Recap of The Great Emergence National Event

Friday and Saturday of last week marked the inaugural event of JoPa Productions, a partnership between Doug Pagitt and me.  Doug and I are involved in the publishing industry both as authors and as editors/consultants/gadflies.  And just when it seems that traditional, dead tree publishing is in its denoument, we decided it’d be a good time to start a business in that industry!

While we have great fondness for the many people we know who work the marketing departments of various publishers, there is one aspect of marketing that we think is missing.  Aside from the occasional lottery winner (Blue Like Jazz, 90 Minutes in Heaven, The Purpose-Driven Life, The Shack), a lot of authors struggle to get their books noticed, and most publishers continue to cut their marketing budgets which, in turn, negatively affects book sales which hurts company profits which leads to another cut to the marketing budget, ad infinitum.

But every former youth pastor (e.g., Doug and Tony) knows one thing: Get the teenagers on a get-away (fall retreat, winter ski trip, summer mission trip), and their loyalty to the brand (the youth group) increases exponentially.  Apply that axiom to publishing, and you get this: Get people in front of an author (particularly one who can communicate orally), and those people will develop a fondness and affinity for that author and her work.

For a decade, Doug and I have been speakers at the National Youth Workers Convention and the National Pastors Convention, which primarily serve as platforms for the authors of Youth Speciaties and Zondervan, respectively.  Our initial solo effort was the once-in-a-lifetime book tour, the Church Basement Roadshow.

But our first real event was held last Friday and Saturday at the august St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee.  The book that we gathered to celebrate was The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, and the author was Phyllis Tickle.

The event began on Thursday with four optional conversations: the hyphen-mergents; the future of theological education; new monasticism; and a writers seminar.  That evening, 110 of us gathered at the famous Rendezvous Charcoal Ribs for a true Memphian feast of dry-rubbed ribs, pork shoulder, and beer.

The next morning, we commenced the event with prayers from The Divine Hours, Phyllis’s best-selling guides to the daily office.  On both Friday and Saturday, we met in the nave of the cathedral for morning, noon, and vespers prayers.  Each office was led by someone different whom I had recruited from among the attendees, and, as a result, each was led in a different fashion with different voices.  The music, however, was provided by the talented Memphian liturgist and cantor, Stefan Waligur, and his assembled musicians.

Phyllis addressed the 300 of us in the nave of the cathedral four times over the two days, providing more background on the Great Emergence, elucidating the content of the book, and taking questions from the crowd about the Big Question: What next?  One of the reasons that this event worked so well is that Phyllis is a native Memphian, and St. Mary’s, though not her home parish, is in some ways a spiritual home to her.  For all of the speaking she does around the country, I did feel that there was some special magic conjured up by her connection to that city and that building.

Phyllis’s addresses were bookended in each sessions by the Lutheran cyber-punk-pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who read from her wickedly funny book, Salvation on the Small Screen?.  If the sales of her book at the Episcopal Bookshop is any guide, then it’s safe to say that Nadia was a huge hit.  The main sessions were also complemented by panel discussions, practitioner interviews, and a live Twitter feed on a video screen.

All of the other presenters, flown in by their publishers, were asked by Doug to prepare a 5:20 presentation — in other words, 15 Keynote/Powerpoint slides, timed out at :20 each.  Known as an Ignite presention, this resulted in rapid-fire presentions from Peter Rollins, Sybil MacBeth, Joe Myers, Sally Morganthaller, Becky and Bob Pierson, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Nanette Sawyer, Karen Ward, Will Samson, Lisa Samson, Sara Miles, Tim Keel, and Brent Bill, followed by an opportunity for a brief interaction with each presenter.

Finally, Doug and I are indebtted to a dozen volunteers from Solomon’s Porch (Naomi, Checka, Tom, Bob, John, David, Dave, Shelley) and elsewhere (Laci, Tyler) who worked so hard to make it all happen.

I’m hardly neutral in saying this, but I think the event was a smashing success.  Thanks to everyone who participated!

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Brink.

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  • Chris

    You wrote:
    “For a decade, Doug and I have been speakers at the National Youth Workers Convention and the National Pastors Convention, which primarily serve as platforms for the authors of Youth Speciaties and Zondervan, respectively. Our initial solo effort was the once-in-a-lifetime book tour, the Church Basement Roadshow.”
    Hmmm . . . a book tour sales shtick disguised as a ministry convention? No wonder people get disillusioned with church. Is this enterprise about empowering congregations in their God-given ministry to proclaim the gospel, or about designing clever and catchy platforms to increase sales and make money?
    I know these are not mutually exclusive goals – having worked for a denominational publisher myself – but the matter-of-fact way you describe these conventions and events as opportunities for the sale of books isn’t, uh, inspiring to this church worker who attends such events to learn about ministry, not to be sold to . . .
    (I just checked the National Youth Workers Convention website and their promo video, and didn’t see or hear any reference to the event being a platform for book sales. It talks about the convention as a place of belonging, of sharing ideas, a place for ministry . . . Are they saying one thing but really intending another? Is all that fell-good language about ministry and God just window dressing for a sales event? I don’t think so, but you could forgive someone for coming to that conclusion based on your words above.)
    I know good things happen at these conventions – I’ve been to a NYWC before – but the intersection of a for profit enterprise with the Holy Gospel needs to be looked at critically and executed carefully.
    As it is written in the Good Book, “Therefore go and make customers of all nations, selling to them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to buy everything we publish.”

  • Angela

    Thank you, Chris. I pray your questions will be taken with the same humility in which you offered them.

  • cp

    Oh, please, Chris. No one is twisting your arm to buy anything. I, for one, know that many peoples’ lives have been changed by books written by these authors. People who had previously given up on God, faith, church have read words by these authors that suddenly made God, or even Christianity, seem approachable again. I find that to be a blessing.
    As for the authors themselves, they are people like us, struggling to survive. None who I know on that list are rich. How many young people today do you advise, “Be an author when you grow up! You’ll make money!” It’s like telling someone to go into newspapers. Come on. These authors make major sacrifices to do what they do because it is their God-given passion. I thank them.

  • Well, I personally attended the event and Tony specifically addressed that the other speakers that were invited were authors, but there were others that were not authors who spoke.
    I am challenged by this dilemma, as well. How can we seek out if God gave someone an idea for the Kingdom then should it be “sold”, or should it be given away to all people for the kingdom, but with an offer for a “love offering”?
    But, I also can understand that there is time and money that goes into each book written and that when I buy the book it is providing an “offering” of my own to the company (made up of many people with families) not only the authors of each book. And these companies are in existence to make money, but not crazy amounts like oil companies. And if it were not for these companies that many ideas for the Kingdom would never be heard by many people.
    I wonder if when we buy book we could look at the price as the “suggested giving” amount?
    Anyway back to the event. What you (Chris) described in your comment of what happens at the YS conference,
    “It talks about the convention as a place of belonging, of sharing ideas, a place for ministry . . .”
    is exactly what happened @ TGE: conferencing, belonging, sharing of ideas, etc…
    And who is to say that YS doesn’t have at its core the ability to get great ideas and books out to a people, but under an “event”.
    At least I can respect someone that is wiling to say up front that one of the purposes of this event is to get great ideas out to the people of God through the selling of books.
    I can respect that much more so than people who write criticizing comments on blogs with our a signature and link to be able to read about whom left it and to be able to give a response on their blog, email, etc…
    (one of my pet peeves in ministry is when someone whats to criticize, but never signs their name so that more discussion can occur and a clarity can be explained.)
    And, I hope that even if Tony’s blog post WAS written out of pure selfish desires (which I do not, believe) I hope that you can live up to your own words, “but you could forgive someone for coming to that conclusion”.
    I for one, really appreciated getting to know the person behind the words of their book/s. If we are to listen to the authors words in a book, in my mind it is necessary to be able to get to know the person as best as possible to see if the character and authenticity is someone worthy to engage their thoughts/ideas.
    And I can not express the level of Christian conferencing that occurred between not only the attendees and the authors, but those that attended the event with each other. The discussion was so invigorating that I think anyone would be hard pressed to find someone who attended that is still not being challenged and wrestling with the discussions that started there.
    Thanks Tony for your honesty and time that you put into the event, I can not remember a time that you or Doug pushed your own books during the event.

  • Well put, Chris.
    cp…yes, we all make our own choices. And I know that most authors aren’t making tons of money. But it is still worthwhile to point out how the profit motive can twist things a bit. If the Apostle Paul was influenced by marketability, his epistles would have been worded very differently. Yes, I know that the modern Christian publishing/promoting industry doesn’t compare to the early Christian process of delivering epistles. But that is, I believe part of the point. We assume that the rules of engagement for publishing/promotion are neutral or perhaps even good and so we engage with those rules, rather than challenging them as much as we ought.
    When we grow up in a church culture where we now automatically assume that the stated slogan or motto of an event or a church is only a marketing tool and that there are other messages hidden behind profit-motive, then we have a problem. I’m not ripping on Tony or Doug here when I say that…because in all actuality, Doug and Tony have been the most transparent of authors/promoters that I’ve met. Tony, in fact, is sometimes painfully transparent about the messiness of motivations in the publishing industries.
    My push-back is our level of comfort with this messiness. I think we need to do things differently. More open-source, more profit sharing, more collaboration (with less celebrity). Less self promotion, more other-promotion. From national conferences to regional gatherings. Etc. I know that the folks behind TGE want more of these things too, but I sometimes feel like we’re a bit too shy or awkward talking about these challenges.
    And it is the level of complacency in addressing these issues that has made me withdraw from writing my own book. I have a partly finished manuscript that has sat untouched for months…I’ve talked to editors from about 4 publishing houses and approached by agents, but my spirit isn’t at peace about another-educated-white-30-something writing a book on why we need to be more radical for other educated white young people in an over-saturated market that depends upon promotion rather than simply the power and urgency of content.

  • That’s an impressive decision, Mark. I admire that kind of dispossessive leadership. Thanks for bearing witness.

  • That’s impressive, Mark. I admire your dispossessive style of leadership. Keep up the good work. Unimportant pastors, Unite!

  • Melissa Rau

    Wow, Wow, and Wow!
    I have to admit something off the bat: I attended TGE conference with open-minded skepticism. I believe in everything Phyllis Tickle speaks of and am convinced that our Chrisitan Faith is emerging, however, I refused to buy into Doug or Tony’s books. Yep. I admit it: I never read Tony or Doug’s books. In fact, I resented the whole Emergent Village thing. I thought they in collaboration with YS were using their publishing strong hold of a muscle to define what the emergence is gonna look like. I almost resented them.
    However, after this weekend, I’ve become an Emergent Convert! lol. It wasn’t so easy though. I have to say that even halfway through the friday sessions, I was still convinved that this was a covert way to sell their and their friend’s books. Yeah, I was almost pissed about it. I thought to myself as my husband and I walked intot eh first ignite session, “Ok, here comes the load of BS.” However, I had the reasoning and objectivity to quickly understand that each of these authors platformed belonged at the conference regardless of the fact that they had been published. Their books simply complimented the discussion, and their insights were thought provoking and extremely relevant.
    i can’t tell you how often I go to the NYWC and buy have the flippin’ YS store simply cause everything is 25% off. I rue the day when I get back into my office, start reading a book, and curse myself and my hastiness in choosing a book that doesn’t even reflect half of what the back of the book says it should. This conference enabled the participants to interact and grapple with the very authors who wrote the books. It wasn’t dealing with some middle man trying to make a marginal profit who would tell you anything and everything to sell a book he or she knows nothing about. These people sold their own thoughts. And, no offense, whether we’d like to live differently or not and are socialists at heart (oh, wouldn’t Utopia be grand?), we live, eat, and breathe consumerism. I buy books with no begrudgings. And, man, I wish they didn’t sell out of some many darned books. Now I have to wait for them to be shipped.
    Anyway, I also came to realize that Tony and Doug aren’t just two good-looking (don’t let that one go to your head…), former youth director consumerists trying to make a buck. They truly are insightful and at times even prophetic. Yeah, I’ve read books from both of them over the last few days after TGE. I have a feeling they may’ve been motivated by having a platform to promote their friends’ books. But so what? If you had a friend opening a restaurant, would you not promote it to your neighbors? That’s exactly what Tony and Doug is. However, the food we got was soul food (oh, how disgustingly cliche’ was that? puke! But I couldn’t help it.) TGE turned into something more than just a platform to buy books. I am motivated, spiritually rejuved, and I was cognitivally (is this a word?) challenged. All things one wouldn’t expect to get out of an underhanded gimmick and ply to sell books.
    What was Tony thinking when he wrote his blog? He was simply being transparent. Transparency is often scrutinized especially when it’s so apparent that our youth are becoming more and more transparent. Gosh, with all the frequent status updates kids feel the need to post, the twittering, etc. Like I need to know that Jack just took a dump and that Amanda is watching Alladin. Honestly…tha’ts transparency at its finest. lol. However as much as our kids puke all over us and each other with the stupid things in their life that don’t matter much to us, many adults criticize them saying it’s none of anybody else’s business what he or she is doing right now. I have to differ with that mindset. See, these youth are creating community with one another, and they are being a lot more transparent with each other. Adult need to learn that it’s safe to be transparent. Why shouldn’t Tony feel safe to be transparent about the motivations behind the conference with his Christian brothers and sisters? Man, we have a lot to learn. Tisk, and Tisk!!!

  • DG Hollums – I’ve included my url. Sorry to omit it previously. And I’m worried that you are taking my comments too far. I never accused Tony or anyone else at Zondervan/YS of being “selfish.” I’m just nervous about the intersection of consumer capitalism with the Gospel and Christian ministry. Having worked in Christian publishing myself, I know that this is a difficult line to navigate.
    (Should the publisher produce materials that will lose money but further the Gospel? Should the publisher sell materials that appeal to a broad audience – generating revenue for the publishing ministry – but which might be thin on Gospel? And most importantly, we can probably agree that faithfulness does not directly correlate to profitability. The marketplace is not the best determinant of what is faithful and beneficial to the church, yet publishers must make money to keep their doors open. It’s an imperfect and very difficult business to be in. These questions are posed simply to highlight potential pitfalls and show how careful we must be when connecting ministry with consumer capitalism. That’s all.)
    When a noted Christian leader and author describes ministry events which “which primarily serve as platforms for authors [to promote their books],” it begs this question: is this “ministry event” staged to simply sell books, or is there more? That’s all. (BTW, as I have mentioned, I think there is more . . .).
    OK, this comment is getting long, yet I don’t want to use Tony’s blog as a place for back-and-fourth bickering . . . as I said in my original comment, I think that good things happen at YS, Zondervan, and other publishers, through their books and their events. In fact, I think that much of what these organizations do is good, blessed, and holy. I was just struck by the way Tony described these ministry events as platforms for authors to promote their books. These events are much more than that – and I imagine that Tony would agree.

  • Nurya Parish

    I attended the event and appreciated it enormously. It was a source of inspiration and connections that probably can’t be replicated. As a newly active participant in the emergence conversation, it was a great opportunity to gain understanding and forge relationships.
    I agree there is a huge challenge with the profit vs. prophet motive, but that is one of the challenges of a fallen world. The authors represented at the event, IMHO, were seeking simply to continue the work of serving God as they are called… which does require being able to put food on the table and housing payments in the mail.

  • Jeff

    Question: What are you emerging from?
    Peace, Jeff

  • Jeff: “What are you emerging from?”
    …well God, of course.

  • rodney

    I live in Northern Ireland and would a kindred spirit to a lot of what Emergent stands for but am very disillusioned by this post – conventions whose real motivation is publicity to sell books and make profits……a travesty of the gospel?
    Across this side of the pond I sense a similar feeling of sadness that ‘the emergent conversation’ has led to this…..
    I do not enjoy being skeptical or cynical but for thase who espouse anti-capitalist kingdom values like many people in Emergent it is a real betrayal.
    Chris at post 1 says it much more eloquently than me ….if I am wrong I will apologise most happily…(I hope i am)

  • Melissa Rau

    I’m praying for everyone with accusing hearts that someday, hopefully soon, we will all start to understand that we are here on this Earth for two things: To love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we all “get that” then the very sinful beaurocratic systems we’ve set up will be obsolete, and we can live happily ever after.
    Until then, though, we shouldn’t condemn men and women who have to support themselves and hopefully are fortunate enough to be able to use their God-given abilities and callings in order for them to do just that.
    I don’t think we should be judging the motivation behind the why’s and the how’s. What took place this weekend was great (and remember, I went into it thinking it was a ploy to make money and sell books). It was actually almost essential and I hope we have more of these. In any event, though, the only thing we should be concerned about is whether people at the conference felt like they were ripped off. We could be concerned and worried if people went expecting something that wasn’t delivered, or failed miserably at. Two things that I can almost guarantee did not happen.
    Lastly, before we condemn people about coming up with new ways of earning money and using their God-given abilities to do it, let’s be convicted enough to do the same, shall we? (And if you are convicted enough to be living like Shane Claiborn and his gang at A Simple Way, then sorry…) Since we are living in the conditions we are living in, even Tony and Doug deserve to strive to make a buck in a more ingenuitive way. It doesn’t make their message or platform any less relevant.
    rodney, I can understand where you are coming from, since I approached Emergent warily. However, it didn’t undermine the fact that the Christian faith is going through and emergence. Don’t confuse the two to be synonymous. They aren’t! Emergent refers to the American little croanie group of a few notable and reputable mainly authors and MC’s. However, they simply write their thoughts and contribute toward the emerging conversation. Don’t question it. It’s happening, and you should be a part of the conversation, too.
    Also, remember that I approached the conference hesitantly and considered Tony and Doug warily and hesitantly. I, though, hunbly accepted the fact that this conference and the two amigos were legit, and very much relevant.
    Meanwhile, while most emerging Christians long for a day where capitalism and consumerism will cease to be (out of the lack of need for such pettiness), I don’t see anything wrong with T
    ony and Doug earning money while giving so much more back to the conference participants. How is that betraying anyone? We are better off after it than we were before it. Is that a betrayal?

  • Your Name

    Melissa First of all Emergence was a conference I believe about North American Christianity – its ideas I think do not translate into other international cultural contexts such as the growth of conservative orthodox Christianity in Africa, Asia and or South America (certainly my own small cutural backwater of Northern Ireland) Does one write a controversial book/blog to court publicity, raise ones profile and sell copies? Should people coming to conferences be viewed as rich punters who are liable to buy my book? The smell of money call lead to greed and the sole motivation of the need to sell books rather than any other consideration. Can the less well off afford to go to such conferences – would they be welcomed as not a potentially good book buying audience? An attrctive market? Please God I hope there are Christian communities working/serving/participating in quiet unobtrusive ways ‘under thr radar’ embodying the Gospel message in local contexts who leaders do not seek fame/court publicity/establish a brand name in the Christian celebrity subculture. Rodney

  • Your Name

    I do see your point. However, I don’t think the emerging conversation is only being addressed in the North American continent, nor does Phyllis Tickle claim that it’s limited to North America (don’t confuse Emergent Village with the emerging church). For instance, look at what is happening in the Anglican worldwide community. The fact is that for many sub-cultures of the Christian faith (globally) are starting to question the authority of what’s truly important in living out their Christian faith. That’s emerging.
    In regards to the conferences: I regress. They are indeed for people who can afford to buy books. However, the people who can afford to buy those books are doing so to better minister to those who can’t. Seriously, I strive to minister to those who I’d like to embody Christ’s example and empower the people I minister to to value things other than materialistic ideals to serve the poor and marginalized better.
    I guess what I was trying to argue is that the need for money exists. Tony and Doug have gifts to get a conversation going to empower others to carry out God’s will.
    You said, “Please God I hope there are Christian communities working/serving/participating in quiet unobtrusive ways ‘under thr radar’ embodying the Gospel message in local contexts who leaders do not seek fame/court publicity/establish a brand name in the Christian celebrity subculture.”
    An interesting thing about that statement is that a few of the authors there focus and are doing simply that. The nice thing about it was that they wrote books to outline how they are doing it and what we can do to duplicate those efforts.
    There is hope. Meanwhile, Tony and Doug are supporting themselves and their missional projects by making this their source of income. To me, it’s a win/win for all.
    What’s next? Wondering if pastors and clergy shouldn’t work for a living?

  • Jeff

    “The fact is that for many sub-cultures of the Christian faith (globally) are starting to question the authority of what’s truly important in living out their Christian faith. That’s emerging.”
    If I read this correctly, you are saying that the Episcopalian churches that voted to appoint an openly gay priest as a bishop and kick out clergy that refused to support this action is part of the emergent church? If that truly is the emergent church, and they are questioning the authority, what authority does the emerging church answer to? As a Christian I believe that the only authority is the Bible … I guess that’s why I fellowship and worship in a non-denominational church.
    Peace, Jeff

  • Melissa Rau

    That is exactly what I’m saying. The emerging conversation is about identifying an authority; not about denying an authority, but finding a new one. And let’s not assume that we’re not going to admit that the Bible isn’t the most important work according to our faith. However, most emerging Christians are questioning the authority of “Scripture Only, Only Scripture” that the Protestant church for the last 500 years has given the authority to. We’re saying that the Bible has been neglected in many ways, and that our theology has been a bit “off” and taken up with legalism, that we’re missing much of what the Bible says.
    Yes, the Episcopal Communion splitting over such a legalistic interpretation of the Bible is exactly what I’m talking about. The church the renewalists are seperating from have decided to go with the idea of gay/lesbian issues in corellation with how much Christ speaks of homosexuality in the first place (which is not at all).
    Anyway, you are still entitled to have your one authority as the Bible. However, the fact remains that there is a phenomenon of emerging Christians. And, truth be told, every 500 years or so, Christians kill other Christians over their differences. Phyllis Tickle analyzes what the Emergence is all about, how to understand it, why we should understand it, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, this time, we won’t shed blood.

    Today’s post about this conversation.

  • Jeff

    Thank you very much for clarifying the emergent church, I don’t agree with it, but at least now I understand it from a reliable source. As far as she blood goes though, I promise not to kill anyone to adopt my beliefs … that’s what’s so special about a personal relationship with Christ; it’s a voluntary thing. Thanks again for clarifying things.
    Peace, Jeff

  • Your Name

    On many emergent blogs/books I have read blanket criticism of the evils of capitalism/profit motive etc and the desire to establish counter-cultural kingdom values…it is ironic that authors will write and post about these things in the hope of making money by book sales! Is the Great Emergence…an Event..a Happening ..a Phenomenon not more a public relations exercise to fuel these book sales? We can only agree to differ.

  • Melissa Rau

    food for thought, but i certainly don’t think so since they benefits received from all those who attended the event got a great deal out of it.
    I sure hope not, but since I;m coming from the same skeptical mindset and am not persuaded easily, I’m hoping that I’m not wrong.

  • Todd

    The conference was amazing! Spirit, mind, and body found renewal. My spirit was filled, my mind was challenged, and the hosts made sure we were well fed, so my body was taken care of as well. I cannot wait for the next conference. The main feeling I took away from the weekend was a realization that some of the ideas and issues I had wrestled with this past year found kinship with other believers. Lol, I felt, I am not as crazy as I thought. Peace to everyone who shared and ministered that weekend.