Adventures in Hybridity. Part One

Stmagnuscathedral-April2006I want to explore something here. The emerging church, not as a new unattached model of church existing in a tense opposition or competition to the inherited model, but rather as a hybrid, a convergence of old and new, inherited and fresh, old media and print based, liturgic and spontaneous, house and cathedral, a new kind of hybridity existing in a complex web of life in which it is increasingly hard to see people as either church goers or non-church goers. And something that creates tension with previously established authority structures.

An email was sent to me last month and the author (i will call her Bertha) gave me permission to blog it here. Its just one email but it represents the questions of millions of young people who are thinking similar thoughts. I run into them all the time and I dont always know the right answers. You may want to ponder her questions and add your own sentiments.

“Hey Andrew, it was really good to see you in _____ a couple of weeks ago, I know it was brief, but it was a breath of fresh air to chat with you.

It’s been a few years since I’ve been involved with the church, I’ve been floating around on the edge for a while, and it’s hard to know who to talk to as people tend to be either in church (and tell you what you should think/do) or out, and most of my friends are also in the same position on the edge and so don’t really know how to help each other, we just talk about it and agree! I hope you don’t mind if I get out abit of what’s in my head, as I just had a brainwave that you might understand.

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I’ve been brought up to believe that Church leaders are God-appointed and you should submit to them, and to be outside of their authority is to be wrong. I am finding it impossible to separate God from the church, and as I feel at the moment I am not able to have a relationship with the church I am also not able to have a particularly funtional relationship with God. I know this is bollocks but I am so indoctrinated I can’t shake it off, so I am in limbo. I’m not in or out, I’m not with God or against him, and can’t see a way forward. I just live in a place of this tension, and every now again, I hear something about church which really puts my back up or I hear something from elsewhere which questions some part of the Church’s faith and it makes sense, and that throws me.

My faith is quite fragile and I’m not sure about much at all, but my experience tells me that that God is not about fear, and I’m full of it so I know something about the belief I’m stuck with is not right, it’s just hard to figure out which bit and how to get rid of it! I don’t feel like it’s going to be possible to move on and be free to try out other ways of going about trying to live a spiritual life until I’ve shaken off this great obligation to the church and the way they think things should be done.

What do you think? Is it important to be connected with the mainstream church? Is this useful? Is it possible to have relationship with them and retain your own beliefs and do things your own way without being seen as rebellious and anti-authority (and therefore not submitted to God)? And if they think this about you does that matter? And when the church has such a strong personallity and opinions, how can you be sure of yourself in spite of that and reject their opinions if you disagree with them, especially when like me you are very susceptable to that kind of control, no matter how well-intentioned it is?

Ahhhhh. I think you probably get the idea. I appreciate you taking time to look at this. I think I felt a bit strange meeting you in the pub, as last time I saw you I felt like I had a very strong faith, and I felt like I knew what I was about, and I felt very comfortable around people connected with church. In recent years it has been hard to be around people with faith, as my own faith has been non-existant at times as I’ve not even been able to hold on to the idea of there being a God, and when you’re brought up in the charismatic evangelical faith the worst thing you can possible do (maybe apart from smoke and have sex before marriage) is to not have faith and I’m sure you’ll know that for alot of church goers if you can’t talk about your faith, then there’s not much else to talk about. (Incidentally I think I’m a much more interesting person now, and certainly a more loving and accepting person – isn’t that ironic?!).

If you have any good advice or know a book or something that you think might be relevant, then I’d appreciate it. If not then no worries, it’s been helpful just to write some of this down.

I hope you are all well, give my love to Debbie.

Thanks, Bertha”

(not her real name – since on this side of 1953 has named their daughter Bertha)

Here is my cold, heartless response in the form of a book list. but its the beginning of a conversation.


Great to hear from you and to see you last month. Its a big issue and I would like to work through it with you

Here are some resources. 3 Books that come to mind:

1. A Churchless Faith by Alan Jamieson [who is in London May 2)

2. Revolutionaries by George Barna (see my review)

3. Frank Viola’s Who is your Covering?, I have heard, is a helpful resource for those thinking through the role of church leaders and the flock.

Also, my good friend Reinhold has some blog posts that are worth reading – Churchless christians 1 and 2

have a read and get back to me and lets have a chat



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.


  • David says:

    I like the vision if somewhat blurry. I think there are too many silos. We recently left a church, but in one sense you cant. We are all it. My wifes late Dad used to go to at least five different Churches at various times during a typical week. It used to annoy me – that he couldn’t settle down – when I challenged him he used to laugh. I now see him as visionary! Should we think in term of being followers… probably way behind here?
    Also, there is a second wave of people emerging into the emerging – to overuse a word you are trying to get away from. We (for I am one) are in a sense playing catch up to people who have done lots of thinking (and blogging) and are steps ahead. But we (and Bertha) need to go through the same process and conversations and that may be slow. The emerging conversation seems to have been quite intellectual – I don’t ming this – but do you think there is an issue for the common man?

  • jeffrey says:

    i know i know, i’m a lurker. sorry.
    i like the paragraph “bertha” started with: What do you think? Is it important to be connected with the mainstream church? Is this useful? Is it possible…”.
    good questions. Seems that people all over the world are asking the very same things at the very same times. Coincidence? Nah.

  • Adam says:

    Thanks for posting this. I would be interested in hearing more about these kind of conversations you are having with people. I think this is an issue that is much more prevalent than most Christians realize. I really agree with you that more and more the lines are blurring between church-goers and non-church-goers.
    I have read and greatly appreciated Jamieson’s book. I think it is one of the most under-appreciated books out there right now. I also read Barna’s book and found it somewhat helpful. I read Viola’s book but it didn’t resonate with my experiences too much.
    I’m going to read your friend’s blog posts and I hope to hear more from you on this in the future.

  • bill says:

    It was for people like Bertha that we started I’ve found them in the blogosphere and in Christian forums. And they are not only young. There are many Boomers among them.
    Not until I read some books like those you listed from Barna and Jamieson, did I realize how far reaching this phenomenon is. Are you familiar with Alan Jamieson’s forum:
    I’m certainly no expert, but what I read in Berta’s letter to you is someone struggling in Fowler’s stage 4 faith. Or what I call the wilderness stage. Your idea of a place or a church for those on the fringes (a place my friend Reido calls the borders of belief and a Church Without Walls) might be larger than any current denomination. A place where people can grapple with belief, in the modern sense, and rebuild their faith on the way to stage 5.

  • andrew says:

    hi Bill
    yes – I have met both Alan and others from spirited exchanges
    A few years ago I was invited by the WCC to an event in Germany entitled “Believing Without Belonging” – based on a title of a book. I could not make the event but recommended Alan go (which he did) in my place.
    I am not a big fan of Fowler’s stages – i think they are a very modern construct – but I see what you mean.

  • cheryl says:

    Hi Andrew,
    When I read “Bertha’s” letter, a couple of things stood out to me. 1) It very much impressed me as a letter from a woman. This whole church & submission stuff hits women particularly hard, and we find it difficult navigating these waters, even if we aren’t “troublemakers”. 2) Though I eagerly awaited your response, you suggested books to read. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love books, and there are so many good books out there. It’s just that this has seemed to be the discipling method of choice from churches big and small for a long time now (“read this book, it’ll help you and get out of my hair”….not that I’m saying this what you were thinking, but it has been a prevalent attitude out there).
    I guess it is my hope that you really will work through this thing *with* her (and maybe the rest of us with these questions). Thanks.

  • Sue says:

    I too have found much of the emerging conversation rather too intellectual, although fascinating. The most useful book for the ‘commmon man’ – or woman – that I have found recently is the fictional (and free!) e-book ‘So you don’t want to go to church anymore?’ by Jake Colsen, available from his site. Presented in discussion terms, it takes the main character from vague dissatisfaction with a highly structured mega-church through to a lot of new thoughts, without ever condemning traditional churches as such. It tied a lot of things together in my mind and helped me get my thoughts into perspective.

  • This whole conversation sounds like a very useful sequel to McLaren’s More Ready than You Realize.
    Like it is in myself and my friends, we are convinced of Christ…but what now!
    Are we more ready than the church realizes….
    another lurker – James <><

  • jeffrey says:

    andrew–ditto on fowler’s stages.
    sue–good comment. that is the trap that is so easy to fall into isn’t it? coming into those “new thoughts” you mentioned without condeming the current church structure.
    I’m currently asking the question of myself and of God, “does the current church structure (in the U.S.) do more harm than good?” Again, that question is localized to my view of and experience with the church in the Southeastern United States.
    So if i feel that the current system does, in fact, do more harm than good, how do i resist the temptation to condem it?
    (btw, “it” and “the church”, as i used them here, refers to the american institutional format, not the body of Christ around the world.)

  • bill says:

    I cringe every time I refer to Folwer’s faith stages. You’re right that his approach is very modern and it’s reductionist. But I don’t have any other handle for describing that “wilderness” place, phase or whatever, when a Christian grows beyond their home town view of church and Christianity and is left basically homeless until they grow into something else. Or maybe there’s another way to describe it.
    Whatever it is, it has infected great numbers of people. But it’s not really a bad thing if spiritual seekers have others to work through it with them. It is necessary for moving us from religion to faith. And this is sort of what I thought you were talking about. Hybrid communities with multiple levels of attachment or commitment, or whatever the relationship of an individual to a group, or to multiple groups, would be called.
    Something like this has been on my mind for a few years but I can’t get my head around it. So I was excited to read your post. Only in the last month did I find out about Alan’s Spirited Exchanges. If I had known, I might not have struck out on my own.
    I’m not in the church industry so I have little to work with. And I can’t put it into words, so I can’t convince others. The Christian forums and BBSs that I’ve been involved with over that past few years, eventually have the same problems as congregations, complete with church splits. It’s maddening. That’s what brought me to build a meta blog where people could bring their questions and their anger and disappointments without fear of judgment and ridicule. No more pat answers made of propositional truth and meta narratives. And there are also people of other religions besides Christianity who wander the same wilderness. The message of Jesus goes beyond religions and to the depths of human faith and meaning. It should not be locked in a religion.
    The picture I have of a hybrid church uses either the Internet or a coffee shop or even a local charity to thread multiple groups together. These groups include house churches and small groups from multiple congregations, but they also include groups of friends, multi generational families, sports groups, bands, loosely affiliated charity groups, etc.. The people gather for all sorts of purposes, but they all know who the wise and spiritual people are to whom they take their questions. Study groups emerge here and there because they want to. And they disband when they want. No big programs or crusades. Just emergence, and leaders who are able to pickup on what’s emerging, coordinate people and resources to grow it, harvest it, and go on to something else.
    Probably you had something else in mind and what I’m thinking is just silly. But I believe that fewer and fewer people will join religion clubs in the future. They will try out aspects of spirituality like channels on a satellite radio or itunes. The church is dead. Long live the church.

  • Ed c says:

    It’s funny that this came up today. I was praying with a friend this morning who is struggling with the truly inconsiderate leaders of her congregation. While praying, I was compelled to pray into a cry for more spiritual fathers and mothers in the church.
    What does authority look like in the family of God? Parents. When we move away from God’s chosen manner of relating to his children (as father/parent), we make it very easy to hurt others. And when leaders abandon their roles as spiritual mothers and fathers, those under their authority will want out.
    Lord we ask for spiritual parents to lead your people.

  • Matt Overton says:

    Finally, someone says Emergent (or Emerging) is a hybrid of something else! Too many of us are risking a foolish denial that we are as much something old as something new. All of us bring our old church experiences to the “new” ones create. Church is like culture, you swim in it but you don’t escape it. If one denies it, they fail to understand who they are and where they are going. We get to thinking what we are doing is a “new” thing and it becomes sacralized in 40-50 years.

  • Jojospoon says:

    I’ve linked to this post in my own blog. My thought is that the second we try to label something, it’s doomed. So why do we try?

  • paul merrill says:

    great set of replies & original post.
    i personally am INCREDIBLY burned out on worship in church and see no way around that.
    we are committed to going to church, partly for the sake of our 3 kids. we don’t want to isolate ourselves from other believers, and that is what many of the alternatives end up doing.

  • TLC says:

    I posted this on JoJo’s blog as well, but for me, I am annoyed with much of what passes for “religion” these days. The hijacking and subsequent politicizing of Christianity has frustrated me to no end. And yet… I am a Christian, with a relationship with Jesus Christ, first and foremost. And so, though the people who claim to be Christians, (and yet don’t live the way Jesus taught)claim my God, I do not count myself as one of “them.” I would have walked away from Christianity a long time ago..however, I have a relationship with the Living God, and my relationship with Him supercedes the people who claim to follow Him.
    I am active in a church that I do like, for the most part. Corporate church seems to be lacking in some ways, but for me, I am obedient to Christ by going. Also, love covers over a multitude of wrongs. I see it as being obedient to Christ, and as long as the church I attend follows Christ, I will follow them. In areas of politics and social needs, I don’t feel the church does enough. I don’t want to see politics from the pulpit; that irritates me.
    But as far as not having worship that is deep enough, I can get more at home. And if the teaching doesn’t feel like it is enough, I can get more during my quiet time. I don’t think that once a week on Sunday was ever what the Lord intended for growing our relationship with Him. Did you know that less than 5% of Christians even read the Bible outside of church? If they did, would things be the way they are now? I wonder.
    For me, the relationship with Jesus comes first. My membership is an adjunct to that; it isn’t the end-all and be-all of my faith. My faith is in GOD, not in the church, if that makes sense.

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