30 January, 2004 11:08 PM
I actually have mixed feelings on the term - partly because so many people use it to describe so many things - many of which I'm not sure are really too 'emerging'.
I also don't really like to 'define' things because then they tend to become boxed. The beauty of what I see happening around the world when it comes to communities of followers of Jesus is that there is such diversity, creativity and fluidity. I worry that when we label we perhaps run the risk of institutionalizing a dynamic movement of God.
However - we are human and we seem to like definitions - so in my struggle to deal with the fact that the word is being increasingly used (including here by me) I suspect some loose definitions should emerge (sorry - I couldn't help myself).
The Dictionary defines 'emerge' in a number of ways. Let me list a few and then make comment on each as I see them applying to the Emerging Church
- 'Movement' - All the definitions below have the idea of 'moving'. Static things don't emerge. The emerging church is a church on the move. It is changing - both position and shape in my observation.
- 'to rise from or as if from an enveloping fluid : come out into view' (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)For something to emerge it must have somehow been covered or enveloped. This means that it previously existed in some form. I don't believe that the emerging church is a completely new being. In fact it is an ancient movement which we see beginning to emerge 2000 years ago. Yes there is a freshness about much of what the emerging church does today - but it would be arrogant to say that it is completely new. The cliched image might be of a butterfly from a cocoon. It previously existed as a being - but comes forth in a changed form.
- ' to come into being through evolution'(Merriam-Webster Dictionary) - Throughout history the church has changed shape many times. Movements, leaders and forms have come and gone as the church has sought to make sense of the call of Jesus in a variety of cultures and periods of history. At times the changes have been rather quick - but many have slowly morphed and evolved over time. The 'emerging church' continues to evolve as it seeks to take seriously the gospel in an ever changing world.
- 'to come out of an experience, condition, or situation, especially a difficult one' (Encarta) - Many studies and much anecdotal evidence shows that the church in the west is under increasing pressure. Many people both inside and outside the church are increasingly dissatisfied and/or disillusioned with the church for a variety of reasons - too many to list here. Out of this pressure is emerging a growing call for change, dreaming and reinvention. Emerging churches are often born out of experiences or situations of pain, discomfort or dissatisfaction with the status quo.
- 'to rise up from or come out of a surrounding environment or substance' (Wordsmyth) - as already mentioned - the emerging church often develops as followers of Jesus grapple to make sense of faith in a rapidly changing world. The rate of change around us in society has motivated many to consider expressing faith, worship, prayer, teaching, mission etc in new and creative ways in order to be relevant and connected to the wider culture.
- 'to rise, as from an inferior or unfortunate state or condition.' (Info Please - Whilst I would not want to say that the church is currently in an inferior or unfortunate condition on a global level - often those starting and involved in Emerging Churches feel that the need is dire. I know of numerous new forms of church that have been born out of existing churches on their death beds. This is not always the case - but often new things are birthed after the death of old ones. The image of regrowth after a bush fire springs to mind. Out of the charcoal comes new shoots of green life - and the ecosystem begins a new cycle.
- 'To reappear, after being eclipsed; to leave the sphere of the obscuring object.' (Webster's) - Some argue that since Christendom many of the core functions of the church have been somewhat eclipsed or obscured. The Emerging church attempts to rediscover the heart of the gospel. It seeks to strip back those things that might distract or cover up the basic calls of Jesus.
- 'to become known, especially as a result of examination or questioning' (Cambridge) - One of the features of most of the new forms of church that I'm observing is an insatiable desire to ask questions. Virtually no question is out of the question as people seek to discover what church, worship, prayer, mission, community etc really are. Asking questions stretches one's comfort zone - but also leads to discovery and learning.
I'm afraid I haven't really 'defined' anything - I'm still resisting that a little I guess. The only other thing I'll say before I head off to bed is that there is great variety within the Emerging Church. It isn't just about ancient prayers, coffee, art, story telling, cafes and being trendy. It is expressed in many ways in many cultures. I also don't really think it is up to any of us to say who is in, or who is out of the Emerging Church. It probably goes without saying, but unfortunately with definitions (as much as this is not one) often comes boundaries and statements like 'us and them'.
I don't believe 'Emerging Church defines a specific group of communities - rather it perhaps should be used more as a descriptive term of something that is happening in the church as a whole - as a movement (or may its just that its 12.16am here and starting to see double - time to stop I think).
I suspect this post will be a living one. I'm not satisfied with what I've written and suspect I may never be. Interested to follow the discussion over at Andrew's blog - but also keen to hear other's comments here if you'd like. How would you define the Emerging Church?