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?