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What is the Emerging Church II

21 September, 2004 6:44 PM

In response to an older article post that I'd written in January titled What is the Emerging Church? - a reader (Drew) has kindly left his thoughts on the question. He went to a bit of effort to leave his answer so I thought I'd highlight it here in the hope that it might re-stimulate the conversation. Here is what he wrote: (Thanks Drew!)

'Having just debated the whole 'What is the emerging church?' with a work colleague (who then directed me to this site as he felt he couldn't adequately argue the point), I would have to say three things:

1) Don't think this hasn't been done before. Disillusionment with any human attempt to nut out and put into practice what Jesus taught and lived is age old.

Everything is a pendulum swing. The disillusionment with the fundamentalism of my parents generation (I'm 34) brought about the Pentecostal movement. Disillusionment with that is bringing about a group who believe it's time we got back to some solid Bible study and move away from emotional 'lobstering'. Disillusionment towards both perchance forms something of the 'emerging church' movement.

2) Whatever the 'emerging church' movement brings to fruition will become, over time, institutional itself, whether that be cafe churches, home churches, small groups, community based meetings, etc.

Such is the nature of social (even spiritual) communities. Like-minded people band together and settle on structure and format. This is not a bad thing. This is a way of ensuring growth (however empirical you want that to be) and also encouraging maturity and depth. (Jesus didn't pick 12 new apostles every day!)

Of course, there will be some who then become disillusioned with the 'emerging church' movement and what it is attempting to achieve, and they will form the 'post-emerging church' movement.

But... and this leads me to point 3...

3) Be encouraged. Dissatisfaction is what moves along the hyperbole of change. And a constant evaluation of our spirituality and our institutions in light of what we understand Jesus was on about is essential to the continuing life of the Church.

Just as youth, by its very nature, seeks to test the boundaries of the social and parental structure it grows up in, so too should we continually evaluate our spirituality--without, and I stress this, necessarily condemning or feeling the need to tear down what currently stands (a point argued with my work friend).

Seek the new. Chart new territories. Discover who Jesus is to you and the community you live in.

And while some may condemn a belief in spiritual things (as evidenced in this blog), I must confess that I will applaud any person's attempt to find a truth that calls them to a higher understanding of love, mercy, grace, hope, peace and the part they play in the greater community. When the Bible talks about the Fruits of the Spirit (the best attributes we can have as humans) it was said, Against these there is no law.

Once again, be encouraged. Debate. Stretch. Grow. Create. Embody.'



(I am the ‘work colleague’ to whom Drew referred)

I think where Drew’s reasoning falls down (and where my own reasoning was flawed during my discussion with him yesterday) was that we were talking about the ‘emerging church’ as if it were an entity unto itself, which, strictly speaking, is probably not the case.

Disillusioned with the traditional, congregational church structure, for years many individuals have been drifting away from it to something they see as being more like what Jesus pursued; a genuinely community- and house-based church format that focuses on relational intimacy, mission and bringing the sacredness into the everyday. (This is something I know Drew can relate to.)

As congregational churches decline, this other movement, it has become apparent over the last decade or so, has been ‘emerging’ at an alarming rate, i.e. the term has been coined to describe something that was undeniably, and inexorably, already happening, and happening in a very organic way.

As Drew pointed out, it’s nothing new. As I understand it there have been numerous ‘house church’ movements over the last 20 centuries, yet almost without fail they’ve ended up moving back into the congregational format, perhaps due to cultural pressures from dominant, congregation-based denominations.

A major reason I personally believe this current movement is more widespread and will prove to be more enduring is the internet; thanks to the net it’s much easier to broadcast and consolidate the philosophies underlying this movement on a grand scale.

Drew’s comparison of this movement to the ‘pendulum swing’ that brought about Pentecostalism has merit, however the difference I see is that the emerging church involves a complete and radical restructuring of what we think of as ‘church’; I’d argue, as would many supporters of the ‘emerging church’, that this has NEVER successfully been done before.

Sure it’s never going to be perfect, but I honestly believe this is the future of the church, and congregational church is not. And I think that’s exciting.

Tim » 22 September, 2004 8:59 AM

thanks for the comment Tim - I think you're right in saying that 'EC' is not an entity in itself. In fact the more I meet and talk with people doing this kind of thing around the world the more I realize the diversity of what is happening - very hard to box. I also agree that what is going on now is not particularly new. The church has been 'emerging' (I still don't really like the term) from the very beginning. There have been many movements that have had very similar characteristics to what we see happening around the globe today.

I'll add a paragraph I wrote in an email to Drew earlier today about institutionalization here as its probably vaguely relevant to the conversation.

'I agree that to sustain itself this ‘emerging church’ thing that everyone keeps talking about will probably have to slowly move towards having more structure/organization. I work for a group here in Melbourne part time called Forge – we have been thinking about this a bit recently and have had some teaching on it from one of the lecturers at Tabor – he talked about how all groups move towards institutionalization (some more quickly than others) - there have been many ‘emerging church’ movement of other names over the centuries – many started out very organic/liquidy/unstructured – but most either died off or moved towards becoming what we now see them as today – often quite structured and set in their ways. I think this is something that those of us playing with some of these emerging forms of church need to keep in mind. We can attempt to slow down the process a little – but in the end there are times where I suspect we do need some structure/organization etc. I guess the challenge is to be aware of this and to discern when is the right time to move in this direction – and how far to go with it.'

In terms of this process - I have already seen signs of churches in this EC movement starting to move towards institutionalization - I've seen it on both a macro level and a micro level.

Last week at LivingRoom we had our first roster prepared. Due to our size increasing there was a need for a more systematic approach to cope with the logistics of a meal. On a city wide level we're starting to see more groups come together - next year there will be a couple of conferences on EC - there is also a couple of groups who are working towards a more active network of EC type churches - these may not look institutional at this point - but I suspect its the beginning of such a process.

Darren Rowse » 22 September, 2004 11:43 AM

I wonder... is it the institution that we're attempting to move away from with the 'emerging churches', or ourselves? Is it that we want a new start for religion, or we're looking for a fresh experience of spirituality? Perhaps it's both.

Tim and I agree on many things with regards to the 'emerging church'. But the point we disagree on is what will happen to the structures it creates further down the track. Tim believes that the 'congregational church model' will die off completely, as the message of spiritual freedom and post-modern anti-establishment spirituality is spread. To be certain, in the early stages, this will be an exciting time and new concepts will be formed. As those structures grow, however, I believe they will become the next evolution of the 'congregational church model'. It will not die, because inherently humans (weaknesses intact) will always gravitate to such structures, and to a large extent, find comfort, growth and a sense of belonging in them.

Change is good. But we don't want to be in a constant state of flux. It's unsettling and has as many negatives as positives.

Take author and Christian nomad Mike Riddell (someone I greatly respect). Despite spending a number of years discussing spiritual issues out on the streets, the formulation of ideas like the Prodigal Project, and the writing of a number of very interesting books (such as Godzone), the last I heard from him he was calling a Catholic Church in New Zealand 'home'.

Of course, you must understand that I'm not blindly advocating the institutional church. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm constantly questioning the way things are done. And more recently I've just moved out of a Salvation Army church, having found my spiritual journey there to be suffering. The only 'structured' spirituality now is a Bible study I run.

I guess I just don't see that God's finished with the institutional church, and that until the 'emerging church' movement realises that it's not the structure per se that's causing the dissatisfaction, but the people who have lost the vision of what a church should be, then it's doomed to an idealism that will only end in disappointment.

And that is what concerns me the most. I know disappointment. And if my heart aches with that thought--that the positivity and passionate spirits of those championing this movement will be crushed--then I'm compelled to stand as a small man waving a lantern of warning.

Of course, there is always the example of author and Christian activist Dave Andrews (personal hero). He instigated of a small and extremely gutsy community organisation called The Waiters Union, which does some amazing spiritual/relational/community work within the inner suburbs of (I think) Brisbane. Aware that such a group's organisational structure could become corrupted and distorted, at the same time that he formed the Waiters Union, he formed the Anti-Waiters Union: a group whose sole purpose is to be a watchdog for the Waiters Union.

I can't say I've kept up with what's happened over the past couple of years, but if you ever want to be blown away by 'emerging church' concepts, do whatever you can to interview this man. He's been living a small scale of what you propose for many years...

> Drew » 22 September, 2004 5:40 PM

And one final thought...

The decline in the numbers of people staying in the 'congregational church' model is one of the reasons given by some as to why it will ultimately demise. Divorce is at 60% (or thereabouts). Does this mean the institution of marriage is no longer worth investing in?

Perhaps this is another whole topic...


> Drew » 22 September, 2004 6:15 PM

Throughout all this discussion regarding the EC concept, we can hopefully agree that we must keep in mind what the Bible defines a church as being. For my part, it's somewhat alarming that I've read little to no quotes from scripture in the discussion. Ultimately, we can't define right and wrong apart from what God has already defined for us, though in our postmodern thinking culture that is an unpopular thought at best and a vile one at worst.

The church is the local, visible, and independant body of believers that have come together to fulfill the obligations given to it, the most important of which being to fulfill the Lord's commission to evangelize the world. It isn't defined by institutionalism, or the lack of institutionalism. Because the commission was left to the church, the church is the only entity on earth that has the authority and capacity to fulfill that commission. In that context, it really doesn't matter whether you consider a church "institutional" or "emerging". So long as the "body" is seeking to fulfill the commission, and have been organized and structured according to scriptural requirements (not necessarily institutional requirements), then that body is acting correctly in their capacity as a church. The attending debates surrounding whether or not someone likes the "feeling" and "atmosphere" of an "EC" or the typical "institutional church" is of secondary importance.

Kent Welch » 24 September, 2004 6:31 AM

in relation to the organisational church churches dying off (eg the catholic and anglican and methodist churches) one has only to look to eastern europe to see that they wont die, just become more and more superstisious and ritualistic. there will be true believers amogst them, but they will largely be populated with the old, the event church goers (weddings funerals etc) and the 'religious' types who go for the experience but have yet to experience the reality of a changed life with Christ

tim » 27 September, 2004 5:59 PM

I really think you overestimate the impact of disallusionment on the emerging church. The emerging church is not about *doing* things differently: its about *being* Christ's. Read more here: http://blog.natemccallum.com

Nathaniel McCallum » 14 October, 2004 3:15 PM

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