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What is the Emerging Church?

30 January, 2004 11:08 PM

Andrew Jones is trying to define the 'Emerging Church'. I've grappled with this previously also.

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

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?

Comments

Page:

What is interesting is that Alan Creech just argued that there is no emerging church movement and Jones is trying to define it. I wish these 'leaders' would get there stories straight ;)

Tim Bednar » 31 January, 2004 4:53 AM

I say good luck! The term is as nebulous as the movement it tries to define. I'm not trying to sarcastic, but just real about it. And maybe, just maybe, definitions are part of parcel of the old themes. Iow, labels are useful so long as they don't pretend to be all inclusive.

So many times, Western thinking has attempted to to disectional in labeling. Everything has to be put away in tidy nomenclatures. No overflow or mess allowed!! But, like it or not...this movement is chaotic and messy. Maybe it can't be pinned down. Maybe it is what it is.

I know that's not much help. But, I've just been thinking about the continued penchant that we have as a Western culture to want to label everything, which has the horrible side effect of painting ourselves into a corner when God inevitably throws us a curve ball. Just when we think we've got it all figured out....LOOK OUT!

Rich » 1 February, 2004 3:07 AM

At the next Bishops meeting, we'll take a vote and hammer that definition out and let you guys know... :^|

+ Alan » 2 February, 2004 4:30 AM

I agree, we always try to overanalyze everything and label everything so that we can feel comfortable with it. Many of us don't even like the term 'movement' anymore. But I do appreciate your effort to help those of us who are disillusioned and perhaps outside of the institutionalized churches right now to understand that this is happening all across the country. While it is painful and messy, it is a stage of growth that I hope we can all embrace for the sake of the Church.

Peg » 11 June, 2004 12:40 AM

Enough to make you weep. In this space age, with probe to Saturn. With Hubble telescope uncoverring new galaxies. Biochemists discovering the secrets of life, gene manipulation, cloning and yet! Still in a supposedly intelligent and educated society we have these people rejecting the scientific evidence and opting to follow the purveyors of supernatural claptrap. Not to mention the money.Get real. There is NO GOD.

jonandi » 10 July, 2004 12:08 AM

jonandi wrote:
> There is NO GOD.
>
> God wrote (Ps 14:1):
>> [SNIP]
>> A fool says in his heart, "There is no God."
>> [SNIP]

Personally, I can't get enough of scientific discovery. I will read every kind of paper, article, book and news I can get my hands on, in all the disciplines you mentioned.

The fact that you can't see God evidenced in those things says much more about your heart than your mind (see also Romans 1:20).

Everyone can see from your comments that you don't exhibit the dispassion associated with a scientifically informed view. This is backed up by the fact that you need to post completely off topic, and use emotive language such as "weep", "claptrap", "supposedly intelligent" and "get real".

Neither do you exhibit the understanding associated with a scientifically informed view. You think "scientific evidence" (and you tried to list some) is at odds with God existing. This is nonsensical. Educated atheists don't hold that view.

Your short post is riddled with fallacies, and it contributes nothing of use to anyone. It's way off topic. If your heart is open to a mindful dialogue about the compatibility of God and science, contact me off list.

Peter Grice » 11 July, 2004 6:05 PM

This is the first time I have come across the term, 'the emerging church", however, it is strangely familiar. As a teenager I was part of a group of people who were seeking genuine Christian spirituality - and we sought it together, without any leaders, without any systems or structures dominating or inhibiting. We were free to discover, and grow, to share and worship and to evangelize. The phenomena was fascinating to me, as the spiritual freedom that we experienced led us many times to be so full, that we were overflowing and we would go into the city and just talk to people on the street, our attempts at evangelism, however crude, was a natural outgrowth of our dynamic spirituality.
Since then, many of us studied within various religious structures and the phenomena closed down. For me, I wonder whether attempts to systematise spirituality can lead to abusive systems of religion that inhibit and dominate the free and natural movement of the spirit. I can't help thinking of the verse that says, Where the spirit is, there is liberty.
Perhaps the emerging church phenomena is a responsive movement to throw off the shackles of restrictions imposed by religious systems and structures and a genuine
seeking for an arena of safety and freedom where the spirit can work.

chaty » 8 September, 2004 12:36 PM

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.

> Drew » 21 September, 2004 6:03 PM

hey . . . just for the record . . . .

i was asked to define "emerging church" for a magazine. But if you follow the discussion, you will see that i refused to define it and actually never did. But the process of discussing it turned out to be quite fruitful.

Andrew Jones » 4 October, 2004 12:59 PM

I am part of the Anglican Church in Australia and our parish is at this moment developing what I would call an 'emerging" church community. We are moving away from the didactic to a more interactive and contributory style of 'church" where the emphasis is on journeying together and exploring what it means to experience God, life and church.

I guess for me there is a growing awareness of others who like me need ot be able to live life in connection with GOd but need a forum which will enable me to do so with integrity as well as love and spiritual growth.

To me that is what emerging forms of church are all about - moving with te spirit and not holding on to the past so strongly that we suffocate it!

Greg Colby » 11 October, 2004 2:22 PM

I love my heavenly Lord and his people
and want to work for Him

Samson Jiwan » 22 October, 2004 6:43 PM

I believe the "emerging" church is really the church going back to it's first love--Jesus Christ. My prayer is that it continues to "emerge" and not settle for some hierarchial system of rules and regulations, but just falls more deeply in love with Jesus day by day as it journeys hopefully forward not backward to old routines and the familiar....

Nikkoly Stanley » 25 October, 2004 2:32 PM

I think more authenticity is possibly emerging in the church as people try to embrace something of the freedom of our age and this lines up more with the culture of the nt church life and liberty

j » 15 November, 2004 12:19 AM

I agree with Stanley that the "emerging" church is really the church going back to it's first love--Jesus Christ." Having experienced dissatisfaction in the church and then evaluating the hows, whys etc I could only come up with "remember your first love - it wasn't the church..... it is Jesus". The church must continue to build its foundation on the ROCK!

Gail » 15 November, 2004 4:19 PM

I think part of the problem of defining the "emerging church" is just that - it is still emerging (ie not here yet) so it's hard to say what it will finally look like. I think after it has emerged a bit more, we'll be able to say what sort of a thing it is. It may well end up being the "ancient-modern" movement, or the "first love" movement or the "generous orthodoxy" movement - I don't think we will know for a while yet, and in the meantime "emerging" works for me. It's just a handle so that we know what we're talking about (more or less) without explaining in great detail. Consider all the concepts caught up in the short term "grace" - it would take me a long time to define it properly, but you know what I mean when I say it.

I agree with Drew - this is both old and new, and will continue to be so for as long as the Earth endures. People will continue to strive to seek God in new ways and then to tell others about those ways. Whatever the emerging church is, will become "conventional" in its own way, and then something else will arise to follow it - that's OK. The emerging church seems to be meeting a need (judging from its popularity) and on a personal level it allows me a freedom I don't find in the more "mainstream" church. I'm happy to travel along with the emerging church and see whare the journey leads...

Elizabby

Elizabby » 16 December, 2004 10:25 PM

The Emerging Church might be past definition itself. The true definition might lie in the lack of definition! :P

Mmm... resting my head on the soothing clean slate...

I might be too liberal about this, but it might be restricting to define EC as being different to Sunday services. If, for instance, later on, we spend a bit of time revisiting the service concept, then we're a bit in trouble. :P

Personally, I'd chuck in the idea that "emerging" cannot possibly be an activity, it's a mindset. A group of people who have finally done what the traditional church has said we should for way too long. What we do is under question, but we've broken free of the restrictions of human leadership and repetitive activity, so we can do something.

In fact, it might be a concern if the definition of EC collates into an action. Activity identity is what the church has been unsuccessfully battling for 1700 years - and it might be a huge chunk of what the EC has been trying to stop in the first place.

Tris » 17 December, 2004 2:03 AM

The Emerging Church might be past definition itself. The true definition might lie in the lack of definition! :P

Mmm... resting my head on the soothing clean slate...

I might be too liberal about this, but it might be restricting to define EC as being different to Sunday services. If, for instance, later on, we spend a bit of time revisiting the service concept, then we're a bit in trouble. :P

Personally, I'd chuck in the idea that "emerging" cannot possibly be an activity, it's a mindset. A group of people who have finally done what the traditional church has said we should for way too long. What we do is under question, but we've broken free of the restrictions of human leadership and repetitive activity, so we can do something.

In fact, it might be a concern if the definition of EC collates into an action. Activity identity is what the church has been unsuccessfully battling for 1700 years - and it might be a huge chunk of what the EC has been trying to stop in the first place.

Tris » 17 December, 2004 2:04 AM

The Emerging Church might be past definition itself. The true definition might lie in the lack of definition! :P

Mmm... resting my head on the soothing clean slate...

I might be too liberal about this, but it might be restricting to define EC as being different to Sunday services. If, for instance, later on, we spend a bit of time revisiting the service concept, then we're a bit in trouble. :P

Personally, I'd chuck in the idea that "emerging" cannot possibly be an activity, it's a mindset. A group of people who have finally done what the traditional church has said we should for way too long. What we do is under question, but we've broken free of the restrictions of human leadership and repetitive activity, so we can do something.

In fact, it might be a concern if the definition of EC collates into an action. Activity identity is what the church has been unsuccessfully battling for 1700 years - and it might be a huge chunk of what the EC has been trying to stop in the first place.

Tris » 17 December, 2004 2:04 AM

Check out "The Emerging Church" By Dan Kimball or the website vintagefaith.org I think it's all explained very well.

E » 17 January, 2005 4:27 AM

"The Emerging Church" By Dan Kimbal is a good discussion on Post-modernity, and one way that the modern church can move toward it, but as far a explaining EC, I think it would be better to read "The Shaping of Things to Come". It is a much deeper, and better (I think) discussion of the missiology of the EC

Tab » 21 January, 2005 7:01 PM

I've been reading a report from a working group of the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council called Mission-shaped Church. If you can get your hands on it there is a comment about the term 'emerging church' on pages 33-34 that I have found helpful in understanding not only the term itself, but maybe even why it has been hard to define.

T.

Tim » 2 March, 2005 11:52 PM

Well the emergent church is being viewed as the way forward for the church that's lost it's mooring. However positive that thought, it is tragic that it wants to create it's own church and run it in ways that are odds with what God has told us in His word about the nature and indeed structure of the Church. have a careful examintation of Ephesians 4 and you'll get an inkling about what i'm saying. there God says he's given gifted men to lead his Church. he gave apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. This is in the context of God giving gifts to his people! They have a certain function - they prepare God's people for works of service. they don't do all the work! Again we don't pull down a foundation - see Eph 2:20 and i certainly wouldn't want to rebuild the foundation cause it would mean shifting the cornerstone and that's Christ himself! Eph 2:20. I do understand and regret the lack of churches where God's Word isn't clearly taught and applied and where culture is more a standard than God's Word, but that's no reason to reject God's Word on the matter. Doing the round on the internet under emergent church blogs is more opinion and waffle than serious engagement with what really God has to say. For people who claim the Name of Christian there seems at time very little regard for what God has said. often time emergent church enthusiasts are more guided by a philosophy of postmodernism than the Scriptures. Let's get real and begin doing what God has told us to do.

In Christ. Gary

gary » 6 March, 2005 1:12 PM

Hay Guys and Gals the emerging Church has nothing to do with mans attempt to find it on earth...The church is a spiritual journey with the Savior...When you find him you will find the Church and those of you so silly as to say there is no God,simply have not have enough time or maturity on earth to know how wonderful he is to us wether you believe in him or not...........Doug

Doug » 15 March, 2005 5:43 AM

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