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Emerging Church Question from Maryam

21 December, 2004 3:53 PM

Maryam over at A Dervish's Du`a has posted some excellent questions and reflections on the Emerging Church. The cool thing is that she's not only asking questions from outside the Emerging Church but also outside the Church. As a Muslim woman who we've actually had along to share with us at LivingRoom I'm very interested in her observations and thoughts. She writes:

'However, it struck me that EC would be difficult to 'enter' as a non-church-goer or non-Christian just interested in checking things out. You know... tasting the aperitifs before comitting to the twelve-course meal. Sometimes it takes quite a few aperitifs before you're ready for the roast beef and yorkshire pud, so how do you approach that in your EC congregations?

The weekly gathering I attended had a group of extremely and genuinely warm and welcoming people, but of course with a small group of a dozen or so people in someone's home, a newcomer stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. There is no mouthing along with the hymns up the back at EC!!

Also, how do you deal with the 'member' / 'non-member' / 'official status' / 'you have to join up to be a part of it' / 'you have to believe X theological creed' etc. issue? Read more at A Dervish's Du`a': Emerging Church Question

So where does one start in answering those questions. Here are a few reflections:

1. I've felt similar feelings as I've observed LivingRoom and othe ECs.

2. Whilst I've felt similar things I've reminded myself that LivingRoom has not set up to grow LivingRoom. Our purpose is not to build our community in numbers, or even 'the Church's' numbers - rather we exist to build 'the Kingdom of God'. Whilst this distinction doesn't fully answer Maryam's questions it is an important distinction to make. In previous church circumstances I think the mindset was often to get people along to church, to make it as accessible as possible to people, to break down the barriers for people to come in and belong so that they could become one of us. With LivingRoom we actually have in our DNA that we are not as interested in building our numbers by getting people to come in to us - but we're more interested in us going out and joining God in his work in the world.

3. Having said this there does sometimes come a time when people want to come to LivingRoom - both people who have church experience and people who do not. On most occasions that this has happened so far these people come along on a Wednesday night out of some sort of relationship with a LivingRoom participant. Its not a rule - just the way it happens. Whilst this also doesn't completely answer Maryam's question I find that it does help people make the transition. Very rarely have we had total strangers rock up to LivingRoom - usually there is at least one meeting with people first - if not many months or years of relationship with people. Often they've already met a number of the group before coming.

4. Despite all this wonderful theory I still know that the format of how we choose to meet (and its just one way of many within the Emerging Church) CAN be a little (or a lot) threatening to some people. This is due to our size, our meeting in a private home, the format of our meetings (interactive, sitting in a circle) etc. On the flip side this format and style also makes things more accessible for other types of people. I guess what I'm coming to believing is that Church should take a variety of forms - each with its own strengths and weaknesses in connecting with different types of people.

Anyway - those are some of my reflections - wondering what others think? Leave your comments over at Maryams.



I have also posted at Maryam's site...
Since we have no shop front, people can't just check us out in the local paper and turn up. Certainly for us we would have had opportunity over a BBQ or other social occasion(s) to live and laugh with each others friends long before they expressed a desire to 'check us out'. Often real sharing with each others mates happens outside of a planned 'gathering' anyway. In fact some of our 'church time' might not even be tied down to a formal circle in someones loungeroom. Although I would suggest that we tend to schedule something in regularly.

Garth » 21 December, 2004 11:04 PM

I appreciate and connect with your group's desire to grow. To be intentional about your own transformation and formation. Your DNA as you call it. I think I undertand, and love, your thinking here about finding what God is doing in the world and build the Kingdom. If there is a distinction between the 'kingdom of God' and the world. what happens when you find places where it is not the kingdom of God in play but the world? What if people decide to leave the 'kingdom of this world' and move to the 'kingdom of god'? Wouldn't it be natural that they would join your group of beleivers who have shined the light into their darkness? And wouldn't that make your group grow?

Again, not attacking, just processing through what the Livingroom is committed to being.


Randy » 22 December, 2004 3:12 AM

Very interesting questions. Good stuff to think about. Vine & Branches has a very relational philosophy when it come to these things. The community that is vbcc are Christians who have commited to helping each other along the journey of the spiritual life. When we meet, we meet as that community. It's not meant as an attractor for those outside, or geared to be non threatening to them. It is what it is, a Christian Community doing its life together.

Anyone is welcome to come hang with us as we meet. We'll talk and laugh and eat and drink and then we'll probably do some things that are weird to them, or maybe interesting, which they may not be able to participate in. That's fine. It's always been this way with the Church. My view on being overly "seeker-sensitive" is that we cease to be distinctively who we are as the community of faith and so they never see what that means.

We don't make a big deal about inviting people to those meetings. We live as we live in the world and make friends as we go. Perhaps along the way, as we are up front Christians, people will want to know about that, and we tell them, naturally. I'm not into making projects of people. I do believe that Jesus is the door through Whom anyone will be reunited with God, but forcing and all that does no one any good.

So, if anyone came to a meeting of ours, there is relational time, but they would also be welcome to observe and not participate in certain parts - prayer, sacraments, etc. Hope that helps. Peace to all in this house!

+ Alan » 22 December, 2004 6:58 AM

thanks for the comments guys....

Gareth - have appreciated reading your comments

Alan - Vine and Branches sounds so much like LivingRoom some times.

Randy - You're right - sometimes as people come to some sort of new experience of God they may want to join our group - we wouldn't limit this in any way. However in my mind I'd rather start a new community of faith around them in the context that they live in if possible. I'm not sure I make a hard and fast distinction between 'the world' and 'the kingdom' - I think there is a danger in having something of a dualistic approach if we do that.....

Darren » 22 December, 2004 7:53 AM

I'm going to email this off and post this at LivingRoom to those who responded as I'm still mulling the subject over in my grey matter.

From your various responses I get the sense that EC is more of a church (not the building type) within a church. That it wouldn't necessarily be the first port of call for someone just starting out discovering Christianity (although it possibly could be - just that would be rather rare).

Can you write more about what you mean: "joining God in his work in the world" and "building the Kingdom of God"? My perception of Christianity has been that (generally speaking) the main idea is to encourage people to become Christians through belief in Jesus as the Son of God and accepting his sacrifice, and that following on from that a Christian then tries to live a good life, be of service to others, encourage others to accept Jesus etc. and that the main purpose of church is to meet with other Christians and observe the breaking of bread and wine ceremony together. Does EC differ from this? If so, how?

Sorry for more questions.

Maryam » 22 December, 2004 8:09 PM

Darren I have to agree with your thoughts to Randy. And I also appreciate your comments and questions Randy. As I struggle with the concept of what would happen with those who come to know Christ I came to the same conclusion. It would seem not to stamp them with any expectation of "be like us'.

Its not unlike the time where Christ told the healed man not to come with him but to go back to his family and tell them what God had done for him. With the exception that one of us would help with that transition!

Garth » 23 December, 2004 8:11 AM

Na no need to apologise maryam, great questions.

I think what you said about your perceptions of Christianity have been generally pretty correct, that seems to be the main thrust of things-rightly or wrongly.

In terms of what you said about there being no space to hide or whatever-
I once read in some book about seeker services and all that, that people need a few weeks to sit in the back row and check stuff out, to not be threatened by having to talk to people.

I agree this can be important, as people do sometimes appreciate the anonymity. But I wonder how much of that is a consumer culture thing that we should be challenging rather than just conforming to?

Digger » 23 December, 2004 1:54 PM

"I wonder how much of that is a consumer culture thing"

How so Digger? The reason I ask is because I was about to write "I guess it's not so much about shopping around for the right gathering" but then I thought... hmmm... maybe it is? But isn't that what EC is partly trying to do? Cater for that unique flavour rather than imitate other church setups? Not everyone will be comfy with that, but I guess what I am asking is - how do you reach out to those people who would crave the EC experience as a way of fulfilling spiritual communion with others, without being hmmm... 'proselytising' in some respect or another?

Maryam » 23 December, 2004 10:38 PM

Good point, maybe the whole EC thing is a little consumer focussed?

There's a bit of an attitiude 'me and a few of my friends don't enjoy 'normal' churches so will go and do the EC thing'

I guess the point I was originally making was that people like to sit up the back and see what they get out of it-see what it does for them etc. Just like going to a new shop to see if you like it.

Most smaller EC models of church wouldn't offer that anonymity-which I guess is your main point! As to whether or not thats a good thing-I'm still not sure...

Digger » 24 December, 2004 11:00 AM

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