Disappointed with Emergent Village

Last month Tony Jones blogged about the criticism that he and others who were apart of Emergent Village have gone through.

He starts with

First, some historical perspective (that a young buck like Nick lacks): there have been fallow times in emergent before this. For instance, in 2001, we left the auspices of Leadership Network, Andrew Jones had moved to the UK, and Mark Driscoll jumped ship (or was pushed overboard, depending on whom you ask). A group of us met at Tim Keel’s favorite monastery outside of Kansas City. For two days, we parceled out jobs — events, website, writing, networking, church planting — and left with a great deal of energy.  And then…nothing happened. No one did anything they’d agreed to.  Why? Because everyone was doing emergent at the margins of our lives, and so it wound up on the priority list below family, work, friendships, and many other things.  It wasn’t until the Emergent Convention in 2003 that we gained any real steam, and that was only because of the energy of Mark Oestreicher and Youth Specialites. To be honest, I pretty much throught he thing was over until that convention.

Second, none of us signed up to start a movement, so your disappointment is misplaced. You wrote — and others have recently — that you hoped that emergent would revolutionize the church in America (in 5 years?!?), yet you dropped out of church and toured the world with a book contract under your arm. Meanwhile, every one of the founders of emergent is deeply engaged in a community of faith, doing the hard and private work of maintaining personal relationships and dealing with the messes that are inevitable when people live in community.

He adds this

Fifth, many of your commenters bemoan the fact that the leaders of emergent have “sold out” with book contracts and paid blogs. Since you are under contract to write a book, you know that there’s very little money in religious non-fiction writing, and the money is getting less. And I don’t know to whom they’re referring other than me. For the record, I make $5 per day blogging for Beliefnet. I’ve made less than $1,000 on book royalties so far this year. So everyone can stop casting aspersions on our finances.

I really wasn’t that interested in the discussion between him and Josh until recently but I came back to it a couple of days ago when I was answering some personal criticism over why I wasn’t committed to the bigger purpose of the emerging church any longer.  I defended my involvement and my passion but here are the facts.

I come into work between 8 and 8:30 every day.  Some days I leave within 8 hours but other days it is 10 or more.  When I am at home there is also work to do that is related to poverty and homelessness issues in Saskatoon and Canada.   Some of those projects I don’t feel comfortable doing on work time.  While our family is in a bit of flux right now, there is time spent with Mark as he studies or just hanging out and Oliver needs some form of supervision as he is now into everything.  We joke about taping him to the back of the dog but that never works.  Speaking of the dog, if she doesn’t have the Frisbee tossed to her at night, she calls her attorney.  The joys of management means that I am on 24 hour call which change the best made plans.  The same 24 hour Centre also needs the occasional shift covered which means that there have been long days here and there over the last couple of years.  It’s just part of the job.

For me, the day starts when the alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. and I find some time for myself at around 9:00 p.m.  which gives me a bit of time to listen to some music, read a bit, or watch some sports highlights.  As a diabetic, depending on what I ate and how much I walked and exercised, it decides how long of a day I have.  For a lot of people I know, that’s about a normal days for them as well.

Yes there are conferences to go to but I have three weeks of holidays a year.  Telling the boys that I am leaving them to go away is not a lot of fun and then telling them that the time I am gone will also mean less time we can spend at the cabin together would generate a cool response as well.  When Mark was small and didn’t need his dad around in the same ways he does now, it was easy to drop and go and speak.  A couple of years ago I realized that others can do it and I didn’t need to do it anymore.  It wasn’t paying any bills, plus I miss the family when I travel alone.

When I was working in a church, I had a lot more flexibility in my day.  I had times for reading, private time, time to go for retreats, and other learning opportunities.  “Balance” was the key word which meant that it was okay to take long lunches, retreat days, and days off whenever you wanted to as long as you sounded spiritual.  Now I need to do that on my own time, just like everyone else does.

I think you could toss in a lot of the criticism that Tony gets under that category.  People have the ideas but no one is providing the money or the time to do any of it.  Not only that but my priorities are not always others priorities and you have to make decisions on what is important.

I like Josh but I found myself laughing at the idea that there needs to be an unemployment insurance system for pastors who get fired for their theological beliefs.  Who decides who gets it and who doesn’t?  Would we need an alternative welfare system for pastors who got fired for their theological beliefs and then were rejected by the theological unemployment insurance system?  Who is going to pay for this… there are a lot of unemployed clergy out there that have told me that they were “too radical” for their old church when in fact they were lousy pastors with tin ears and self serving hearts.  Have fun determining that one.

My point is that there was a world of expectations on Emergent but there wasn’t the people or cash to make all of that happen.  Also the leadership was flawed.  I consider many of them to be friends and most of them cared deeply about the emerging church around the world but most of them cared more about their local communities and that’s not a bad thing.  In other words they cared deeply about the ideas but they also cared about seeing them come to fruition in a local context.  Again, I am not sure why the criticism is there.

I am not sure why people like Brian, Doug, and Tony get criticized the way they do for not doing what we should be doing.  When they were out in front all of the time and we disagreed with them, we distanced ourselves and said they were not spokesman for the emerging church and Emergent is just a conversation.  Now some of the same voices are frustrated because they didn’t do more.  That criticism seems to come more from us defaulting back to our old expectations of hierarchical leadership than Emergent’s purpose of bringing like minded people together.  Maybe in the end the biggest failure was the failure to get people to understand what a growing, generative friendship really is.

Some of the criticism that Emergent did really bugs me because it isn’t in the context of what was accomplished which was significant.   If anything they proved that vision, sacrifice, the web and creativity can overcome a lack of resources, people, and time.  So instead of jumping on the bandwagon of critics, I’ll keep trying to change the world in Saskatoon.  More than before it is the global communities that will change the world, one neighborhood at a time.

9 thoughts on “Disappointed with Emergent Village”

  1. It is ironic to catch this blog today. I spent some time yesterday sketching out a blog for baptimergent related to the “emerging downturn.”

    My story is much like the one shared here. If I am going to be a minister to a local congregation, then I will have little time to lead a movement. (trying to lead a small local one if catch my drift) I am still trying to find some space to do “movement-oriented,” on a macro-emergent level, but its sparse and sporadic.

    I get the criticism because I know a lot of people who are frustrated with the status quo, and had placed a lot of hope in EV. As I see it, the only thing that will change the church is people taking responsibility for change in their own location. Expecting someone else to do it (clergy, leaders, etc.) is one of many things the emergent movement has deconstructed.

    Folks like Brian, Tony, Doug, and others cannot change the church. That’s something the Spirit of God does through willing participants. They’ve been willing to participate as have I and others, but we can only do so much.

    Its okay to be critical, but before you blog about it, you should ask yourself what you are doing with your responsibility within the movement.

  2. great post. i think that there is all this expectation that Emergent would become huge … denominational. by definition it is meant to be tiny, local, all about relationships as they relate to each other in the immediate vicinity around them. my church community encourages each other to live in the immediate area around our worship space and that is a blessing beyond belief. we see each other as we go about our daily lives and i know that people pray for me as they see me going about my daily life. i say that because i know that i’m praying for them as i bike past their homes on my way to work or as i see them walk to the store or to a shared supper of several different households.
    Emergent is all about doing church differently and i think it’s best done small, locally. when your quote stated that each of these leaders were busy developing relationships in their local emergent village my reaction was, “of course they were, that’s how it should be done”. if people want emergent to explode and refurbish the North American or the global church then it has to be done in all sorts of little cells as people step out and try to make the church mean something on the local level. it’s all about relationships amongst your neighbours. i suppose there’s value in blogs that discuss it but only as those blogs reflect what folks are doing to “do church” in their locale.
    i’m interested in this discussion if you want to continue it.

  3. Jordon –

    One of the reasons I have continued to follow your blog and why I love teasing about dolls on twitter is that you are living your life right where you’re planted. I appreciate that you are planted in community and family and your conversations swirl around those realities. My criticism of the EC is that the conversation went from being interesting to totally boring as the locus changed from community to generalities. Those (of us) that are living out the EC are doing it conversation by conversation with friends, family and local church.

    1. Lisa, I totally agree with your criticism, the conversation did become really removed from anything local which drove me crazy. I am not sure that had anything to do with the Emergent Village leadership but rather from the frustration which grew up from those in the local contexts that is reluctant to change.

      As for the collectible sports actions figures…. that is just envy 🙂

  4. I would agree with Ian. I never got the impression EV was supposed to be a global takeover movement. To me, that smacks of Empire thinking, and everything that is wrong with other church movements. I had always through EV was encouraging change through small, intentional, local expressions of “being the change you want to see”.

    Maybe I missed it, or maybe those who are disappointed with EV did.

  5. Hello Fellow Shark Swimmer,

    Outstanding post. Great thoughts. And, living into the rhythms that come with the ebb and flow of family give you integrity with we who read you and blessing to Wendy and your boys.


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