STEVE: HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE EMERGING CHURCH?"
TALLSKINNYKIWI: Steve, I have tried to define it and have failed miserably. My apologies. It may be of some console for you to know that no one else has succeeded in defining it, and some of us have been at it a long time.
Maybe that is OK. People in the emerging culture do not really want or need such a definition. And some of us are hesitant to give one, because behind the practices and models of emerging church, lies a radically different mindset, value system and worldview.
People coming from a modern mindset always want to know what is new or next, so they can upgrade or replace what they have. This replacement mentality was reflected in the dominant cultural form of the 20th Century – cinematography –in which the next scene replaces the last scene, wiping it away without a trace. Traditional church services have been structured the same way; the prayer and then the reading and then the sermon.
Or even in trying to understand the new culture – baby busters replacing baby boomers, Millenials replacing GenX, younger evangelicals replacing older evangelicals . . . it just is not happening this way!
And I don’t use ! very often.
This sequential, diachronic, chronological replacement way of thinking is light-years away from the emerging way of thinking, where the new thing finds its place by nesting, linking or layering vertically into the whole thing. New things compliment and enhance rather than replace. This is the new media mind which can stack elements on the same page and see elements as leading to other elements, all helping to create a vast system that works in a harmonious way. In emerging church, new models take their place with traditional models. Asking “What is the next model “ becomes redundant, since novelty by itself is no longer valued and the emergent is actually a remix of ancient and recent and present.
Thus our hesitation. Our emerging models are taken as threats to the residual church, but they should not be. We want to preserve older models, not replace them. We want them to stay and remain healthy because we see ourselves as intrinsically linked to their heritage. We want our new models of church to nestle snuggly alongside the old models in a way that allows synergy and interdependence. Old wineskins allow for vintage wine and so do new wineskins. If Jesus likes them both, then we all should find room in our ecclesiology for the other.
In fact, we cannot understand the emerging church as an entity by itself. Our new models of church are far more intertwined with historical precedents and previous models than were, for example, the wave of seeker sensitive/seeker targeted churches in the 1980’s. If post-modernity represents “openness to the past” (a Len Sweet definition), then we can expect emerging churches to dig around in the archives of the Middle Ages, re:mix the simple models of the early church, dumpster-dive in the practices of Old Testament Worship, and rediscover non-western church rituals. This has already happened and emerging churches can effortlessly take fragments from the previous waves of church models without having to react against them. Even from hyper-modern churches.
It is this commitment to continuity and lack of reactionary motive that distinguishes the emerging church from both modern and post-modern biases.
This is why I prefer the word “emerging” over “postmodern”. The word post-modern usually refers to the time of deconstruction and refocusing our attention to the Other. Postmodernism did not create fragmentation, any more than Bono created the AIDS crises by bringing attention to it. But postmodernism is now often defined by exaggeration, irony, suspicion, and discontinuity. And since some of the emerging culture has moved on to embrace continuity over discontinuity, rebuilding over deconstruction, a search for grids over dismissal of grids, then I am forced to choose a word that is further down the road than “post-modern”. And the word “post-post modern” is still too reactive and backwards facing.
Emerging churches today are usually a creative remixing of historic and current, of past and present. Trying to define them by their difference to the previous model is a futile exercise that none of us want to devote much time to. The result is that emerging church may be a model of a quite modern hierarchical leadership but with contemporary artistic expression. Or the contrary; a dynamic, fluid, leadership structure with the reliance on ancient rituals for the service. Lectio Divina in a living room, or a guided couch conversation in a gothic sanctuary. Both emergent.
My experience in UK is that Brits often confuse emerging church with ministering to youth. It is not “youth church” or “Gen X Church”, although young people are likely to model many of the emerging cultures values. Emerging church is open to [prefers?] intergenerational involvement and is probably suspect of attempts to isolate and fragment into age-specific ministry.
Thinking that emerging ministry is youth ministry is a trap. If we believe the problem is youth, then we only have to wait a few years for young people to grow up and think like their parents. But the problem is deeper than age. It has more to do with a different value system and worldview, which they will not grow out of. The emerging culture sees life in a radically different way than their parents, and will need to understand the way of Jesus in their own culture. This is the missional challenge for us, the same challenge that the church in every age is faced with.
Tomorrow: 2. What examples have you seen which you think deserve the phrase "emerging"?
ADDED: Oct 2006
Here are the links to my answers:
Defining the Emerging Church
Emerging Church Definition 1.0
Emerging church Definition 2.0
Emerging Church Definition 3.0
Emerging church Definition 4.0
Emerging church Defintion Additional
I believe the magazine published this but i dont think i ever got a copy.
I briefed a number of American Foundations on the emerging church scene. You can read what i said at Emergant.org