How James MacDonald Can Avoid Being Emerging

Me right now? Its Sunday afternoon and I am just chillin’ after church. A few pizzas are in the oven and the weather is fine. I read James MacDonald’s article again this morning . . . the one entitled “Why I’m Not Emerging: A Brief Response to the Emergent Church“, located in the COOL STUFF section of his ministry’s excellent looking website. And guess what . . . I am going to help him stay non-emerging and successful at the same time. At least, I will give it my best shot.


Its a good article and people seem to like James MacDonald. Darryl Dash gave it a good blog post and outlined what we can learn from it – so I wont be covering the same ground, and neither will i argue with MacDonald’s thoughts on emerging church . . . except to say that . . .

1. from where I stand, i don’t see emerging church defined by addiction to coolness, nor by a constant negative critique of traditional/residual church – and having met all but one of the leaders MacDonald mentions, neither are they.

2. Because of the lack of christian background in the current emerging culture, I feel that revival is only part of the solution – what is needed more is a new move of God and a new wave of churches started from the ground up among people who have never believed. Hopefully they will be linked to their heritage, but the churches will be different nonetheless than the churches that preceded them.

However, the point is not to argue, especially considering the congeniality of MacDonald’s article and good advice to emergents, but rather give some assistance to James and help him achieve his goal of staying non-emerging.

So I thought it would be a good Sunday exercise to activate my mind by giving it an assignment:

To help James MacDonald fulfill his ministry goals and keep his objective of not being emerging at the same time.

Is it possible? I think so, but it wont be easy.

Before I say anything about dangers and resources, and the emerging threats in his ministry, there is a something on his website that might need to go and I feel it is only fair to bring attention to it.

Notice something strange about that image above??? The first and most obvious step to maintain non-emerging status is to get rid of the theme song for his ministry at Walk in the Word. It was written by David Crowder, one of the leading emerging church songwriters in USA. I am not saying the song is bad – nor that David is bad. In fact, I have met many times over the last 8 years with David both in University Baptist Church in Waco, TX (one of Texas’s original emerging churches, started by Emergent’s Chris Seay) and at emerging church events. In fact, the man rocks and i love him to death. All I am saying is this . . . if one is determined to be non-emerging, as James MacDonald says he is, then having your theme song written by one of the emerging church’s key worship leaders is a mistake. [You can download and listen to the theme song here]
That’s not rocket science – its just simple . If you don’t want to be connected with the emerging church, then don’t sing their songs. Look what happened to non-charasmatic churches who starting singing charasmatic songs!!!

Also, some of the emerging church books in James’s recommended book list might need to be removed. Sally Morganthaller’s “Worship Evangelism” for example, despite being a fantastic book. Sally was one of the original Young Leaders (Pre-Emergent) and leaders in emerging church worship. Of course a simpler solution would be to leave the book list alone, and let James say that although he is not emerging, he sometimes is influenced by thinkers and leaders from the emerging church. That would be fine with me. Like a vegetarian who occasionally eats a hamburger and doesn’t get apologetic – I don’t have a problem with that.


Keeping a non-emerging ministry will be difficult, but not impossible. Here are the danger areas of his ministry that James may want to keep an eye on.

1. The Student Ministry of his church poses a threat. Their Party in the Lot event sounds a lot like an emerging church event. In fact, if they were their own church right now and not subjugated under Harvest Bible Chapel . . well . . . they could probably pass for an emerging church.

If James wants to remain non-emergent, then he should keep them from influencing the main church and discourage them from building their own identity, lest they become an emerging church within Harvest Bible Chapel. And he should pray they do not start a group blog.

And what about the College ministry meeting in the Cornerstone Cafe for their times of “worship, teaching, prayer, small group discussion, and fellowship”(Link)

Did someone say CAFE? [redlight.redlight.redlight.redlight!!!] This is how I got started, back in 1989 when i was a pastor at an Evangelical Free church in Oregon. I started a “contemporary service” in the basement and set it up like a cafe – tables and chairs, coffee in the back, stool on the stage, you know the routine – and you know if because you have visited emerging churches that meet in coffee shops and their own Cafe’s.

But not to worry – as long as the College group keeps a low identity and doesn’t get any ideas about bringing their cafe vibe into the sanctuary, and as long as they don’t want to start a church that resembles their College group experience of fellowship around the coffee maker, there is no reason to assume that they will endanger their pastor’s reputation of non-emergence.

2. The Harvest Academy seems like a great school and I would be happy to send my kids to it. But the philosophy of artistic expression is dangerously close to that of the emerging church.

A quote from Harvest Academy:

“The Visual Arts has as its central vision the development of individual abilities in art as a gift from God and as an expression toward His handwork” Link

Now this should not be a problem as long as James can keep the arts inside the Academy, and also keep it at arms length in the Sunday School, The thing about many emerging churches, especially the simple house churches, is that the children are integrated into the service for the entire event and therefore the painting supplies and interactivity are just part of the wider scene. What larger churches like Harvest generally do is keep the creative expression and participation outside the sanctuary and define the church by what happens among the adults. Keeping this going is certainly possible, but there may be a problem in a few years when students from the Academy, who are used to creative participative learning environments, may expect or even request a more interactive environment in their church meetings.

3. I would keep an eye on the Harvest Bible’s Cross Cultural ministry, since dealing with a missional contextualization necessary for cross-cultural ministry is the exact way of thinking that pointed the emerging church towards a contextual approach to ministry among the one-third of culture that is “emerging”. Authors like David Bosch, Leslie Newbiggin, Roland Allen, Paul Hiebert, Alan Roxburgh, Craig Van Gelder, and some of the other GOCN writers are responsible for the rethinking of a missional ecclesiology and the parallels with cross cultural ministry could damage his non-emerging status.

4. The church planting goals of Harvest bible are honorable and I hope other churches also have a corporate goal of starting new churches. But normally, new church plants adopt emergent behavior as they take root and grow up in a new culture. Having new “emerging” church plants might jeapordize MacDonald’s non-emerging status.

Luckily, there are 3 workarounds which may work for James. I don’t like any of them, personally, but it might be the only way to start new churches and remain non-emerging.

a) take a chunk of your church people, give them a large bag of cash and start a church with them. You can immediately start a heirachical, well structured church without going through the emergent process. (It may cost half a million to do this but the salaried positions will guarantee doctrinal compliance)

b) Start a church among suburban, middle class Christians who have just moved into the area (ie, from another church that is now geographically distant). Locate it where the new 2-storied houses are being built and put stock into your kids program. Figure about $200,000 for the first year.

c) Start a church for Christian college students who have just moved across the country to go to university. Locate it next to student housing or the university and put money into a worship leader who is one notch higher than the other churches. Put aside $100,000 for the first year.

Any of these church planting methods will allow you to start a church without the emerging process. Most emerging churches do not have this luxury, since they don’t have a starting budget (figure about $100 for pizza, a web domain and a bribe for the coffee shop owner) but many of them would say that incarnating into the new culture and building slowly with seekers is actually a better way to go . . . but again . . i am not here to push my own thoughts or suggestions.

5. Bloggers from James MacDonald’s church like Kevin Kelley (or Matthew) not only run the threat of falling into the blogosphere which is where much (the majority??) of the emerging church conversation happens, but worse, if they achieve a high google rating then they will become the chief storytellers for Harvest Bible Chapel on the internet and not Dr MacDonald


Either Harvest Bible Church starts their own blog, centrally controlled and edited, and raise their status on the search engines through trackbacks and permanent links ( a church of 6000 adding permanent links could ascend Google mountain in a single month),


they bring people like Kevin on staff and be very nice to them, since the Kevins and his fellow geeks might soon become the gatekeepers of the church for all those that connect to Harvest Bible through the internet.

And so we have it . .. some practical advise for James MacDonald to grow and multiply his church without being emerging. This reminds me of my teaching in 2003 entitled ’10 Ways to Connect With Emerging Culture without Being Postmodern’.

My pizza came out and is now eaten. And its time to give the house a clean . .. and so I sign off.

If anyone out there finds time in their Sunday afternoon schedule to read this, then i hope you will not take it as a criticism because it certainly is not. For those wishing to discuss James MacDonald’s article, I would send you off to the post at Dashhouse.


Afterthought (AUG 13)

I guess what i was thinking, simply put, was this :

Take the decentralized creative elements of Harvest Bible Chapel (which sounds lie a great church, btw) out of the Academy, the Sunday School, the youth program, the College cafe, the website graphics, the theme-song from the radio . . and bring them all together in one room at the same time – the way many holistic emerging churches do . .. and all of a sudden, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the two.

Yeah . . .I think thats what I was getting at.


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.


  • KC says:

    I recently received MacDonald’s beef with the emergent stuff. It was passed around here in No. Cal. Anyways, I like what your posting. I will check back you through the weeks. Lord be with you.

  • How James MacDonald Can Avoid Being Emerging

    By TallSkinnyKiwi: However, the point is not to argue, especially considering the congeniality of MacDonald’s article and good advice to…

  • alan hirsch says:

    I’m a sucker for irony (ala Socrates and Kierkegaard.) Well done. Due to your strategy, MacDonald can now avoid the dangers of emerging and any other form of innovation. Should keep him busy for the next 20 years.

  • Sivin Kit says:

    this post will keep me in “thinking” mode for the next 20hours! 🙂 thanks Andrew – as always insightful

  • Greg says:

    Is evangelizing ’emergent church’ too? I get a feeling, reading your post, that it is…

  • andrew jones says:

    hi Greg.
    how i understand the definition of emergent and emerging is
    here and here

  • Ken Archer says:

    I didn’t “harshly reject” Carson’s book. Andrew, did you harshly reject it? OK, guys, whoever harshly rejected Carson’s book on a blog, fess up now.

  • andrew jones says:

    no – not me. I chronicled my journey with his early tape series but never harshly rejected it because it contains some good advice.
    But I would also like to know who “harshly rejected” it. Did Carson name anyone or is he perhaps referring to some harsher comments on other blogs in relation to his book?

  • Tim Bailey says:

    Ok. I haven’t “chuckled” through a blog post this much in a long time. Thanks.
    (actually, I haven’t used the word “chuckle” for a long time either…)
    …give them a large bag of cash….(chuckle, chuckle)
    Great thoughts.

  • Matthew says:

    How Kiwi can avoid being a fundamentalist:
    (1) Avoid sentences like “What larger churches like Harvest generally do is…” That is very non-emergent. It’s the fundys who like to group everybody together into totally simplistic reductionist groups, not the emergents.
    (2) Avoid claiming people for your cause. Fundamentalists like owning stuff and people. They say stuff like “Billy Graham is not ours, but Pensacola is. Fuller used to be ours, but now it is not.” A true emergent would never own (or disown) David Crowder. David is a personal friend and would never be tied to any label, which is why he leads worship at MacDonald’s church yearly AND writes forwards for all types of YS books.
    (3) Avoid certainty. “i hope you will not take it as a criticism because it certainly is not.” By labeling this post as one thing and certainly not another, you avoid the sort of “what does it mean to you” thinking that the emergent church needs. Fundamentalists are the ones who tell you how to take things.

  • andrew says:

    thanks for adding to the irony of it all.
    sometimes i get labelled fundy and sometimes i get labelled emergent and sometimes i get labelled Christian, – all 3 have negative and postive connotations, – i am also labelled a baptist . . . in particular because of my association with the same Baptist organization that David has also enjoyed working with – which by the way really does not care if it is emergent or not, far better to focus on being obedient and upright and Christ-like.
    i hope you will not tie me to any label. i appreciated my years in fundamentalist churches and carry much with me from them – which is helpful to me when i preach in fundamentalist churches. I also appreciate those moments when i hang with the emerging church – I love the life and vitality and honesty.
    I feel that loving many parts of the church gives me freedom to have some fun in my conversations and blog. God forbid i would have to stop my humor and be less human.
    the spirit of Christ that is in David Crowder when he sings and in James MacDonald when he preaches is the same spirit who has baptised us all into the same body.
    is it possible that as ONE family of God, that we can have fun together? I think so.
    oh . . and . . please leave an honest link to a real place next time you comment rather than a false one – it helps with accountability and communication.

  • Matthew says:

    “is it possible that as ONE family of God, that we can have fun together? I think so.”
    Me too. That’s what we’re doing, right? I’ll speak for myself and say that’s what I’m doing.
    Sorry about the website. I don’t have one… I love though. It always makes me laugh, which I felt was in the spirit of your post and my comments. As far as accountability, I left my real email address on the original comment and this one as well… and would love to hear from you.
    “God forbid i would have to stop my humor and be less human.” Amen.

  • Andrew Jones says:

    hi matthew – my apologies – i couldn’t read your tone well – its hard in a text based world where there are no facial expressions to soften things or show irony/humor
    zombo is cool – i just discovered it today from your comment – it seems like a site to go to when you need someone or something to cheer you up or give you some color
    its minimal . . . i like it

  • Dan-D from Canada says:

    If you like Zombo you’ll love Try it, it’s fat-free.

  • Why I’m quickly becoming a fan of James MacDonald

    I posted a bit about my experience with James MacDonald last year. Others have gently pushed back on some of…

  • Jason says:

    A well done, well thought out response to MacDonald (whom I love).
    I think, however, you might be confusing MacDonald’s recognition that we are in the 21st century with some overlap into Emergent territory on his part. Being contemporary and relevant does not necessarily mean one is treading Emergent waters. Emergent does not have the corner on “moving into the future.”
    Several of your comments, such as WITW’s theme song being Crowder penned hit the mark. But some of your other observations seem to almost equate being up to date with the culture as an exclusively Emergent quality. This is simply not the case.
    Just some thoughts…I enjoyed your article and thought your arguments had real merit. I also thought they might be slightly tainted by an overestimated view of Emergent as the well from which all things contemporary and relevant flow (i.e., if it is relevant and up to date, it must have some tie in to Emergent, whether it wants to admit it or not).

  • Jackie says:

    All I could key in on was, YOU help clean house?!? If that is how emergent men act in the home, then I am IN on this emergent culture! Sign me up right now.
    I am starting to think that by your loose list above, pretty much every church that adds something new and fresh to their lineup is now emergent. Seems like we all have a cafe and loft and breakout section in our churches.
    Good article. Very cheeky 🙂
    Good on ya! (man I miss saying that).

  • aaron budiman says:

    Hey all,
    The cool things in the emergent church, bring it on, but
    For me the issue is that some who are “emergent” deny truths of the Bible including Jesus is God. On this, James McDonald is valid in not wanting to be called emergent. But hey, that doesn’t mean his church cant do cool stuff.
    I do not call myself emergent for the above reason. But I love cool…..

  • andrew says:

    Aaron. I have never come across anyone in this movement that denies that Jesus is fully God. this is a serious accusation and if you are telling the truth, please email me with the details of the leader involved. I am currently at a big festival where Jesus is totally the center – no question.
    so . . fess up. is this just a rumor or can you substantiate it?

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