12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church

I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much as you think, but there is certainly a lot of heated discussion, mud-slinging and tabloid criticism. There is even the threat of physical abuse and organizations withdrawing favor, or young people leaving their denominations and starting fresh expressions of church without the blessing of their elders. Not good! The emerging church is called to be a reconciling community and part of that reconciliation must happen in the realm of communication.

Here are 12 tension points. I am sure there are many more, but these came to mind yesterday on a London train. Thankfully we don’t have to choose between one or the other. “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.” (Solomon, Proverbs)

This may be simplistic, but as i see it, the main tension points would include the following (emerging church tends to emphasize the second) :

1. The Statement of Faith and the Rule of Life.

Many emerging churches form and require commitment to a rule of life before they develop a doctrinal statement. This makes it look like doctrinal statements are undervalued and creates a tension point.

More about Rule of Life and new monasticism here or read the story of when I took a vow during my night of absolute terror. I think its really important to read and affirm the historic creeds, as I did recently in responding to some questions.

2. The Pulpit and the Table

The reformation moved the table to the side of the church and the pulpit to the middle. Emerging churches are often restoring the centrality of the Lords Supper – having services that mimic the Love Feast, or at least give prominence to the Eucharist. Good book on the subject called Mass Culture: Eucharist and Mission in a Post-Modern World, edited by Pete Ward.

3. The Sermon and the Story.

This is the tension of the proposition illustrated by narrative and the narrative that highlights a proposition

Preaching is often more narrative based so that the points or propositions can be processed in public, allowing greater accountability and ownership.

4. The Church and the Kingdom

Teaching about the Kingdom of God is emphasized in the emerging church – allowing a bigger picture of how the church fits in to the scheme of God’s plan of reconciliation.

5. The Epistles and the Gospels

The gospels inform our missiology as well as the epistles. Emerging church people are insisting on seeing the epistles and the book of Acts through the lens of Jesus teaching and life, instead of the other way around. This is why I teach so much on the gospels and their relevance for church planting.

6. Static Worship and Dynamic Worship

Motion is again a factor in our worship. Worship happens often in navigable space, whether it is station to station, prayer walking, pilgrimage, or labyrinth-like journeys of worship such as the the gate to gate worship in the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles. This creates tension and suspicion with the stage led worship

7. Teaching to Agree and Teaching to Obey

Obedience-based teaching is emphasized and given preference. This does not mean that assentment to a set of beliefs is not important. In fact, I highly recommend the historic Christian creeds and more recent as a global . But Jesus said to make disciples of every nation, baptising them and teaching them to obey. We cannot afford to leave off those last two words.

8. The Scholar/Orator and the Reflective Practitioner

Training for emerging church is producing reflective practitioners who are hands-on leaders of new mission-shaped churches. Knowing how to deal with the demonic, start a church with no budget and knowing how to explain the gospel in the language of the hearer is more valuable than having an academic degree or the ability to give a great sermon. Changes in training methods and content are reflecting this.

9. The Teacher/Pastor and the Apostle/Prophet

Teachers and Pastors have given leadership to the church in a Christian context – where safe-guarding the sheep is the most important thing. But as the church begins to form in a post-Christian context where there are more goats than sheep, those gifted with apostolic and prophetic gifts are more equipped to point the way forward.

10. Theology and Missiology

Related to the previous tension point. As the gospel takes form in a new or post-Christian context, a biblical contextual missiology is given more space. Retired missionaries may become a huge asset to the emerging church.

11. Western and Global

Our global world is impacted by voices from all over the world. Theologians, missionaries and teachers, especially those from Africa, Asia and Latin America, are often suspect under a highly western-dominated educational system. I see this tension point as being one that is only just beginning – much of our future debates will find their root in the clash between west and east.

12. Old Media and New Media

This is still a huge tension point. It came up again yesterday when i was teaching and I am sometimes reluctant to bring it up without a lot of explanation. The emerging church is taking root in a new media world and the gospel is making sense to new media minds. Our communication is increasingly digital and online. I have some thoughts on new media here. Its really important to acknowledge that our new media is just a tool and that the virtual will never replace the actual/physical. As i said yesterday, technology supplements and assists us, and the internet is allowing greater reach, but nobody wants a virtual Christmas dinner.

ok – lets make it a baker’s dozen

13. Single Leader and Team Leadership

The tension point is not so much male vs. female leadership (although there is a lot of discussion on it) but in the organic emerging churches there is a shift to a five fold ministry, and churches led by multiple elders rather than a single Senior Pastor.

Anyway – nothing in cement here – just jotting down my thoughts.

I think we all need to avoid extremes, or creating disunity unnecessarily. Much better to create understanding.

Lets hold fast to all things good. Lets be gracious to those who do not see the whole picture or who do not understand the changes, knowing that we also do not see the whole picture clearly. Neither did Job, but Job remained blameless.

Lets endure suffering for righteousness sake, knowing that our Lord suffered under religious rulers who could not see clearly what God was intending for his people. And it was he who sent out his followers like lambs among wolves.

There is one body, the Body of Christ, and we are all member of it. Only together with them will we be complete.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Bob says:

    Andrew, thanks for the great post. I have to confess, though, that my mind didn’t wrap around something. How are apostolic/prophetic gifts different from teaching/pastoral gifts? How would you define the terms and how would you differentiate between the gift sets?

  • Heather says:

    This has been so helpful for me as I attempt to move from an intuitive resonance with the emerging ‘thing’ to a more theologically thought-through place. I think I’ll use each of the points you raise as stimulus for reading and studying! Thanks!

  • andrew says:

    hi bob
    i am talking about the functional roles of the Ephesians 4 gifts, rather than positional titles
    i have said more previously in this post:
    One of the inherent values of the emerging church, although not often verbalized, is the web-like leadership structure that is shared among all the gifted leaders – the apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors (shepherds), and evangelists. Leadership is not longer monopolized by a big man at the top, nor by the two spiritual gifts of pastor and teacher. In the emerging church, as in the early church, prophets inform and apostles act on the information.
    But why more so in the emerging church?
    Possibly because the emerging church is finding root in new places, and the church is built on its prophets and apostles. As the new churches begin to grow, and the movement finds maturity, pastors and teachers are able to add stability and strength. If you go to a place where God is wanting to move and create something, you will find prophets and apostles turning up before anyone else. This is not abnormal. They work together . .
    Rivers flow (prophetic)
    Trees grow (apostolic)

  • Nice trotting out of the tension points, and a call to reconciliation. Thanks, Andrew.

  • Dan-D from Canada says:

    Hey all,
    Just to let you know a loving critic of emergent – tooaugust – is getting absolutly trashed at the emergent-us blog site. To the point where people are tracking him down and posting links to a picture of him online (I don’t think its actually him but still…). He has engaged in dialogue with everyone and is paying the price. Very few seem willing to come to his defense. Anyone here who would be able to come and bring some balance to the conversation would be greatly appreciated.

  • wilson says:

    Andrew. Great post and good reminder! One blog that I have found extremely helpful and great encouragement in grappling and unity between emerging and traditional churches is EMERGE @ http://emerge.typepad.com Ringo’s view is fresh and his heart is pure in his grapling.
    I saw his trackback to your stuff “The Charge of Unity” that was especially good. The Charge of Unity I was suprised to see such a great post completely ignored with only a few responses to it. Let’s support posts like this by sending it around the emerging blogs and traditional ones.

  • Thanks, I needed to read that today.

  • gaz says:

    Nice one Skinny – im a simple fella, a lot of new words for me.
    I would value your thoughts on some of the below and would like to comment on bobs questions about the difference between prophostolic and pasteachers.
    you can also see my rants at http://www.emergensee.blogspot.com
    In working in a regional setting in the uk, looking for rising leaders in and through all things – when we work into a locality with leaders of the church there – and increasingly small number are actually congregational leaders.
    As the life and work spheres come into view – most centred church leaders are ill equipped to …well….equip as they havnt been there for a long time.
    In this defecit – we are finding many leaders of the church body, located in and through the work place – which is great, new and exciting. I would love to know your thoughts on this – swap spit on it.
    Bobs bit:
    I would say that the uk church of the last 40 years (new churches) has been built on the gift of teachers/pastors – as such, has become a safe haven for siants to be looked after and increasingly on this side of the secular divide (which i no longer see myself).
    Prophetic folks / watchmen have been seeing and repositioning back into life and work, not simply speaking prophecy but embodying it. Th eapostolci is not what we have seen before – it could be the water delivery boy, if he is about reform in society – extendign kingdom and the presence of church, tearing down /building up. There are lots of those – we shoudl be grateful.
    But the bottom line is church is built upon the foundation of prophets and apostles. What im findign here is those tow are partnering probably for the first time in any effective way.
    All good.

  • davidt says:

    12 or 13, no matter, great stuff.

  • Bob says:

    Thanks Andrew and g for your responses. I’m much more able to comprehend at 2 in the afternoon than 4 in the morning! 😉 Your clarifications were very helpful in that.

  • Bob says:

    Thanks Andrew and g for your responses. I’m much more able to comprehend at 2 in the afternoon than 4 in the morning! 😉 Your clarifications were very helpful in that.

  • john o'keefe says:

    andrew – very cool, and very on target 🙂

  • Mark Thames says:

    Great points and structure. And very positive. Here’s my off-the-cuff two bits.
    1. Both emerging and established are easily caught up in the trend-consuming nature of the culture. Of course you’ve talked about this many many times. For emerging, this tends to become what i call hipatitis, an addiction to a smug coolness and hipness. The feeling can easily be that what’s interesting is only what came out on the web for the first time this week, and so established church institutions and so on can’t be of any interest.
    For established people, it tends to an ugly “this won’t last anyway” attitude, a belief that all cultural change is ephemeral, on the order of changing fashions, and not fundamental. So no attention needs to be paid to emerging things, because they are in essence passing things.
    Both of these mitigate against a John 17 unity of the Spirit required for our evangelism to be effective.
    2. speaking of, i am out of so many loops it spins me in circles, but i have not yet heard of any sweeping movement of the Spirit in evangelism in pomerging circles. this affects a lot of things, but just think about its impact on the training of leaders, since “pastors,” i.e., shepherds, need sheep to herd.
    as you say, in a goat-dominated world, other things are needed than pastors. but “apostles” i.e., missionaries, need different training. and i think the theological component of that, given the different situations apostolic people are in, is very challenging.

  • bill says:

    I echo the sentiments of the previous comments. Thanks for doing the hard work of building & maintaining bridges. We will help.

  • 12 Tension Points

    Another good entry from Andrew Jones in regards to the emerging church.

  • 12 13 Tension Points in the Emerging Church

    A dozen tension points, in 13 parts… with 2 apocryphal add-ons. How tense is that? Excellent overview of where traditional and EC differ and where they struggle to see eye to eye.

  • 12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church

    great sum up from tall skinny kiwi

  • appreciated you putting those thoughts together!
    i see some of these tensions being fleshed out between church plants and established churches.
    i think in some ways, things have to be articulated to those in others circles not as an either/or but just as an emphasis issue. i know that’s what you were doing, but contrasting theology to missiology is going to make a lot of people nervous. people outside of the movement are going to see that and really put up a resistence.
    instead, saying you embrace the missiological emphasis of the Word of God may help others not fear things so much. obviously, theology is key. without a study and pursuit of God, what’s the point? what’s the mission?
    I know you’d agree. i just think that those who view with suspicious eyes are going to read certain thoughts the wrong way.

  • andrew says:

    thanks for the heads up, danny. what you say is correct- there have been tensions here for 150 years of missiology and the Jesuits were dealing with it even earlier.
    a big question is “which comes first?”
    – is missiology the mother of theology, or is missiology just a sub-division of theology?

  • “12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church,” by Andrew Jones

    The “TallSkinnyKiwi,” Andrew Jones, has just written a great overview of some of the “new directions” emerging churches are attempting to take (in his opinion, they are tension points between emerging and tradit…

  • Aj says:

    So what’s a person to do if they have a compassion laid on their heart for those in “institutional” church? I would like to share these insights with my traditional meeting: what’s a good way to “translate” or open up lines of communication? How is one to work around, or within, these tension points? Have most emergent folks given up dealing with institutional church?

  • andrew says:

    hi AJ (i’m an Aj also)
    a lot of us are still involved in traditional church and emerging church at the same time. The point is not to be emerging, but to be an appropriate and prophetic expression of the body of Christ in the given culture.
    my advice:
    1. talk people and not philosophy. your church may make changes if it concerns the young people (elder’s daughter).
    2. Go back to the original documents of your church and find the missional heart why God started that church. You will probably find a direct relationship with what you feel and the reason for your church to exist.
    3. Give them time
    4. Dont expect considerable change. Its not good for an old wineskin to stretch too much in case it bursts.
    5. Create understanding and use it to gain freedom for the next generation – they are the ones who will impact their world and they are the future. If you can make some space for them by interpreting them to the older folk (like Boaz did for Ruth) then you will have acheieved a great thing.
    6. Be prepared to suffer like Jesus did.

  • Tension Points in the Emerging Church?

    Andrew Jones writes a thoughtful piece on 12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church. He writes: ‘I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much…

  • SPCC::Blog says:

    12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church

    [by Andrew Jones] I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much as you think, but there is certainly a lot of heated discussion, mud-slinging and…

  • SPCC::Blog says:

    12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church

    [by Andrew Jones] I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much as you think, but there is certainly a lot of heated discussion, mud-slinging and…

  • SPCC::Blog says:

    12 Tension Points in the Emerging Church

    [by Andrew Jones] I have noticed there is still a lot of tension in the relationship between emerging church and the traditional church. Not as much as you think, but there is certainly a lot of heated discussion, mud-slinging and…

  • darren says:

    Andrew –
    With respect to your third point regarding the sermon and the story, I have seen you and others write about this tension, but I would like to hear what you’re saying. Now that podcasting is beginning to hit on all cylinders, do you have any recommendations as to where I might hear narrative preaching highlighting a proposition?

  • Great stuff TSK!
    A great summary which I will pinch and use – with acknowledgement of course 🙂

  • Tensions in the Changing Face of Church

    These tension points have been around the church for over a decade, and perhaps it is that in the emerging scene they are grappling with it without necessarily having the historical journey… a tree needing to discover its roots?

  • Tensions in the Changing Face of Church

    These tension points have been around the church for over a decade, and perhaps it is that in the emerging scene they are grappling with it without necessarily having the historical journey… a tree needing to discover its roots?

  • Eric Landry says:

    Regarding your second point of tension: “The reformation moved the table to the side of the church and the pulpit to the middle.” What is the historical substantiation for that? Lutheran churches have always had the Table in the center of chancel. Calvin intended to include the Lord’s Supper every time the Word was preached, “or at least weekly” in the Genevan church order, but was frustrated in his attempts by the city council. I’d appreciate knowing what sources you are relying on for this point of tension or if it is something you’ve noticed in some contemporary Reformed and Lutheran churches.

  • Lettuce says:

    Thanks for input at the custard factory.
    Here is a quote which may create some useful ‘interference’ patterns:
    “Cecchin began to focus increasingly on the “prejudices” which operated in the mind of the therapist. “It is impossible not to have a prejudice. The most common is ‘I am here to help you’. The more helpless they become, the more helpful you become,” he explains. “It’s not a question of expertise, how long you have been working. It happens all the time You always gravitate to the school that fits your prejudice.”
    That begs the question: If prejudice is so inevitable, what does one do with it? Cecchin suggests that the best use for prejudices is to be acutely aware of them, rather than engaging in the futile business of trying to shake them off. But, at least try to understand the family well before trying to exercise your prejudice on it, he urges. If not, you run the risk of being so blindly attached to your prejudices that you will always find exactly the fault you are looking for in the family. An alternate prejudice, he adds, would ask what is right with the family: what allowed them to survive for this long, alive and seemingly cohesive enough to get to therapy as a unit with an intent to do something about their difficulties. “Even in the most awful story, you can always find something interesting.”
    whose tension points?
    what prejudices?
    what is right even if something is ‘wrong’?
    I’d agree with many of the points – helful. but there are some many power words there where are the lamb words/stories?
    Once something is emerging-ent it will have problems and someone or some people will try to fix it. Who, why, how, what with, who will benefit inthe fixing and how?
    how do we find emergent (lamb?) ways of fixing or not-fixing?

    Establishment church can be led in emergent ways and emergent church can be led in pretty Establishment ways
    Church Style
    any one of those four church styles can need or not and seek or not “therapy”
    but when we seek to help what effect do we have on the helped and what do we become in the helping?
    How aware am I of the prejudices I bring to the n-logue even if I am disposed to be attracted to the emergent (ee)
    once we get into fixing mode we can allow a whole new set of set of prejudices to ?re-emerge
    emergent church carries hope with it
    i hope a new and more ‘circular’ way of resolving tensions can ’emerge’ . . .

  • Tony says:

    Get job of breaking down some of the main tension points. I am in a Fuller seminary class right now and the emerging is one of the hot topics.

  • Little Mo says:

    I have never commented here before, but I find your site interesting, even though I disagree with a lot of it! All part of the “conversation” I suppose.
    nevertheless, on its’ own, point 4 is a bit pejorative. You seem to suggest that teaching about the Kingdom of God is sidelined in trad church, and that trad church has a small picture of what the church is for. Did you mean that? And if you did, could you clarify why?

  • andrew jones says:

    hey little mo
    didnt mean to be pejorative at all.
    quite a few authors have noted that emerging church focuses on the kingdom more than the local church:
    Ryan Bolger of the bolg blog” and Eddie Gibbs in their book called “Emerging Churches” (which is one of the best books on the subject) make this point – that EC talks more about Kingdom than local church and their missiology is informed by Kingdom principles. I would recommend getting that book and roadtesting its observations.
    George Barna says it in a different way – EC focuses on Church rather than church (big C over little c) which is what Thom Wolf has talked about for years.
    have you found the opposite?
    I hope that all churches, regardless of where they are in their journey, will capture a vision of what God wants to do globally and across denominations.

  • Little Mo says:

    I’ll check out the book you recommend. Thanks for that. Thoroughly aware of my ignorance on the whole area.
    I dunno whether it’s just that the church I attend is emerging without realising, but I (we) wouldn’t want to draw the line between the local church and the Kingdom that you seem to be (unless I am mistaken) drawing.
    Yes the kingdom is much bigger than my church, but the medium by which I experience the Kingdom is through a gathering of believers, isn’t it?
    Thus making the local church at its best a prophetic signpost to the bigger kingdom.
    I’m not sure how one has a missiology (that really is a missiology) that isn’t informed by kingdom principles. Am I being dim?

  • andrew jones says:

    no – sounds like you are at a great church that really understands the bigger picture of what God is doing and wants to participate in Kingdom work rather than draws lines and build their own little fiefdom.
    well done!

  • bep says:

    ty for points …. helped to clarafy an assinment and give it some direction in tead of looking like a plate of noodels

  • Louis Krog says:

    I would say no. 14 is pneumatology!

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