Emerging Church Archives

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Emerging Theology

18 June, 2004 9:37 AM

This week has bee a busy time of networking and meeting others who are planting similar types of communities to Living Room. This morning I'll be catching up with a few others from emerging missional communities for coffee. Its our second get together and I'm really looking forward to it.

Yesterday morning a group from our denomination from four emerging missional communities got together to 'talk theology'. I guess we've been realizing that there is a lot of talk going around about new styles of doing church, mission etc - there is a lot of dreaming, experimenting and tweaking going on around the world in terms of church structure etc but we haven't seen too many 'emerging' forums to discuss theological issues. So we had a breakfast over which we had some rich discussion around issues of 'conversion', 'salvation', 'creation theology' to mention just a few topics. It was very refreshing not only to be hanging with fellow planting travelers but to get into some meaty discussion.

Bash the Bride - face the Bridegroom

10 June, 2004 2:59 PM

Have been having a number of email and real conversations today about Emerging Church with friends. One recurring theme is that many 'Emerging Churches' and 'Emerging Christians' are very negative towards 'the Church'. The idea of 'Church Bashing' is something that we observe happening more and more. Here is something I wrote in an email this afternoon...

'One piece of advice I give is that the 'discontent' that many of us feels needs to be watched carefully. I think its good to have some discontent about church, but there comes a point where we can get very bogged down in it.

The key is to continually challenge ourselves and those around us to do something with the discontent. Its very easy to pull things down - anyone can do that - but the challenge is to force oneself to thinking about what we'll build in its place.

Someone (I think it was Neil Cole) once said to me, 'if you bash the bride (the church) you've got to be willing to face up to the bride's groom' (Christ).

One of the big problems I see with many 'emerging churches' is that they form out of an atmosphere of discontent. If this is the foundation of building something new then it will infect what is built.

I've seen a couple of groups start like this - they did not last long and they ended up leaving some of their members feeling even more disillusioned with Church than when they started. They came to a point when they realised the main thing they had in common was their critique of the Church.

We're working hard to create a space with Living Room where we can critique the church, but don't allow that to become our major focus. Our focus is Jesus and his call to love God, our neighbors and each other.

Some days 'the Church' does frustrate me and I do feel discontent and angst towards it, but deep down I love the Church and want to see it reach its potential.

What do you think? Is it healthy to have some discontent? How much is too much?

Massachusetts Emerging Church

10 June, 2004 10:10 AM

I've just had an email from a reader asking if I know of any Living Room like groups in Massachusetts. I don't but I thought I'd ask if anyone else does. So do you?

Experimenting with Rhythm

3 June, 2004 2:53 PM

And The Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat, Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet...

I've been conducting a little experiment at 9am every morning for the past 4 months. It involves a short walk, an investment of $2.50 per day and a great coffee.

The experiment - to see what would happen if I intentionally placed myself in the same place (a local cafe) at the same time (9am) every day (I have to miss one or two occasionally, but its rare).

Its been an interesting experiment so far. I guess I'm doing it to help me reflect upon 'mission' and 'engagement with culture', but its also teaching me a lot about human nature (and myself).

The cool thing about being at the same place at the same time for 120 days in a row is that you find that you're not as unique as you might think. You see there are a number of other people whose daily rhythms intersect with mine at that time most days of the week. Some of them are paid to be there (staff) but quite a few are not.

The interesting thing for me is to watch the way in which we 'regulars', who share 30 or so minutes in this common space each day, interact with one another. There is something of an unspoken camaraderie emerging between us.

Cafes in Australia are not very interactive spaces (we go to the pub to interact with strangers - cafes are for quite chats with friends or silent times alone with a book or paper). However I'm finding that in the past few weeks the interactions I'm having are becoming more regular, longer and on a deeper level.

They have progressed from sideways glances, nods and smiles to knowing names, asking about weekends and chats about life and even faith one one occasion. This last weekend V and I even went to see one of the waiter's band play in a local club.

This may not seem (and probably isn't) that remarkable - but for me it is a new experience.

I'm not sure it comes across here in my writing, but I'm an introvert. In fact when I do personality tests they often come back indicating that I'm an off the chart introvert. As a result I find meeting complete strangers something that is a little out of my comfort zone (I'd rather extract my own teeth with a hammer and chisel). It isn't that I don't like people - I'm quite fine at having a conversation with someone that I know - its just the meeting of new people that is a little freaky.

Nothing amazing has happened yet with any of the people I see each day - maybe nothing will - but I'm amazed at the opportunities that have opened up to meet some great new people as a result of disciplining myself to establishing a new rhythm and by being open to meeting others whose lives will intersect with mine as a result.

This has been my Blogger Idol Entry for the week. blogger_idol-1.gif

Culture and Church - Open Mike

1 June, 2004 12:09 PM

I've been asked by my Dad to consider a question about the Church and Culture. I'd like to open it up for some discussion here and would value anyone and everyone's opinion.

'I am doing a series of sermons on mission and want this week to put in some material that will help a basically 60's plus congregation to begin to understand the key things happenning in our culture and how we might come to grips with living and speaking the gospel in that context.'

Another way of asking the question is:

'Whats' happening out there in our culture that the church needs to see and hear?'

I've begun to assemble some scattered thoughts (I'll add a few of them below to start the discussion) but would very much value your insights and experience so consider the Mike Open and have your say below. Dad will be reading your thoughts also.

Suspicion of Institutions � We see it in the way people view banks, the government etc � the same is true for the church. People are suspicious of what they perceive as rigid, old and inflexible structures. I suspect that some of the child abuse scandals in the priesthood and issues of who we will and won�t ordain have perhaps effected this.

Sexuality � As a young adults this was one of the biggest reasons I would say that many (most even) of my friends left the church. For most they did not find church to be a place for them to comfortably and naturally talk through issues pertaining to Sex and Sexuality. They saw the church and these issues as mutually exclusive - something I find very sad. Here are some suggestions on how we might move forward on it.

Firstly we need to talk about it more, especially with our young people - most churches barely speak about the topic at all. Secondly perhaps we need to do some good hard theologizing on the topic, not just at a high leadership level but at the grass roots. We may end up with the same positions that we started with but at least we will have a better understanding of the issues that are being faced. Thirdly I think we need to somehow move to a more inclusive position � even if we do not agree with people�s lifestyle choices I suspect that there is room for people in our churches to move towards God as much as their is room for people in our churches who have issues with greed, impatience etc.

The way we learn and communicate is changing � people do not learn by being presented with monologues or rote learning anymore (did they ever?). They are much more interactive, creative and hands on in the way in which they learn and understand issues of life and faith. This has implications for the way in which we teach/preach and do worship.

Consumerism � I am coming to see that consumerism is perhaps the biggest threat/challenge that the church has perhaps ever faced in the West. It is something that has crept into life in more ways than I think we are aware. I�ve seen a number of friends recently do almost complete about faces in terms of their views on their faith and calling and I wonder if it is something to do with the pressures that they feel to conform to the pattern that is laid out for us as how we are �supposed� to live our lives. I know V and I struggle with this one also - the pressure to 'have' is great.

So many people seem to get their idea of self worth from what they own, where they live, what they have achieved and what experiences they have or have not had. Unfortunately the church (or some segments of it) has bought into a lot of this. Sometimes its pretty obvious (prosperity doctrine) but more often than not its very subtle � its in the messages spoken from the pulpit, its in the buildings that we meet in and the wizbang programs that we run. I�m not sure how to tackle this. I�ve even heard one or two people lately suggest that the church SHOULD buy into it on purpose because its such an important part of our culture � I worry when I hear these sorts of statements.

Rise of the �Cultural Creatives� � A number of studies lately have been undertaken that look at a new and very large emerging class of people that are emerging across the West.

They are creative people, very interested in Justice, the Environment but also the Arts, good food and wine etc. They have a conscience but can also be very consumeristic in their own way. They are into experiencing life (which I think is something we need to grapple with more in church) as much (if not more than) gaining knowledge. They like to engage the senses. Most churches do not operate on a level that these people can engage with � many �cultural creatives� would find most of our gatherings very dry as it is non participatory and non sensual.

Churchless Christians � Studies are finding that there are a lot (someone recently estimated 112 million - see last post) of people in the West who profess to be born again Christians with a living expression of their faith in Jesus but who have given up on, not found a home in or have stepped out of church. This is both exciting (reminds me a little of Acts when the church was scattered) but also a little scarey for many Christians who like order, structure and to be able categorize people.

By no means is this an exhaustive list - I've only just started. Please add your thoughts, ideas and experiences below, whether they be big and thought through or short and off the top of your head. Thanks.

Christians without Churches

1 June, 2004 12:03 AM

Andrew Jones picks up an interesting post over at Reinhold's Journey on 'Christians without Churches'.

'John Barrett estimates that there are 112 Millions of churchless Christians - men, women and children who confess Christ as their Lord but do not belong to any of the traditional churches. This number is growing fast. I know at least 50 of them. Either this is the Great Apostasy or it is a Great Apostolic movement....'

This is a trend that some of us here in Australia have been noticing also - I'm loosing track of how many people I'm meeting every week that would classify themselves in this way.

When I share these things with many Christians (of the Church going variety) the concern expressed is often around issues of accountability, pastoral care and lack of teaching - many seem to worry that this growing group of people will go 'off track' unless connected in formal ways with other Christians through 'Church'.

Whilst I understand these concerns I'm also very comforted to note that most of my non church going Christian friends have seemed to have generated informal networks of others around them who in a very unorganized way fulfill many of the aspects of church that the rest of us get in the more formal communities that we're a part of.

Like Reinhold I believe that meeting together is important, but that for too long we've allowed our gatherings to become too central in our thinking. I guess this is what I was reflecting on a week or so ago when I was talking about what we place in the centre of of our churches. Often at the centre is 'the gathering' itself which is something I suspect we need to consider moving away from (and perhaps already are if the figures above are anything to go by).

'Purple Cow' Church

20 May, 2004 3:20 PM

purplcow.jpgHas the church lost its remark-ability? Are we just another run of the mill black and white, boring, cow?

This morning I finished reading Purple Cow by author (and blogger) Seth Godin. Its a great little marketing book about being 'remarkable'. The basics of the book are that the way marketing has been done for decades (that if you throw enough money at a advertising a product you can guarantee its success) just doesn't work any more. His argument is that in order to be successful today you need a 'purple cow' type idea, product or service. He illustrates the idea of a 'purple cow' by describing a trip in the countryside where initially the cows by the side of the road grabbed his attention but soon became 'boring' or 'normal'. After an hour or so of driving he didn't even see the cows any more. It would have taken a purple one to get him to notice and be intrigued by a cow by that time.

This is true in many sphere's of life. Seth goes on to talk about how we are bombarded with so many message that it takes a pretty remarkable new product to break through our defense systems. He then goes on to talk about ways of being a 'purple cow'.

I wonder how it might apply to Church? After centuries of the church operating in pretty much the same paradigms, speaking pretty much the same message in pretty much the same way I wonder if perhaps we've lost some (if not all) of our remark-ability? It is a pity, because the message of Jesus is pretty remarkable - Take 'love your enemies' for example. Those are pretty shocking, confronting kind of words to say, let alone live out.

Jesus actually has a similar message to Seth. We're called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Those are pretty remarkable things to be. You certainly know about it when you experience one or the other.

I wonder if we've lost some of our saltiness, if perhaps our light is a little dim. I wonder if perhaps if the church has become a little comfortable. We were the centre of western culture for so long that we've stopping pushing the boundaries and taking initiative. In doing so perhaps we've become a tad boring.

I look at the church as it is presented in Acts 2 and I see a dynamic and remarkable group of people. They are a 'purple cow' in the truest sense of the concept. They live what they believe, they stand out from their surrounding culture - risking everything, giving up all for the cause.

Maybe its time we woke up from our zombie like, comfortable existence and rediscovered some of the remarkable call that we've actually been left with. Maybe its time we became the church of the 'purple cow'.

Lovemarks and the Church

15 May, 2004 5:34 PM

Today I came across a book called Lovemarks. It�s a book that is hard to miss really � bright red, hard back cover, simple yet elegant design.

Its title intrigued me a little �Lovemarks � the future beyond brands�.

As someone who has been interested in marketing for many years I picked up the book, found a comfortable corner of the bookshop and began to read.

The book is a pleasure to read � fresh and visually stimulating with some quality content. The main point of the book is that Brands are dead (or are dying) and that there is a need for a fresh approach in promoting one�s products.

The author (Kevin Roberts) decided to do some research on the question � �what makes some brands inspirational, while others struggle?�

The answer is �Lovemarks�. Let me explain using words from the book...

Lovemarks transcend brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. Like great brands, they sit on top of high levels of respect - but there the similarities end. Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can�t live without. Ever.

Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don�t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That�s why you never want to let go.�

So what is a Lovemark and how does one attain that status?

Respect - Respect is the starting point � without it you�ve got little chance of getting anyone to coming back to your product beyond a first try.

Mixed with Respect the book talks about three ingredients that these inspiring Lovemark brands have:

1. Mystery � when you know everything there is nothing left to discover. �No more surprises, no more wonder, no more opportunities. In a world suffering from information overload, the most powerful attention-grabbers are the things you don�t know.... A Lovemark has great stories and draws together past, present and future. It taps into dreams. Brings back deep meaning in myths and icons.' Create some mystery and you give people a reason to come back for more.

2. Sensuality � The senses evoke strong emotions in us. Its amazing how just a simple smell can transport us to another place or the look that someone gives us can impact our mood so dramatically.

�Emotional connections are at the very heart of a Lovemark. So it makes sense that the crucial elements of design, scent, texture and flavour � things that appeal directly to the senses � will influence your response over and above the more �rational� product arguments.�

3. Intimacy � without this you are not able to truly touch and inspire on a deep and lasting level. Lovemarks show commitment, empathy and passion.

The book makes a lot of sense and evokes a number of thoughts in me. One is that these Lovemark elements remind me a lot of the person of Jesus - Respect, Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy all feature heavily in his approach.

Another train of thought I've been having is the parallels between Lovemarks and some of the lessons many of us have been learning through our exploration of the Emerging Church and Alternative Worship movement.

The themes of Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy are ingredients that many of us have been experimenting with over the years in our desire to make church a more relevant and embracing place for those living around us. They are elements that I suspect the church on a whole will need to grapple more with in the years ahead also.

The element of the �Lovemark� approach that I suspect that we struggle with the most (and therefore need to work on the most) as �The Church� here in Australia is that of �Respect�. In my daily interactions with fellow Aussies I�m constantly reminded of the suspicion and mistrust that so many feel towards the Church. The reasons for this disrespect are many and complex � much damage has been done over the decades and centuries that proceed our time.

If the �Lovemarks� approach is a way forward for us then alarm bells should be ringing in our ears by now. We can work on creating Intimate, Sensory, Mystical spaces and worship experiences for as long as we like, but without Respect we�re wasting our time and energy.

Our discussion as Emerging Church practitioners needs to not only focus upon the themes of Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy but also that of Respect. How do we rebuild respect? How is respect built in a time when institutions are so often seen with suspicion and mistrust? Is respect earned on a personal one on one basis or are there ways it can be earned on a larger scale?

Much of the information above on Lovemarks was gleaned from the Lovemark Website. For more detailed information get your hands on the book itself. You might also like to read an address author Kevin Roberts gave on the topic.

East meets West

7 May, 2004 6:22 PM

In the last 24 hours I've had opportunity to speak to two very different groups about what we're doing with LivingRoom.

Last night I went travelled due West to a sister missional community that is working with young people in those suburbs. They are doing some amazing work in schools and in other relationships with young people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They're working in a culture where drug culture is pretty powerful. We had a night of story telling and I was totally blown away by the commitment and faith of this small group - not to mention their warm welcome and interest in what we're doing. Whilst our suburbs are vastly different from one another there are some real common threads that run through the values of both groups. For example we both have a real heart for our wider communities and we both see food as central in what we do.

Today I travelled due East - to the bible belt of Melbourne - to share with a group of mainly older Christians from churches around Melbourne who were gathering to hear about some of the issues that are facing our denomination at the moment. I again shared about what we're doing and the need for more communities to experiment with new models of church and mission.

This group of people could not have been much more different than last night's group. Today the vast majority of people would have been in their 60s and 70s, virtually all were from anglo backgrounds and from those I talked to I gather that most came from fairly conservative mainline type churches. Yet the common thing with last night was the incredible acceptance and even excitement that there were people trying new things. I saw in the eyes of the people that gathered today a real resonance with the things I was talking about - the need for new models, new ways and creativity as we approach the future of church in our city.

Whilst today I sensed a number of people struggled with some of what we do (we don't meet on a Sunday, we don't sing songs, we don't have the word 'Baptist' in our name), there was also a real acceptance that the times we live mean that we need to be open to change, to new ways. I was really encouraged by the warm response and find myself tonight celebrating the diversity yet unity of these two amazing groups of people.

Melbourne Emerging Church Types Get Together

28 April, 2004 10:26 AM

Today I'm off to spend an afternoon and evening with Jim Thwaites which should be interesting.

The afternoon session is for others in our denomination who are doing (or wanting to do) similar missional community plants to us at LivingRoom. There are currently a number of groups around Melbourne doing a variety of projects.

Tonight is an open night to the larger network which should be fun. We're holding it in a great cafe in Brunswick St so there will be loads of good coffee and food too. If you wanted to come tonight you still can - details are here.

An Evening with Jim Thwaites

24 April, 2004 8:07 AM

This Wednesday evening Forge and the Baptist Union of Victoria are hosting an evening with Jim Thwaites - author of �The Church Beyond the Congregation
�, and �Renegotiating the Church Contract�.

He will be reflecting on the Hebrew vision of world, work and self into heart, mind and discourse - then staying there for a while before suddenly moving to possible and risky present/future strategies.

Where? - Retro Caf� (upstairs) 413 Brunswick St Fitzroy (Melbourne Australia)
When? - Wednesday 28 April 7pm till 9pm
How Much? - $10 Waged - $5 Unwaged

It'll be a great night of learning which would be ideal to bring a small group to. We are having our whole group from LivingRoom come along as our main gathering for the week. Contact me for more details.

Blog Strolling

21 April, 2004 10:49 PM

Tonight I just took a little virtual stroll around some of my favorite emerging church blogs to see what was being discussed and here is some of the more stimulating stuff I found...


Alan Creech is blogging about liturgy as '"second-hand" prayers'
in life of liturgy 2.0 .

'While I certainly understand the philosophy behind only wanting to pray prayers that are considered "from my own heart", I would challenge the idea that any prayer written and prayed by one of my siblings in Christ, or taken from Scripture, cannot be adopted by "my heart" and then lifted up to God very sincerely and effectively and genuinely, out of love for Him, and in the context of real relationship.'

Justin is blogging on a similar theme in Rhythms of Contemplative Prayer.

'As a good conservative kid, I grew up knowing that the best prayers are original, spontaneous, lofty, and long. Using prayers someone else wrote a long time ago - even good ones - was not acceptable; prayers needed to be generated on-the-fly, or God wouldn't listen.'

Hamo is blogging about Sabbath Spaces

'how do you distinguish between work and play when in this environment? If I go fishing or surfing with someone from the community is that work or recreation?.. Or both?... If we have people round to dinner is that work or friendship?... Or both?... If I try to take Saturday as a day off does that mean I shouldn't hang around people who might be 'work'?

Steve is talking about the textures of worship.

'How much of our worship is flat walled and mono-coloured? What would it mean to create textured worship, multiple layers, unexpected swirls, differently weaved and woven patterns.'

Emerging Networks

19 April, 2004 11:24 AM

Caught up with Barb for a coffee this morning to talk about what our communities are doing. It is great to know that there are a variety of new models of emerging missional church operating within just a few kilometers of each other.

We worked out that there are at least five such communities doing stuff in our immediate region (the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne)- some of them have multiple expressions/groups operating. We all take slightly different approaches and have different levels of organization, styles of leadership etc - but there are a number of common elements in that we want to find new and culturally relevant ways of expressing faith, connecting with our wider community and understanding what it is to be a corporate body of followers of Jesus.

We decided to have a gathering for key leaders of each group mid May which will be a good time of sharing stories, building relationships and sharing dreams. Should be fun.

'Off the beaten Track' - Emerging Church

13 April, 2004 4:19 PM

'Should I or shouldn't I?'

It is a question I've found myself asking on many occasions over the past yeah and a half as I've sat down to blog on particular matters. One of the first rules of blogging for most bloggers is to work out where your boundaries are of what you will and won't blog about.

It is a question I ask a lot - particularly when I blog about the Livingroom community that I belong to (and which this blog is named after).

Someone the other day said that I keep my cards close to my chest when I talk about the group - I tend to share what we do in our gatherings in impersonal ways and talk about the theory of emerging church rather than about who we are as a group in more intimate ways.

I do this because our little group is a fragile thing, that is still forming identity and finding its way. We (like all communities and churches) are made up of real people - each with our own brokenness and issues - it wouldn't be appropriate to share details that might approach this personal ground.

However in creating such boundaries I guess I run the danger of painting an all too rosy and perhaps rather sanitized picture of what our little group is like, what its like to lead an emerging missional church and the issues that such groups face.

Whilst the past year of birthing Livingroom has been a wonderful experience there have also been times of real lowness and frustration. I've been confronted numerous issues on a personal level as I look at my giftings (and lack of them), the places I get my self worth, the old paradigms that I still unconsciously hold onto and my own personal weaknesses and brokenness.

Working in a small group has its definite pluses but it can also be a lonely and frustrating process. Momentum is difficult to maintain and the pool of resources (not just financial) are much lower.

Amidst the excitement of new beginnings and possibilities comes periods of doubt. It is easy to fall back on old habits of ministry that are 'safe and comfortable' even though that I know that God is challenging us to break new ground.

In preparing for tonight's group I found myself reading Mtt 7:13-14 - the idea of a 'narrow path' is one that I can relate to at the moment. At times I wonder if we're on a path at all and if we're just 'bush bashing' - maybe we lost the track a while back?

Yet there is a call to continue to move forward that drives me on - despite the the narrowness and congestion of that which surrounds our 'path'. I'm not sure what the destination is (or is there one?) but the call is to keep journeying - and we do.

Rural Emerging Church?

4 April, 2004 7:30 PM

Tasmania is a beautiful state of Australia. It has some incredible wilderness areas, beautiful beaches, amazing produce and the people are very relaxed and friendly. It is rather cold (most southerly part of Australia and closest to the south pole) but a good wood log fire fixes that quickly enough. I'm having a great time - home tomorrow on a morning flight. Will update more then. However in the mean time I have a question for your Emerging Church people.

Friday night I flew into Launceston and was met by my host Ben who with his family have been here in Tasmania for almost 10 years working as a church planter/missionary/church consultant. His family is originally from the US.

In Launceston I had a great dinner with a number of people from that region who are interested in missional church models. I got to share the journey of the Livingroom over that meal and answered quite a few questions. They were very open to what I had to say and were really grappling with some meaty missional issues. One of the questions raised was about planting such churches in rural areas which present their unique pressures. For example in a town where everyone already knows everyone (and everyone�s business) and where there are only a few small churches already - there are challenges in starting something new and different.

It got me to thinking about the variety of emerging missional churches that I know of and as I think about it � they are all in urban or suburban contexts. Is there anyone out there doing something new and �emerging� in a rural area? Some of the group last night were trying to birth something and I�d love to be able to encourage them with the story of another group/s. If you know of any could you please let me know below in comments or via my contact page.

P is for Emerging Missional Church

1 April, 2004 3:48 PM

On Saturday after I did my little presentation on the missional church there was another guy speaking by the name of Mike Frost from Sydney. Some of you will know him from his excellent book The Shaping of Things to Come. Mike is an incredible storyteller and speaker who I've found inspiring to listen to for many years.

The part of his talk that I enjoyed most where is exploration of 4 Characteristics of the Emerging Missional Church which I found really helpful in describing a lot of what I see happening in some of the more missional emerging churches around the globe. I've expanded on his main points below with some of my own reflections and a look at a biblical narrative that I find helpful in unpacking it.

Proximity - Many of these new communities (and older ones who are 'remissionalizing') are exploring creative ways of having proximity to those who do not yet follow Christ. By proximity he means that we are putting ourselves into positions where we will bump into and interact with our world. This might happen on any number of levels both formally and informally, individually and corporately. For example my friends in Hobart all decided to move into a suburb 5 minutes walk from a particular pub. They live amongst that community and socialize in that one pub every Sunday night at the same time. They have proximity to both staff and patrons of the hotel.

Another group in Sydney have started a cafe as a business. They run exhibitions, have bands and all the things that normal cafes have and in the midst of it a group of followers of Christ are having daily interactions with those who are not yet believers.

It also comes down to an individual informal level. I go to a local cafe to drink coffee at the same time each day. In doing so I find myself in a space where I begin to know and relate to other regulars and staff. Others in our group have proximity in their sporting clubs, work places, universities, book groups etc.

I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40. Philip in this story allows God to put him in proximity to the Ethiopian. God tells Philip to go to a particular road and then to go walk beside the carriage the Ethiopian was traveling in. Initially all he was instructed to do was to 'stay close' to the carriage. It was out of this closeness to the Ethiopian than an opportunity arose.

I guess the question needs to be asked of the Church and Christians today - what are we in proximity to? Are we living in proximity to those in our community or do we tend to spend more time in proximity to one another as fellow believers? It strikes me that often as churches we make our members so busy with Church related activity (committees, bible studies, services, leadership teams etc) that there is barely enough time for quality time with our own families - let alone be intentional about living in proximity to our world.

Presence - Proximity alone is not enough. Rubbing shoulders is a step in the right direction but just to be near someone generally does not have much impact. Presence is about relationship, about knowing and being known.

Our friends in the pub in Hobart not only go each Sunday night, but they make an effort to know and interact with others in that place. They talk, they buy them a beer, they listen, they invite them home for a bbq. All of these things build presence.

The group running the cafe in Sydney run their business as any other cafe owners would, except that they are intentional about hearing the stories of their patrons, knowing their names and becoming involved in their lives. In this sense they are the presence of Christ in that space.

In my local cafe I've started to learn the names of the staff, have meaningful conversations etc. Others in our community are very intentional about their relationships with those they work, play and socialize with by sharing meals, baby sitting kids, sending cards etc.

In Acts 8 - because Philip was close to the carriage he was able to hear what was going on in the life of the Ethiopian. He heard the searching that was going on and found himself in a position to enter into some kind of relationship with the other man. At the invitation of the Ethiopian (he was very respectful and didn't force himself on anyone) Philip got into the carriage and began to travel with him. He went from being close by to being in relationship with.

Again we need to ask ourselves are we willing to practice this presence in the world? Before we glibly answer in the affirmative lets remember that such an approach is often one of the long haul that can be one of sacrifice.

Powerlessness - If Mike wasn't such a 'Christian' he'd probably have resisted the urge to have a 'P' word here and call it 'Humility'.

Often we attempt to do mission in a very 'powerful' way. We hedge our bets by putting all the resources we can into our 'outreach events' - have the best band, the best speaker, the best venue to optimize the chances of success. We do everything we can to 'make it work' so that all God has to do is 'close the deal'. We also often tend to take the power away from the other person in our missional activities and often 'set the agenda' in our often systematic approaches to mission.

As I read Acts I see a community who really had very little power - they didn't hedge their bets - they were rather 'ordinary' and powerless - they totally relied upon God. As they bumbled along and experimented and explored life and related to their world - God did the mission and they played a humble almost secondary role at times.

It is often when we are most out of our depth and reliant upon God that they most powerful missional interactions happen. I guess this is where another P comes in - that of Prayer.

In the story of Philip we again see this characteristic played out. Who was the powerful character in this interaction? Who took the initiative? As I read the story it seems to be more about God and the Ethiopian to me. Philip seems to be a secondary player in many ways. It is God who seems to be already doing something in the Ethiopian's life even before Philip shows up. Then it is the Ethiopian who seems to take most of the initiative in the interaction with Philip. He invites Philip into the carriage, he asks the questions, he asks if he can be baptized. Philip does speak but it is a genuine response to what God is already doing in the other's life.

It is out of his humble relating to the Ethiopian that God moves in his power.

Proclaimation - It is all very well to be close by, to have relationship and to be humble - but in most cases (or all?) there comes a time where some sort of appropriate proclamation is needed. Of course here I'm not just talking about proclamation by words (although in most cases there probably needs to be some element of this) but also proclamation in action.

In the story we see a time where Philip (in the context of an invitation and questions from the Ethiopian) does some appropriate explaining and teaching. He seemingly joins the dots between the experience and searching on the Ethiopian to the person of Jesus in a very gentle way as they travelled along the road together. The whole process if very much a two way interaction where the experience of the Ethiopian is respected.

Proclamation can be scary for many of us, especially when we take the 'powerless' approach and allow the other to set the agenda and take initiative in the process. But I guess we need to remember the bigger picture and that we have a God who is also involved in the missional endeavor we play a part in.

It strikes me as I look through the four points above that in my own experience of Church that everything there I would agree with and have heard before - however mission often ends up looking quite the opposite. To use some more P words - many of the missional approaches I've been involved with previously have been rather Programatic and Process driven. Maybe its time for a fresh approach?

I'm still working on this - interested in others thoughts.

Questions for the Emerging Church

30 March, 2004 9:15 AM

Received this email from Angus yesterday. With his permission I post it here as a discussion starter. Angus is asking some interesting questions about Emerging Church. I find them helpful although probing - all good ideas need constructive critiques - and am interested in what others think.

'Darren,

I have a question about the whole emerging church phenomenon. I understand the disatisfaction with institutional church and its apparent inability to reach the community with the Gospel. However, what I have read of the emerging church has its own pitfalls.

Firstly, humans have the propensity for organization and formalization, this is even true of an emerging church. Very quickly the way they do things can become the way things are to be done. Falling into the same trap of that which they rejected in the institutional church.

Secondly, emerging church seems to work on the cell type principle of meeting with those of like mindedness. This has proven to be exclusivist in its actualization to the world. We end up having the rich meeting with the rich, poor wioth poor etc exclusive to the other. Is not the Gospel and a community of faith in Jesus be typified by the crossing of such sociological boundries.
I have heard of new emerging churches who have decided to target young families and although they would not say it, the expression of such churches is that those outside of the young families demographic are placed on the outer.
As far as I can see this is problematical for the whole concept of the Emerging Church as such. Does this mean I am against the emerging church movement. No I am not against it but I do have some concerns, and that there must be people who would call things into question, not to hinder it but to be a spur that will help them stay true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

God Bless - Angus Cruickshank'

Looking forward to some fruitful conversation.

Update - Dave answers Angus's questions at his blog and Tim has been writing on Emergent Theology also.

The Emerging Missional Church - Thoughts in Progress

29 March, 2004 2:21 PM

Things went well with the presentation to our denomination chiefs in Adelaide on Saturday. The response was very positive. I was one of three speakers who each addressed the topic of �new forms of mission church/emerging church�.

A few people have asked for my notes - I don�t generally use expansive notes � I tend to go with the flow. However here is a general outline (excluding some of the stories and examples that might not be appropriate for a blog) on the way I went about presenting the topic. It is pretty long (be warned - the session was 1.5 hours and this is around 1600 words) and contains links to other parts of this site that describe some of what I talked about. Hope it is helpful for some. Feel free to add, critique, question, clarify etc in comments. I'm particularly interested in how my experience compares to others experiences in their contexts around the globe. Its a living stream of ideas from a guy who is just bumbling a long trying to make sense of the world he lives in.

Introductions >>

General introduction to who I am and what I do.

Context - Culture >>

we are living in a changing world. We did a very short brainstorming exercise to identify some of the changes we�re seeing in culture � particularly looking at those that impact the way we do church.

Some of the changes identified (to name a few of many) included new ways of:

  • Learning/Thinking � I now spend as much time online interacting with others and reading article when I work on essays as I do reading books.
  • Communicating � the immediacy of online communication is having major impact on how we communicate.
  • Building Community/Relationships � again online interaction and the ease with which we travel is having a big impact upon many of our primary relationships. Along side this the changing nature of family etc.
  • Views of Institutions � more and more institutions are being viewed with suspicion. The church is just one institution dealing with this.
  • Understanding the global context �..etc

Context - The Church>>

We are seeing significant trends emerging in churches that we can no longer ignore and need to grapple with. They include:

  • Overall decline in Church Attendance - The percentage of the Australian population that identifies themselves with a denomination or local church is continuing to decline.
  • Non church going Christians as a growing segment of the Christian population. (this is a fast growing segment of the Body of Christ)
  • Young Adults haemorrhaging from the church. We are ok at doing relevant youth ministry, but the transition to young adulthood sees large numbers of people leaving the church. The stats show us that in previous decades they would return to the church as they had families (in their 20s and 30s), recent indications are that this is no longer so � they are staying away.
  • �The Church is a Joke�. Yes I shared my previous entry � �Jo�s Joke�. This represents message that I�m hearing more and more. In the past month I�d been told the same thing by three separate individuals.
  • There is a growing segment of the population in Australia (and across the West I suspect) that are culturally distanced from the Church and the way in which it operates. 30% of our population are associated with church on some level. 10% of the population are �like us� culturally � ie they talk like us, are open to some of the things we do like group singing to contemporary easy listening light pop music, they have similar moral codes to us. This leaves around 60% of the population here in Australia are culturally closed off or removed from the way the majority of the churches in our country operate. They are people like �Jo�.
  • Most of the Church�s effort goes into reaching out to those who are �like us�. Where do the majority of churches put most of their energies, resources and mission? Well apart from the vast amount of energy that we put into the already churched (just ask yourself how much time we put into the preparation of our services, pastoral care etc), most of us are doing mission that aims at the 10% who are �like us�. I�m no business person, but this doesn�t seem like a very smart strategy. Very few churches are experimenting with ways of connecting with the vast majority (and growing segment) of the population.

Context - The Church�s Response >>

How has the church responded to the changes in our world and the growing cultural distance? There have been a number of movements that come to mind:

  • Contemporary Worship � Worship in the language of the people. New styles of music that people can relate to, more every day language being used in songs etc.
  • Seeker Sensitive Services � Communicating the gospel in a language that the ordinary person will understanding. Using multimedia and the arts (often secular) to communicate the messages of Jesus.
  • Alpha like programs � systems of explaining the gospel in relevant language.
  • Alternative worship � exploring new (and ancient) and creative forms of worship that are more indigenous to culture.

Now hear me right please � I am not attacking or downgrading the importance of any of these methods. I have personally been deeply affected by each of these approaches and know of many others who have come to faith and grown in their understanding of God through each. They are each valid responses to the post-modern world we find ourselves living in.

However (there is always a �but�), I wonder (please hold back your stones now) if perhaps these above approaches might still be largely aiming their efforts on the 10% of the population that are �like us� culturally.

You see the interesting thing about each of the above movements/approaches is that they all seem to be about improving the way we do things with the hope that if we do, people will come to us. They all seem to me to be rather attractional � if we build it � and its good enough � they will come.

Jesus says � �Go into all the world and make disciples�. He says, �You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the Ends of the Earth�.

I�m struggling to find a place where he says, �build it and they will come�.

Formation of the Livingroom >>

at this point I simply shared my own personal journey of coming to the place of planting the Livingroom. I�ve previously written about it here and here.

Livingroom Core Journeys >>

As part of this journey we discovered the three core values/dna that will centre everything we do upon. I�ve previously written about them in quite a bit of detail - they are the Inner, Outer and Together Journey.

Livingroom � Some Specifics >>

I shared then about some of what we do at Livingroom, some of the things we�ve experimented with etc. Much of it I�ve shared previously on this blog � I�ve provided links for each where I could find them.

Global Trends >>

In addition to these features of Livingroom, some of the trends and characteristics of Emerging/Missional Church that I see in the global movement include:

  • Culturally Savvy/Incarnational � take culture very seriously
  • Participatory � all are encouraged to participate/lead
  • Bi-vocational Leadership � Many are lead by leaders with other work/focus
  • Attached Businesses � Many are exploring models of business that not only fund what they do but provide proximity spaces to connect missionally
  • Ancient/Future � exploring both ancient and new ways of praying and engaging with Scripture
  • Question Everything � Scary sometimes but a life giving process
  • Creativity � The Arts and outside the box thinking are central
  • Food/Celebration � the meal features in many emerging churches
  • Practices � Amidst the messiness/chaos of these grass roots communities many are exploring simple disciplines/practices that draw them back to their core values and help them to live them out in daily life
  • Networked � denominations feature less and local and global networks are emerging for support, accountability and shared learning
  • Dissatisfaction � many have an element of angst/frustration/dissatisfaction with �the church�. As with sand in an pearl producing oyster this is healthy, but shouldn�t become the primary reason for the existence of the group � the challenge is to do something positive with the angst and birth something new.

Of course this is only a partial and sweepingly generalised list. This is a pretty similar list to what Steve Taylor came up with in his A � Z of Emerging Church article. I actually handed out copies of this article. He says it better than I could!

Looking Forward >>

In finishing up I wanted to encourage the group to keep the conversation alive. The fact that they are grappling the issue as a denomination and actually funding groups like Livingroom is really progressive. When I share with others around the globe how they support us I get the feeling that many denominations are not willing to engage with this stuff. Its inspiring to be a part of such a permission giving group who not only let us dream, but back us with resources and logistical support however they can. My encouragement was to keep moving forward, keep giving permission, talking up the issues with the wider denominational community and keep exploring ways to resource and develop leaders and groups.

Throughout the session (1.5 hours) we have quite a bit of discussion, questions and throwing around ideas. Over all it was very well received and I�ve come away feeling very positive about the experience. I guess now the question remains what we�ll all do with the conversation. Looking forward to seeing what emerges.

Jo's Joke

26 March, 2004 9:08 AM

It was a quiet Wednesday morning in my local cafe - a place where I go every day if I can, partly because it serves the best coffee in Melbourne, but partly because I'm wanting to make some connections there with the staff and regulars.

I was sitting in my favorite position in the window on a comfy lounge chair. I love the spot because I can watch people go by on the street but also still see everything that is happening in the cafe - I'm a people watcher from way back.

I was sipping on my latte while working on a powerpoint presentation for a talk I'm doing on Saturday when 'Jo', a waitress who I've been getting to know, came up to me to clear my table. She looked over my shoulder at my laptop screen and said - 'You look rather perplexed - what are you working on?'

I'm never quite sure how to explain what I do - the talk I was preparing for was to our denominational heads - I wondered how to explain without freaking her out. She knows I'm 'religious', she sees me reading my bible there some days and sees me meet with people from my community of faith there each week - but we've never talked explicitly about 'Church'.

In the end I told it as it was - 'I'm preparing a presentation for the national leaders of our church - I am a bit perplexed, I'm trying to work out what to say.'

She just stood there looking at me. She did look a little freaked, but she didn't move away from the table. I sat there waiting for her response. It didn't come - she just stood there looking, thinking and seemingly waiting for me to say something.

It was one of those moments where I began to rack my mind for something to say. Do I change the topic? Should I sit her down and explain the gospel using a picture of two cliffs and a cross representing a bridge? Should I gather up my stuff, pay for my coffee and run screaming from the cafe never to return?

I said none of these things but instead found myself asking her a question that if I'd thought about it would never have asked.

'What would you say to them?'

Again she stood looking - time stood still - the silence between us was excruciating. There she stood, peroxided hair with a tinge of pink, pierced nose and lips, ripped baggy pants, tiny crop top, exposed midriff, tattoos. I took in the site and wondered if I'd actually said the question out loud.

Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity 'Jo' responded to me. Not with words however but with hearty laughter. Actually it didn't start with laughter, it started with smiling eyes, progressed to a giggle hidden behind a hand and then progressed to a hearty belly laugh. Others in the cafe began to look, hopefully thinking that she was laughing at some witty joke I'd told her rather than laughing at me. I didn't know how to respond, so I began to laugh with her, all the time wondering what, or who, the joke was.

She wiped her tear filled eyes and tried to compose herself. 'Sorry' she said. 'I don't mean any disrespect. I can't imagine talking to people like that, but if by some strange chance I did, the only thing I can think to tell them is that the Church is a complete Joke.'

I wasn't quite sure how to take Jo's words. Part of me did feel a little offended to be honest, but most of me found myself agreeing with a lot of how she explained herself. She went on to share that she had had some experience of the church growing up but had left as a teen. In more recent years she had been back on a few occasions for friends baptisms and weddings. She described those experiences as 'like visiting another planet' and 'like stepping back in time'.

She very articulately explained that her friends just didn't talk, relate or behave like people did in church. Add to that her opinion that the church wasn't really handling issues like ordaining women, sexuality or child abuse by clergy very well and her opinion was simply that it was all a joke that she could never take seriously.

At that point 'Jo' had to serve someone else and I was left to ponder her words. The cafe got busier and there was no opportunity to talk more except for the moment when I went up to pay. I thanked her for her thoughts and said I might quote her in my presentation. She said that was cool and almost embarrassingly said - 'Don't get me wrong, I'm a very spiritual person, but I just didn't find church to be a spiritual place - sorry'.

I wonder if I have guts to use her words on Saturday!?

Update - well I've finished preparing for my talk and Jo's words are central to what I shall share. I'll update here on how they are received when I get home tomorrow night. No posting tomorrow - off to Adelaide now. Have a good weekend.

Characteristics of the Emerging Church

22 March, 2004 12:31 PM

What do you see as characteristics that are common between Emerging Churches around the globe?

I've been spending this morning preparing some material to speak this coming Saturday at our denomination's national board. As I said previously, they want a presentation on 'emerging church/missional communities'. I'm enjoying the preparation process.

Describing the Emerging Church is something that I find to be a slippery topic. I've previously reacted against putting a definition upon it and ended up attempted to do so in a very loose manner. I think its probably more helpful to describe some of the common characteristics that we see emerging in such churches. I guess that is what I was doing in my 'Church Planting Lessons Series earlier in the year. Whilst I described what we at Livingroom were learning I realize I was also describing what others around the globe seem to be learning also.

I'm really keen to see what others see as the characteristics of the Emerging Church and would appreciate your thoughts? As per usual I'd love to learn from the experiences of others and hope that what is shared can be beneficial to us all. So have a go - what are the characteristics of the Emerging Church? If you can think of examples to illustrate your points please include them with links if appropriate. Also if you'd rather write a post on this on your own blog, just leave a comment below with the link and I'll add them to this main post.

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