Emerging Church Still Making Headlines

The reports of the emerging church’s death are greatly exaggerated. The existence of the new Emergent Village Voice blog is one example of a new chapter that’s being written. My experience with the Charlotte Emergent cohort over the past eight years reminds me over and over as I meet and talk with new people joining the conversation every month. Then there’s the ongoing media attention that this movement continues to receive, 10+ years on.

Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, and I were interviewed recently for a cover story in Réforme, a Christian newspaper in France. Unfortunately the full text of the articles are not available online, but they can be purchased from the Réforme website. Here’s just a snippet of my conversation with Marie Lefebvre-Billiez, who conducted the interviews and wrote three articles for Réforme (keep in mind this is my English answers, translated into French for Réforme readers, and then translated back into English by Google Translate):

What is it that makes a church “missional”?
Its main feature is contextualization. If it is missional, it will blend in perfectly with its local context. This results in many different ways, for example, house churches. It is a network of people do in their homes what is normally done in a church building: worship, Holy Communion, prayer … and add a meal together. I myself have a church in my home, which is affiliated with Disciples of Christ. We have had between 50 and 60 at some gatherings, but a typical house church is often between 20 and 30 members, including families with small children. The advantage of the church at home is that it is less intimidating, the environment is more familiar. It’s more cozy, warm, people can come as they are. This is for people who are not interested in the church, but who have faith nor abandon God.

The meal is an important part of this trend. The food takes a special meaning in the faith and the expression of our worship. The important thing is the fellowship around the meal. In the same way that developed the concept of “slow food” (slow food) as opposed to the “fast food” concept that is more socially responsible and who will look for its products locally, it develops the idea of “slow Church.” It is to know their neighbors, be well rooted in their immediate environment.

This is similar to the first century Christians … Some say it is the most biblical form of church. They would return to the early days of Christianity and get rid of all that was added later. But for me, this is not the case. No, we do not return backwards. Of course, we look at what has been done, we keep the good and we leave the rest behind. This is the concept of “ancient future.” But we are not afraid of new technology. We want to be faithful to the Gospel in our time, with the Internet and our iPhone. I know a woman who is pastor of a church in Second Life [virtual reality social network]! Churches are found in cafes and bistros. The idea is to break down the wall between the sacred and the secular.

Why mix what is holy and what is profane?
This goes back to what makes a church “missional.” In contrast, a “missionary” approach is to think that we have God in our pocket, and we’ll bring it to all these godless pagans. But all the missionaries who have done this will tell you they have arrived in a place where God was already preparing the way. God is everywhere. You cannot go anywhere where God is not already. Thus, there is no separation of sacred / secular. To do church in a bar is no more profane than to meet in a building made of bricks and mortar. The question is simply, “How to join what God is already doing?”

What is the role of the hierarchy?
There is the idea of a “flat church,” which puts everyone at the same level. The role of the pastor is lowered and that of the community lifted. It’s a way of really living out the idea that all believers are priests (universal priesthood). There is therefore an inherent critique of denominations. Some fear that the Emergent Church wants to dismantle its hierarchy and so they feel threatened. But there are many who espouse the movement because they think it will be renewed. For them, God is already at work, a challenge is painful, but necessary. People now join the movement with the confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work.

What do you think? Where do you see life in the emerging missional church movement?

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  • Kevin Fusher

    Great article! but.. 35 years ago I belonged to a house church which emphasised the priest hood of all believers and I along with others fully entered in. Over time Apostles appeared who added hierarchy, took us into schools then into our own (costly) buildings, oversaw all our contributions (prophetic etc) the priesthood of all believers was now a thing of the past. We stayed 13 years in that Church and the leaders all loved Jesus and are men of integrity to this day. Eventually we moved to a different part of the UK and spent 12 years in a different stream of community Church. Over this period as well as facing up to and dealing with my own motes I began to see how “brand” and “flavour” and “emphasis” where taking over from Jesus and His good news. The Gospel now came with brand values and USPs. Around about three years ago the dissonance that had been building in my wife and my own thinking caused us to leave along with some other couples like us in our mid 50s. At first I thought we would start a house church but we did not go that way. For the most part we get together in pubs and have meals together. Without wishing to speak for my friends I thing we are more certain of what we don’t want (hierarchy, mini church; worship, the word, ministry, coffee, Sunday) What we do want is to discover more of Jesus and work that out 24 7. Learn as former leaders how to hear and listen to each other and to give equal weight to the thoughts of our wives, and to quote Watchmen Nee “Be people who enter the holy of holies rather than get caught up in the outer courts”. In effect my friends and I are in a slow cooker de churching, re imagining, reforming and we do not know what we will look like. I do know that my first church started with Jesus central and then focused on structure, goals etc, The strength of emergent church is the diversity and centrality of Jesus. I hope in 13 years time we will have not hardened into new brands/streams… and that the conversation will still be going.

  • Kevin, thanks for sharing part of the story of your journey! That’s fascinating. My own family went through 2-3 years of de-churching before we ventured back into forming the community we are a part of now. I think that may be an essential phase to go through, and interestingly enough (this time of year), I drew a lot of encouragement and strength from the chapter on Advent in Kester Brewin’s book “Signs of Emergence.” We had to wait for the new thing — the next opportunity to join God in what God was going to do with us and through us — to emerge.

    I share your sentiments as well: “I hope in 13 years time we will have not hardened into new brands/streams… and that the conversation will still be going.”