for dispensing sacraments, and re-specializes the Kingdom as a local space for God to work in and through His people.
    So, I guess when we come down to it, if we talk about specific practices, there may always be activities where traditional and emerging churches find commonality and difference. But to my way of thinking, that’s comparing apples and oranges. To get to the more substantive issues about collegiality and connecting, we have to go to the deepest systems we use for organizing our thoughts. Then we can talk about fruit …

  • thanks brad.
    since we are talking about the reformation, i feel the “priesthood of believers” was never achieved. we got a new priesthood and put new elites inside it.
    what we may have in the emerging church, with its shared leadership and culture of co-creation/participation, comes closer to the reformation ideal of a shared priesthood – at least a lot closer than we have seen it in the reformed christianity of the last few centuries.

  • Very good point, Dr. Andrew!
    On that line, I had an intriguing exchange a while back with a leader from a traditional viewpoint. (It’ll take a moment to get to the point about priesthood of believers.)
    This leader was sincere in wanting to understand emerging cultures, and do something to reach out, and involve postmodern disciples in cooperative efforts to reach the community. But all his language still used the concepts of traditional leadership (like “senior pastors” and “church programs” and “paid staff”).
    For instance, he was hoping for pastors in his area to get connected with each other, because they’re so often isolated and have no peers and they end up in burn-out. But I had to express that his word choices excluded people from “my tribe.” I think he was genuinely stunned when I said something like, “In my tribe, we see pastoral care for one another as a general responsibility of all disciples. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in ‘pastor’ as a legitimate role that some play, but we all participate in discipling through pastoring. And we generally are finding it harder to do any kind of ministry for money – because when you do, people who are like us culturally but who aren’t following Jesus say or imply things like ‘you’re paid to be nice.’ So, the way you’re talking about paid, professional pastors connecting with each other just sort of shuts down my people from getting involved. We’re street-level volunteers in pastoral care.”
    The Reformation’s emphasis on priesthood of the believers was very important for each of us to understand we can approach God directly, without any intermediary individuals or institutions. But I think the more holistic and less segmentive we are in the ways we approach ALL things, the more we’ll emphasize a priesthood of believers takes on far more community implications – shared leadership, honoring of differences that are not sin or syncretism, a participatory culture of transforming ekklesia and society, etc.
    Each ecclesiastic paradigm in Western church history has given us many gifts: Orthodoxy and valid mysticism; Catholicism and much storying the gospel through arts; Protestantism and an emphasis on teaching. What gifts have been bestowed to all by the unfolding of non-Western church history? What gifts will we bestow as a living legacy in our own era, as people of the emerging paradigms?

  • Brad,
    I like your analogy of the flower, so I’m going to expand it if that’s ok. Your idea is seems to be that what is central is the motivation for action. It is (in trad pastor speak) the word of God living through us that motivates our actions. The truth of the biblcal text is our DNA, and what blossoms and grows is the natural fruit. I do agree with you that most people, esp. in the traditional church, spend more time grooming plants than cultivating a fertile field for growth, and personally, while properly groomed English gardens are beautiful to behold, I prefer to be in a forest or an unmanaged meadow where all of God’s glory is shown.
    However, I think there has to be some time spent discussing the horticulture of the church, because most of the people are looking at the English garden. In an emerging conversation, “Where do we fit?” is a valid question as long as the discussion is not “How do we conform to fit?” We must somehow converge with the rest of bride, because I don’t think Jesus is looking for a multiheaded crone, while being true to our genetic blueprint. Maybe what we need to be discussing is more symbiotic in nature, or maybe, since the Bible speaks of grafting, the question is “How does the emerging get properly grafted so that it can flavor the fruit while maintaining its genetic make up?”
    I don’t know… just more ideas to ponder. What I do know is that every spring in Texas, I see the fields covered with lupinus texensis while everyone else is staring at Bluebonnets. I know that its a dicot, a legume, the parts of its flower, the fact that it only grows by seed, and that the seeds that fall can take several years to sprout…. while 95% of the people know they’re pretty and the state flower. I also know that no matter how much deeper I go in my study, I still have to use Bluebonnet most of the time to clearly communicate. In the same way, I think we can have the emergent conversation realizing where we are and how God is cultivating us, and focusing on the make up of a disciple, but we must understand that sometimes we still have to call it simply church for people to understand us. Then, when they say that’s not like any church I’ve ever seen… we invite them into the conversation.

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