The Beehive and the Anthill; The Spider and the Starfish

By Terry Smith

This weekend, I am in Memphis with 450 of my closest friends celebrating the release of Phyllis Tickle’s new book, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It’s Going, and Why It Matters. This is a weekend celebrating Phyllis’ life and her contributions to Emergent theory.  It is a weekend in which many beers, many stories, many smiles and many tears will be shared.

This morning (Friday the 11th), Phyllis Tickle compared the Emergent movement to two natural phenomenons. I love Phyllis’ way of telling stories that draws the audience into the narrative.  She reminds me of a great history professor from my school days. She is doing more than telling stories.  She is reminding us that we are part of the story. This is one of the many reasons I love Phyllis Tickle.

Phyllis’ initial comparison/contrast this morning was of Emergence theory unto a spider and a starfish. If you tear the legs off of a spider, the spider will die. However, if you cut off one leg of a starfish, it would care less. The starfish will spout another leg AND the leg will spout another starfish. She compared this separation and regeneration to Emergence and how we (those who are emerging) have taken many aspects of the original organism (denominationalism) and have created this new organism (the Emergent Church).

This Emergent Church (which is only one aspect of Emergence Theory) looks like the original organism in many ways, but is an absolutely new organism that has a heart of its own. It will operate in a different ecosystem than the original organism. But, I think it is necessary to remember that it owes its life to the original organism. Let us not forget that everything Emergent is, sprung forth from an appendage removed from the original organism (traditional denominationalism). Let us celebrate our history as we revel in the new thing that we are doing.

Phyllis’ second comparison was emergence to the anomaly of beehives and anthills. The difference between the ants and the bees is the bees are particular in where they might build their hives. Yet, ants have no standards for their home. Their home can be anywhere. It’s why ants are more proliferous. They will build anywhere. And, of course food and other concerns may cause them to move often, but ants have no problem building a new hill.

Ants are adaptable. As God’s Church should be. And those of us who are emerging are showing that adaptability. We have shown that lack of commitment to infrastructure, which some call a weakness but I call adaptability. Evolution happens. I am evolving. I am emerging. We are evolving. We are emerging. Or we are being left behind. We are evolving or devolving. We are adapting to the world or we are becoming irrelevant.

This is not a complete paraphrase of Friday, but here’s a peek through the keyhole of what’s been going on today.  Don’t you wish you were here?  I don’t agree with everything Phyllis has said, but that’s another blog for another day.

Peace be with you.

Terry is an ambassador for our neighbors who sleep outside in the ATL Metro area, the co-pastor of Church of the Misfits (a DOC Missional Church Plant).  He is irrevocably in love with his wife, Rebecca Cranford-Smith.  You can read his personal blog, where he occasionally posts at

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