Tag Archives: emerging church

Goodbye to Emergent Village?

Andrew Jones wrote this today on his blog

ev3 Also over is any official relationship I have left with one of those emerging church groups called Emergent Village. EV is a hard group to leave because its a flat structured organization and there is no one to inform that you are de-friending yourself, or getting de-friended, from this "generative friendship". Also hard because there are so many wonderful people still involved.

The EV website stated last year, "Those who started emergent were at the National ReEvaluation Forum in 1998; those who will take it into the next chapter will be at Christianity21." I wasn’t at Christianity21 but I have been watching as new theological emphases and sectarian attitudes towards church emerge (well described by Wikipedia’s North American Emergent Movement) and it is just not something that I can lend my name to or my time. In the early days, I joined the leadership of the Young Leaders group (that eventually became Emergent Village) because it was more about uniting churches around mission and equipping people to reach the next ‘postmodern’ generation. I hope they can shift it back again to its origins.

Perhaps the best response was from Rick Bennett

The Emerging Church, the controversial Christian movement that inspired many to plant churches, leave behind their faith and question authority, died in her sleep Thursday following a short illness. She was 21 (according to some sources).

The cause was cardiac arrest, according to spokesperson Steve Knight. According to police, foul play and suicide have not been ruled out at this time. According to person of interest, Andrew Jones, she was ready to die and beyond any life-saving treatment.

The Emerging Church as a Matrix of Networks.

Some of you may find this Fuller Theology Journal article interesting .

It is a mistake to think of “the emerging church” as a cohesive movement with authorized spokespersons. It is more of a matrix of networks attracting a range of like-minded travelers. It has been described as a conversation in which countless numbers participate via websites and weblogs (blogs). Critics and observers who focus on major gatherings and high-profile authors miss the core nature of diversity of opinions and ongoing dialogue. The church emerging is not a centrally organized, hierarchical organization, but more a spontaneous grass-roots phenomenon.

Many of us have been saying the same thing for many years.  I am glad that someone out there sees (and articulates) what we are seeing.

Training for today

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend who is in leadership in his local seminary.  While some seminaries are theologically focus, this one is a pastor factory whose primary mission is to produce pastors.  Years ago if you remember, I talked about a Personal MDiv and I was asked for some feedback.  I didn’t have that much to add to the conversation but I offered this up.

  • An understanding of how communities work:  The church can be a prophetic voice in a neighborhood or city but unless it is a big box mega church outside of town, it is often a neighbor and therefore has an impact on how that neighborhood interacts with it and each other.   Some churches are amazing neighbors while others can be jerks.   Each neighborhood has a different vibe and feel to it.  I walk the 15 blocks to work quite a bit and just by walking through Mayfair, Caswell Hill, and Riversdale and I can feel the differences.  Jane Jacobs may be the best pick to start with if you are talking about an urban context but there needs to be a framework for understanding the ebb and flow of a local neighborhood and community.  I am not sure how we missed this but I imagine that for long the church was the centre of the neighborhood that we haven’t adjusted to being ignored or looked down on by the neighborhood.  As Darryl Dash wrote in Christian Week, at one time being near a church meant a higher property value.  That isn’t the case today.
  • How to start something: After reading Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, you realize that many of the missional examples are not churches but are businesses, NGO’s, or non-profits.  Believe me, nothing I learned in school taught me how to deal with funders, investors, or banks.  How to write a decent business plan, bootstrap, when to go for angel investment or a loan, when to hire.  Those are skills that need to be learned somewhere.  I can imagine AKMA disagreeing that this should be a part of any seminary’s curriculum and he may be right.  If it isn’t a part of a formal education, make it readily available to those that do need those skills.  Guy Kawasaki and Garage used to do a Bootcamp for Startups.  Perhaps something like that offered occasionally from a denominational perspective would be helpful.
  • Ethics: A lot of church leaders I know of have odd ethics.  Maybe it is just me that finds it odd but hiding money from the taxman, lying to avoid conflict or accountability, a love of money, or just going through the motions is considered okay.  When I worked at Lakeview Church, we posted the full script transcripts of sermons there.  Friday the site was busy but on Saturday it was even busier.  Most of the traffic was from outside Saskatoon and it was all browsing and downloading sermons.  A friend of mine used to joke that if you wanted him to preach better sermons, Max Lucado had to preach better sermons.  It isn’t just out of the way pulpits where this happens.  I listened to one speaker who has written on leadership and integrity steal a litany from Len Sweet without credit.  Although to his defense, he probably never wrote the talk himself or his books.  My point is that ethics seems to have been lost along the way.  Either that or we are doing a horrible job of vetting clergy.
  • Cost: At what point do we have to find a new way of training clergy or accept the fact that only the wealthy or the heavily indebted will be able to enter pastoral ministry.  Tom Sine has talked about this for years and he is right.   The impact will be that only affluent congregations will be able to hire seminary educated clergy and smaller rural, inner city, missionary organizations will be priced out of the market.
  • Common Sense: A friend of mine wanted to plant an inner city church yet decided to move into a middle upper class neighborhood.  Does this strike anyone else as idiotic.  He wanted to be their pastor but not live around them.  (yeah, I just realize that I offended some of you)   I hesitate to add this because

I am oversimplifying the issues quite a bit and these were real simple off the top of my head answers but I thought some of you may find them interesting.

I am sure you have your own opinions.  Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Emerging? Have we even started?

On June 14th, Andrew Jones had an interesting post on his weblog. He asked the question “what happens when those of us in the emerging church stop emerging”. Interesting question as about the same time I interviewed Rudy Carrasco and he said this

We are pretty close to enshrining our own orthodoxies, and we are unaware of it. I’ll leave that vague. But I’m seeing some resistance to modification that is beginning to disturb me. Our reaction is becoming codified. Still vague, I know. But I’m gonna leave it there.

Then tonight I read this quote at emergingchurch.info

Will the emerging, missional, re-imagined, post-modern, alternative church of the future be a place that grows character? Or in seeking to incarnate the gospel in a consumer society will we have the excuses, in the name of being relevant, to avoid hard choices?

I was reflecting on all three thoughts and I started to wonder if we have even started to emerge from anything or are we just the natural evolution of the seeker church movement with a new lingo. Has candles, icons and acoustic guitars and blogging replaced color coordinated shirts, keyboards, and sermons on dealing with stress and marriage. A couple months ago I sat in on a conference call with some church leaders and the idea was floated that since the reformation, all that has really changed in churches is about 10%. The organ rolls out and the praise band rolls in. The cross comes down and some screen go up.

I recently read Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball. It is about how the Oakland A’s remain competitive year in and year out despite having the lowest or one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and talks a lot about how Billy Beane radically overhauled the A’s organization and how they thought about scouting. Beane tossed out century old conventional wisdom in how baseball people evaluate talent which generated a success rate of maybe 5% per draft with the A’s could not afford. Beane went against conventional wisdom There are rumors that Paul DePosta in L.A. will do the same thing. Despite the revolution, Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics still are playing baseball and that really hasn’t changed. While the methods their pick their players with have, the fact is that 162 games a season, the Oakland A’s take to the diamond and try to move more players across home plate then their opponents. As radical as Billy Beane is, he is still playing baseball.

When I look around at so much of the discussion of the church, I think we may be doing the same thing. As much as we talk of revolutionary change, we are still taking to the field 52 times a year and putting on a programmed weekly event and programs during the week. As Alan Roxburgh has said

We need a movement of God’s people into neighborhoods, to live out and be the new future of Christ. It must be a movement that demonstrates how the people of God have a vision and the power to transform our world. This is not the same as current attempts to grow bigger and bigger churches that act like vacuum cleaners, sucking people out of their neighborhoods into a sort of Christian supermarket. Our culture does not need any more churches run like corporations; it needs local communities empowered by the gospel vision of a transforming Christ who addresses the needs of the context and changes the polis into a place of hope and wholeness. The corporation churches we are cloning across the land cannot birth this transformational vision, because they have no investment in context or place; they are centers of expressive individualism with a truncated gospel of personal salvation and little else.

Our penchant for bigness and numerical success as the sign of God’s blessing only discourages and deflects attempts to root communities of God’s people deeply into neighborhoods. And until we build transformed communities there is no hope for a broken earth.”

That calls for a conversation much bigger than church or church planting or Hillsong vs. Vineyard worship tunes. Maybe that’s why I resonate with Thomas Homer-Dixon‘s The Ingenuity Gap which reminds us that the problems around us need more than simple solutions.

As for why the conversation about church seems so limiting at time, I think it is pretty understandable. No church is in a vacuum and many people have expectations for what kind of church they want. To meet those expectations, compromises are made. Instead of being a community where people seek out Jesus Christ, the church becomes a provider of a church experience for people. There are almost no churches that are planted in vaccums and most people, even the unchurched have expectations of what they want to see. So much of church growth literature of the last quarter century has dealt with how to deal with those expectations and that has had a huge influence on how we think about it. Even much of the literature and thought on postmodernity has to do with meeting the needs of the postmodern seeker. While we may scoff at that approach, we need to realize how ingrained it is within us. The other reason I think so much of this discussion revolves around church forms is that is something that we can tweak with and change. While I agree that church forms need to change, I wonder if that distracts us from the larger task in front of us.

While deconstruction has happened, most often it is done in the context of putting together a baseball team. What I mean is that what we have done is deconstructed and reinvented to a certain level. That level depends on your paradigm and tradition but for many it has been staffing structures or other areas which may cause conflict or tension and cost. I heard one church leader talk about how important it was for him survive as pastor. Everything else could change but he needed to lead. In that case, his leadership was the sacred cow.

One of the theological truths that has resonated with me over the years is from the forward of Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology

Theological work is distinguished from other kinds of work by the fact that anyone who desires to do this work cannot proceed by building with complete confidence on the foundation of questions that are already settled, results that are already achieved, or conclusions that are already arrived at. He cannot continue to build today in any way on foundations that were laid yesterday by himself and he cannot live today in any way on the interest from a capital amassed yesterday. His only possible procedure, every day, in fact every hour, is to begin anew at the beginning… Yesterday’s memories can be comforting and encouraging for such work only if they are identical with the recollected that this work, even yesterday, had to begin at the beginning and, it has to be hoped, actually began there. In theological science, continuation always means “beginning once again at the beginning”.

That description of theological work broadens the picture we need to be looking at, not limiting it. I think we need to enlarge the conversation about culture, the gospel, postmodernity much wider than we traditionally have. If we don’t, I worry that we risk just playing with the same 10% that we always have and then justifying it because it is different than what came before. 10% doesn’t seem to be that much of a revolution to me.

The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations

is a new book by Dan Kimball. Here is the description from the back cover.

Around 25 years ago the evangelical church underwent a shift with the arrival of seeker-style churches. A whole generation of baby-boomers resonated with that approach and the movement was used greatly by God. But now there are rumblings around the country that the generations of teens, twenties, and thirties have changing perceptions and preferences. Some of the very “spiritual” things that were removed from church are the very things that post-Christian generations are connecting with and finding attractive in a church.

The Emerging Church addresses this change and provides practical ideas on how churches can adjust and be more effective to reach emerging generations. Dan Kimball, founding pastor of Graceland, does not present his church as “the” new model, but offers a road map to help open the eyes of churches to some changes that are occurring in various places around the country.

Kimball explains the postmodern shifts and what practical implications that has for worship, preaching, evangelism, discipleship, and leadership. He provides an encouraging cross-generational bridge between a new bread of young church leaders and those who have been in ministry for some time.