What is the Emerging Church: Part II


Back in April I taught a day on a Post Graduate Course at CWR in Farnham, and used an outline called 'Message Mediums and Marketplace'. I turned that outline into an article that has just been published in the RUN network magazine.

You can download the article here, or read the full text in the continuation.


What is the Emerging Church? I get asked this question so often when I am traveling, speaking and teaching. The term emerging church is now so ubiquitous, from books, to conferences, to blogs , web sites, MP3s etc. Love it or hate it the phrase ‘emerging church’ crops up in many places these days.

I also get asked if Emergent is different to Emerging church? Often the names are used interchangeably as they are so similar, although they are different. The emerging church is something much bigger than the network Emergent, that I help coordinate, but those to us within in emergent are very involved in the larger emerging church. We’ll come back to what Emergent is later.

So many people have tried to come up with definitions of what the emerging church is. But by it’s nature I think the emerging church is something that defies such definition. For some people their definitions are very narrow, and exclusive with language of being ‘post-church’, where the church is the problem and we need to move beyond it. Whilst for others it is something occurring world wide throughout the church in it’s broadest sense, amongst the traditional and new.

One way I like to think about the Emerging Church, is that it describes a shared problem. For instance in the UK, and most of the western world, churches are finding that they are in terminal decline, struggling to come to terms with the rapid change in our culture, and the move to a post-Christian context.

The emerging church is the expression of church around these shared problems, with attempts to understand the changes that are occurring, and explore how we can and should respond.

Our Best Their Worst. We too often have the tendency of taking the worst of something and comparing it with the best of what we have. It’s very easy for people to find the extremes of evangelicalism, which the media often do, and compare it to the best as an alternative. Similarly it’s all to easy, as some are doing, to take some of the extreme forms of emerging church and dismiss them alongside the best of what we prefer.

If we are to find what God might be doing in the emerging church we might need another approach. To look at it as broadly as we can, and ask, “What is the Emerging Church at its best?”

From my limited experience coordinating Emergent in the UK, from my doctoral research on Emerging Church, and my interactions with many who would identify themselves as part of the Emerging Church, I’d like to suggest the following as a way to navigate and explore what it might be.

Market Place, Mediums, Message At its best Emerging Church is an attempt to address this shared problem, through an examination of:

Market Place: The places we inhabit and work out what we believe. Mediums: The ways we communicate what we believe. Message: What we believe in the face of our culture changes:

Let’s take them one at a time by example.

Market Place Too often, despite our best aspirations, Sunday has been the main place and space for God. It has been the place that has taken so much of our focus, energy and resources, leaving little for the world outside. In practice Sundays are the church and nothing else is. The church has become largely disconnected from the world outside it.

The other problem, in reaction, has been with Christians seeing Sundays as the last place for God. Organised church is seen as the source of our problems. So we have had the drive to get rid of Sundays and gatherings as a common feature. Yet this is just as bad. When everything is church, nothing is church.

Christianity has to be engaging in the public world, in social spaces of everyday life, in the more private places of congregations and in the intimate spaces of personal lives and small groups.

Just as the evangelical church has been about the reality of mission invading and transforming every part of life and society, the emerging church at it’s best is exploring and wrestling with how we bring the whole life discipleship to all the spaces of life.

Mediums We live in a visual, post-literate age, and we are finding we need to communicate with things other than words, such as narrative, story, and images.

Rather than long words and explanations, of explanations of our explanations, we are finding that the largest truth of all is an image, Christ on the Cross. This doesn’t mean words and statements of what we believe aren’t important any more. It just means we appreciate that there are other ways to communicate, and we need to use these others methods too.

The church has been at the forefront of technological and new media development, and we need to be so today. At it’s best the emerging church is exploring, and extending as the church always has, the mediums of our culture for communication about Jesus and his mission and his church.

Message Is the gospel message of Christianity really just about information to get to heaven when we die? Why are our gospel presentations so often reduced to this? Why do we try to argue people into conversion with propositions, statements they must give intellectual ascent to, when the engine that drive peoples’ lives, the basis upon which they construct reality today is not belief statements.

Either we can force people to see the world the way we do, or as good missionaries to our post-christian culture, we rethink our message and interpret it to our changing culture. We are where we are not despite what we believe, but because of what we believe.

Just like the reformers who faced the church and their culture with the issues of the bible, freeing it for everyone to have access to it...

Just like European evangelicals dealt with issues of social justice as being part of the Gospel message…

Just like evangelicals responded to the christological heart failure of the liberal church and sought to bring Jesus back to people...The theological task of the church is not over, it is ongoing.

And at it’s best the emerging church is engaging in this ongoing task of theological reflection for our changing world and culture, wrestling with issues that are deeply challenging, to enable people to hear the Gospel.

So What Does this Look Like? This takes shape very differently in many places, but it might include:

A gospel message of biblical conversion to Christ, his mission to the world, and through his church, beyond simplistic propositions, but in language and forms people can connect to. A message that naturally leads to mission, social justice, care of each other, our world and growth of the self in faith and relationship to Christ.

A message that is incarnated with use of the tools and mediums of our culture - to connect with images, audio visuals, questions and participations, creativity and expression. The habitat of natural life and growth that this produces, of a people who live in community, engaged in the world in it’s multiple spaces.

For Anglicans they might call this ‘Fresh Expressions’, for others it is ‘Alternative Worship’, for some it is about being ‘Missional’, for others it is about ‘intentional discipleship’. At their best, these re-thought messages, in new and old mediums in multiple spaces are ‘the emerging church’.

What is Emergent then? (insert history of emergent uk from my site here) I describe Emergent as a clearinghouse for conversations. Emergent is about making safe spaces, and places, with theological input and resourcing for reflection around these shared problems of being Christians and doing church in a post modern world.

Some of our key values and practices would include:

1. Generous Ecclessiology: We value the church in all it’s forms, old and new.

2. Reflective: It’s not about producing new programs and activities that are deemed acceptable. It’s about looking deeper than the surface issues of pragmatics. In that reflection hopefully we do arrive at things we can implement for our contexts.

3. Open Source: We are half finished, half-baked, and not driven by the need to find final and definitive answers. Otherwise the reflection we value often becomes stifled, and impossible, with people fighting entrenched positions.

4. Passionate: But within that openness we do have convictions, and passions, that drive our exploration and reflection.

5. Responsive: We try to be responsive, being available to help people ask and explore their questions.

6. Distributive: We try to pass on and share the contents of our interactions as openly and freely as possible.

7. Accountable: We welcome and know that we need critique from others as we discuss and explore.

8. Connecting: Helping people find others to connect to for support, is a vital part of our activities.

9. Missional: And we do all this so that we might effect change in the church, for the mission of Jesus through his church.

How can I get involved with Emergent? We don’t have formal membership, just some functional suggest of how to connect. We also tell everyone that emergent is what you make of it, with us, not we do for you. For a start you could try: 1. Visit: Our web site http://www.emergent-uk.org

2. Connect: for our e-mail newsletters, and add your name to our online address list, that way people looking for someone to talk to can find you, and you can search for them.

3. Gather: When we have events, come along and join in with us. When we advertise those by other people and networks come along to those too. These can be some of the most life changing spaces to connect with people and find others to share our journey and challenges with.

4. Listen & Read: Download the free resources we have from other events, follow the links the the handouts, notes, articles and resources.

5. Contribute: Send us your links, articles, talks, details of events. Gather people near you, and who are doing things like you, and let us know about them. Help us open out and develop the conversations around emerging church. Remember, it’s what you make of it with us.

6. Ask: I’m sure there is much I could have explained better in this short article, much that needs clarifying, and lots that I need your help with. So do drop by my blog/web site, http://www.jasonclark.ws, where I post daily information and resources and let me know your questions. It would be great to meet you and interact with you there. And you can always reach me on jason@jasonclark.ws.