2005-01-08

emerging church manifesto

Welcome to the Emerging Church! There is a whole movement out there across the world primarily among evangelical churches called "the emerging church movement"...

The emerging church movement is hard to explain... and it is just developing as a consciousness within the Church, because it is only about 5 years old... McLaren's book "A New Kind of Christian" (see below) was published in 2001 and was kind of the "shot over the bow" that started the whole thing off...

It is basically a whole lot of people, like myself, who are evangelicals, but who have been burned by the Evangelical church establishment in various ways, and feel short-changed by how it has over-simplified the Gospel and then mass marketed it in ways that are very individualistic, consumeristic, and self-centered... and we are looking for something different, but we do not know exactly what that is yet...

Let me give a shot at what emerging church is about: It is a relatively young movement- mostly thirty somethings, but also twenty somethings and fourty somethings. I consider myself a part of it. We reject autonomous individualism and consumerism as sub-biblical, and strive to return to a community centered Christianity where we live in unity-in-diversity as Christ's body. We are ancient-future... we deeply value tradition and the things learned by our spiritual forefathers and foremothers, but we are not tied to denominational labels. Yet, we can't live without denominations anymore than we can live without individuality. Denominations are necessary as embodiments of the tradition that the Spirit has wrought through them, and as clans within the Tribe we call Christianity, but to say that one denomination has a hold on the fullness of what it means to be "the Church" is presumptuous at best, sheer arrogance at worst. Like CS Lewis said in Mere Christianity: we cannot stand in the hall. We have to pick a room, or a tradition, in which we fit in best. There is no such thing as "non-denominational" Christianity, but there is such as thing as being passionately Anglican while also truly valuing what the Spirit has done among Baptists and Pentecostals and Romans and others. We strive for convergence and unity across Christ's body, but convergence based on grass-roots, organic relationships, not organizational mergers.

Speaking of organizations, we typically hate the corporate-modeled church with the CEO pastor, and instead opt for a family model, with spiritual fathers and mothers instead of CEO's. We love relevance, but we hate over-simplified, spoon-fed churchianity. We are organic and not hierarchical or organizational. Even the huge emergent churches like the 10,000+ Mosaic Church of LA (http://www.mosaic.org/) have a radically different organizational structure, philosophy, and culture than say Willow Creek, Saddleback, or Fellowship. But most emergent churches prefer an organic type of growth, in which we would like to see 20 vibrant churches at 500-1000 attendance, which grow and divide like amoebas, rather than a single 20,000 church that grows bigger and bigger like a corporation.

Now, this next comment may seem repugnant to you at first, but think about it and pray about it: We don't believe that there are 4 easy steps to the abundant Christian life, or 5 purposes of the church, or 6 keys to a godly family... we just don't put things in boxes like that. We see Christianity as a journey with God, a revolution to transform the world, and a mission for the body of Christ... not a checklist of quick and easy, clearly-delineated, common-sensical, do-it-yourself steps. These steps and purposes DO have truth in them, but that truth is often so edited and predigested and clich├ęd that it is no longer the "sword of the Spirit" that severs spirit and soul (Heb 4:12), but rather a kind of self-help butter knife to serve yourself a more manageable life.

About Church growth and church mission we tend to be radically Jesus-centric and Spirit-reliant. We are passionate about reaching the lost and seeing life transformation, but unlike most Evangelical churches, we do not have set cookie-cutter expectations about what that transformation will look like over time. We are also aware that, like I said above, discipleship is a messy journey of ups and downs, not a 5 step process that can be completed in five easy classes. Living for Christ is much more like conducting a symphony than following a flow-chart... make sense? Sort of?

This is not a bash on the purpose driven Church, which I personally have learned a whole lot from... but it is a critique of a whole corporate-church mentality that sucks the mystery, wonder, and awe out of the Christian life by making it a man-controlled man-centered self-help system, while also pretending that many of the gut-wrenching heart-aches that come with following Christ are not there (or at least do not happen to "successful" Christians). You can be purpose-driven and still be emergent, as long you remember that purpose driven model is at best a simplification of the vast, ominous, awe-inspiring, mysterious, world-changing mission of the Church to BE the body of Christ in the world. Actually, emergents would rather speak of the Church as missional, not purpose driven, or evangelical, or any other label. The mission of the Church is to spread revolution, not just self-help... to make us into transformed people, not just "nice" people. Jesus was NOT nice... He IS radical.

About technology and advertising there is a weird love-hate relationship going on... We love to use high technology, web design, graphics, powerpoint projection, etc... but we do not like to ACT like we use it... technology is never the focal point of a ministry, but merely the medium through which our God-given creativity shines through... we like to use technology as if we didn't need it and could do without it at any time... and we don't use technology if it impedes intimacy or community. Emergents would use technology to make a worship space as intimate and impacting as possible, whereas moderns would use it to broadcast to as many people as possible and make things as big and impressive as possible.

Emergents also have a huge distrust of mass-marketed Christianity and "Christian" culture. Good marketing and websites are one thing... but when it gets too slick, too pre-packaged, too popular, too easily digested, we get wary. We are wary of Christian bookstores and Christian music and Christian knick-knacks because we do not want to shut ourselves in a Christian bubble or ghetto where we can only talk to other Christians and have little to offer the world. We want to be incarnational examples of Christ: imitating Him who lived in the world, but was not of the world, as He transformed the world. The Christian message does not change people by being locked up inside the Christian bookstore to be marketed to card-carrying evangelicals. The Christian message changes people by being excellent as products of literature, music, and art- better than what the world can offer- and by taking it into the secular bookstores and music outlets where it can be read and heard by everyone.

About worship we tend to be radically God-centered. We gather to worship the living God and give Him the praise and awe and love that He rightfully deserves, and the overflow of this is that we are benefited in the process. Yet, it is not seeker-sensitive, but God-sensitive... believing that if we really are seeking the presence of God, that will benefit true seekers more than any human-centered programs. Its a strange paradigm shift that really, actually, works. The "seeker-sensitive paradigm" tries to minister to the "seeker" for the seeker's sake, and it takes the concerns and needs of the seeker and makes them the center of the worship experience. The emergent God-centered paradigm reverses the flow of energy here. It takes the concerns and needs of the seeker and uses them as on-ramps to lead them into the presence and experience of God, and makes God the center of the worship experience. Both try to be "relevant" and deal with the needs and concerns of real people, but one paradigm tries to bring God down to our level, while the other seeks to raise us up to God's level. Make sense?

I guess that last sentence could sum up what I think about the emerging church movement. Corporate Evangelicalism seeks a clean cut, easy-to-follow, consumer-oriented way to bring God DOWN to our level and make our lives better. The emerging church knows that the Gospel is actually an awe-inspiring, messy, up-and-down, gut-wrenching-but-totally-consuming (and supremely meaningful) process of raising us UP to God's level.

Below I have posted several links below about the emerging church, and lots of emerging churches from many denominations are linked from these sites...

*Relevant Magazine is a magazine aimed at the emerging church movement... the name says it all, and it is a lot of what we talked about at the party. It is also available at Mardel's:
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/

*Check out the book "The Emerging Church" by Dave Kimball, which this next site is based off of... It is a signal book for the emerging church movement:
http://www.vintagefaith.com/

*This following website is primarily oriented around the emergent-YS press, which publishes the following books which are also signal books for the emerging church:
http://www.emergentvillage.com/
-- "A New Kind of Christian" by Brian McLaren
-- "Adventures in Missing the Point" by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo
-- "The Post-Evangelical" by Anglican Priest Dave Tomlinson

*The more academic end of the emerging church movement:
http://www.brazospress.com

*Another good emerging site:
http://www.theooze.com/

*An emerging church missions organization I work with frequently:
http://www.wondervoyage.com/

*Some Anglican-Episcopal emerging churches:
http://www.apostleschurch.org/
http://www.threenails.org/
http://www.mosaicaustin.org/
http://www.thebridgechurch.com/
http://www.moot.uk.net/
http://www.xalt.ca/
http://www.highway.org/

*Great article on the emerging church:http://www.christiancentury.org/feat_08.html
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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.