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Posts from December 2009

10 types of emerging church that will no longer upset your grandfather

On New Years Eve, exactly ten years ago, I wrote a piece on the 5 types of emerging "postmodern" churches as I saw them. Now, on the eve of the next decade, I want to expand that number to the 10 types of emerging church models that we have been starting, promoting, raising funds for, training leaders for, and, of course, taking a whole lot of criticism for.

A decade ago, these emerging church models would have horrified your grandfather, especially, if he was anything like the every-Sunday-morning-Presbyterian that my grandfather was. Today, the controversy in most places [depends where you live] has subsided to the level that no one will call you a heretic or the anti-christ if you start up a church that looks like one of these models.

Of the 10 types listed below, I have taken lumps for all of them. But that criticism slowed down to a tiny trickle by the end of the decade. Here are 10 types of emerging churches that were often considered highly radical and offensive when the decade began, but now operate with relatively little or no resistance, and many of which are promoted by even the most traditional denominations.

1. Culture-based communities like the skate churches, surf churches, hip-hop churches, and the alternative culture churches built around metalheads/goths/punks. Some of them were accused of being "Satanic" but not any more. You will find them everywhere (the Southern Baptists have some great examples) and without much controversy.

2. GenX, Postmodern, and "Emergent" churches were once accused of being a "protest movement" but that kind of criticism is much harder to find. These days, the criticism tends to be around particular beliefs that dont match up to denominational or doctrinal creeds but no longer about the forms of church which have proved to be an attractive model for many traditional churches who want to maintain their younger flock.

3. The new-monastic orders and intentional communities, as well as Celtic churches, operating as spiritual communities of faith inside a mostly Protestant world. They raised eyebrows a decade ago but today are quite common and acceptable.

4. House churches, simple churches, organic churches. I was told they were "not real churches" and were filled with people too lazy to get up on Sunday morning and attend a real service. Not any more. It was noted at the 2009 Global House Church Summit that house churches outnumber traditional churches in some countries and are perhaps becoming the new mainstream.

5. Cyberchurch and virtual online communities had their first symposium in 2009 in London with no protest at all from those who used to say they were a rebellion against "physical" church worship services. A lot of ordinary traditional church folk are now also involved in some sort of online spiritual community.

6. Alternative worship/fresh expression/new-liturgical churches were once highly controversial but now leaders from these churches are asked to set up worship for large scale Christian events and provide worship resources for all kinds of church.

7. Pub churches and coffee shop churches and other "third space" churches that were once chastised for meeting in "profane" places are now a viable option for traditional churches and mission societies as a cheap and accessible place to start a new church. There is still a little criticism floating around but it tends to be directed at the drinking of alcohol and the occasional profane language, rather than the profane place in which it happens.

8. The contemplative prayer movement was accused of pagan practises in the past and attracted a daily dose of web criticism. Today, through the influence of groups like 24-7 Prayer [who have actually become a dynamic church planting movement in their own right], it is common to see multi-media prayer spaces in all kinds of churches all over the world and without the controversy.

9. Christians who dont go to church, sometimes called "Churchless" Christians" or "believers who don't belong". A decade ago they were "backslidden" because they didn't turn up at a Sunday worship service. But thanks to the research and reflection of people like Alan Jamieson and George Barna, it is now acceptable to talk about the other half of the church who practice a spiritual rhythmic lifestyle of fellowship and worship without the programs of a local church. The controversy that erupted after Barna's book 'Revolution' has died down to a whisper.

10. Social enterprises leading to missional communities, often buried deep inside urban centers. A decade ago these were sanctioned as "ministries" and "mission stations" and "projects" but eventually, everyone had to go to some church on Sunday. Now they can emerge as their own church without a lot of fuss. These types of emerging church, which I think will mushroom even more in the next decade, are the least likely to use church language. Not even emerging church language.  

Well, thats how I see it from where I am. I dont think my grandfather, if he had kept up with changes in the global Christian landscape, would have gotten really upset with any of these. But maybe your grandfather is different than mine.

Happy new year.


I watched Avatar last night with my family. Good flick from James Cameron. Part Tarzan, part Pocahontas with a hint of LOTR Revenge of the Forest People on the Wicked Machines. Romanticism meets pantheism. And an Avatar figure to save the day who just happens to be tall and skinny [yeah!] rather than a mountain of towering muscle.


I was wondering what they would do with the Avatar idea and how it would be received. Best response I read was a blog comment from TJ:

"We watched the movie here in India in room packed with Hindus, for whom the Hindi/Sanskrit word “avatar” means “incarnation”. Interestingly, Cameron’s Avatar is a blend of the 2 species physically , but mentally, culturally, and ethically, he is 100% human. And not just human, but American-human. The Christ figure of Avatar ’saves’ the people and the planet out of an individualistic, American ethic rather than the panentheistic resolve of the native god-worshippers. His sense of “justice” and right/wrong bend his allegiance to a new “cause.” He is not acting as the Na’vi act, or thinking as think (believing, feeling… etc). His consciousness is pricked within the cultural worldview of his home, rather than his recent biological synthesis.
What a great way to think about Jesus, who acted, thought, believed and felt just like we do. In every way, he was like us (excepting sin). He was not merely a “skyperson-in-a-cool-body” but truly human, truly god." Comment on A Different Take on Avatar, First Things by Hunter Baker

Regarding the idea of Christ as Avatar, I have been doing a little research lately on the possibility of Christ being the Prajapathi of the Reg Vedas.

Some websites say its a fraud, and involves eager Christians taking Sanskrit verses out of context. Negative phrases like "Prajapathi Heresy" "Prajapati Cult" "Prajapati Affair" appear. And on the other hand, there are plenty of sites claim that Christ is prefigured in the Ancient Vedas [see PDF] and is a fulfilment of certain Arian prophecies.

This might be a hot topic in 2010 not just in India but for the whole world of Christian missions, as it celebrates 100 years since the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, 1910. It was at that conference that the "fulfilment theory", which had its origins with Krishna Mohan Banerjea and some others in the 1800's, found its way to a wider audience. The 1990's saw a resurgence in the idea of Christ in the Ancient Vedas, in particular the Prajapathi figure, and with it a new round of controversy. The discussions can get quite heated, as they are on this Hindu site.


On a different note, but still on the Avatar theme, I visited the Ramayana exhibition in the British Library last year and found it to be fascinating. The Ramayana mythology, so central to many of Hinduism's beliefs, existed on palm leaves and birch bark until it was finally printed as a book in the Sanskrit language. This work was done, according to information posted at the library, in 1806 by two Christian missionaries named William Carey and Joshua Marshman on their press at Serampore, India. Interesting!

Emerging Church Movement (1989 - 2009)?

Update: April 2010. Well this post kicked off quite a bit of discussion and even today that discussion continues. As you read it, please note that I am saying [probably not as clearly as i intended] that i observed the movement to have matured in 2009, and is no longer a "radical and controversial movement, a trend evident in the vast majority of the groups I examined. This is very different from being "dead".  A follow up post called "10 Emerging Church Models that will no longer upset your grandfather" shares a little bit of what I was seeing and may help to clarify where I was coming from. As will this post on the international, global, multicultural nature of the movement. 


Original Post: 2009 marks a turning point for the emerging church. Its difficult to make broad statements about a movement that hit each country at different times, in successive waves, and at different paces. But as someone who jumped into this funky controversial experimental movement in 1985 (if it could be called a movement back then) and has ridden the wave all the way through nearly 50 countries and many ups and downs, joys and sorrows, rewards and sacrifices, here is my take. For what its worth . .

In my opinion, 2009 marks the year when the emerging church suddenly and decisively ceased to be a radical and controversial movement in global Christianity. In many places around the world, the movement has already been either adopted, adapted, or made redundant through the traditional church catching up or duplicating EC efforts. In some countries there have been strategic partnerships during 2009 or a significant rethinking process that has led to a new level of maturity, a sense of completion, or an re-evaluation of original vision and current practices.

In 2009, the emerging church either grew up, stopped being offensive, switched gear from experimental to normal, became the new mainstream, or a bit of each.

During 2009, I can think of 5 or 6 countries where some of the top "emerging church" leaders have been brought on staff to more traditional churches or denominations or mission agencies where it is hoped they will bring new perspective to the traditional streams of Christianity. There are now Bible colleges that offer a degree in the emerging church. I know because I have taught classes at them.

History will most likely mark 2009 as the point of transition and maturation for the emerging church movement. However, various streams within the movement will continue on for many years to come. For example, the biggest global emerging church event on the calender for 2010 will take place in Brazil and be attended mostly by Latin Americans. I have been asked to speak there and if I do, I will not be telling them that their movement is over because it is far from it.

A harder question to ask, and it will be asked as church historians begin to write a decent history of this movement (which no one has yet managed to do), will be regarding the date it all started.

1994 has already been suggested as the start date for this movement. This seems to make sense to a lot of Americans but not other countries. Its true that the trickle became a stream around that time but there was a lot of action in the 80's that led directly to the movement. I go for an earlier date.

1989 is the biggest contender for this date of commencement. At the frustratingly fickle "emerging church" article on Wikipedia, which is currently going through an English mood swing, 1989 is the year of choice. And it is likely that 1989 will stick. In 1989, says Wikipedia, New Zealand baptist Mark Pierson started Parallel Universe with his mate Mike Riddel and the two of them inspired emerging church leaders and alt. worship gatherings around the world from that point on. Which actually is true and both Mike and Mark have been an inspiration to me also. But, as much as I would like a New Zealander to be the founder of the movement, and despite the roundness of the 20 year period from 1989, there are many who will argue for an earlier date.

The first mention of online community appears in 1985. John Wimber rocked the English in Sheffield in 1985 at an event which inspired the Nairn Street Community to start the Nine O'Clock Service some months later. In 1985, Sanctuary launched out as a movement for metalheads and punks. By 1986, the leaders of Matthews Party in California were being criticized for church in a pub and were told that "church should not be a party!" In 1986, a group gathered at Dieter and Val Zander's house that became New Song. In 1988, two guys at school with me (Mutlnomah) had already started a skate church in Portland Oregon. I had already started my first house church in 1985, at the obnoxious age of 21, and by 1989 had started a coffee-shop type church service. Also in 1989 I met up with Dave Andrews in Australia who, inspired by the Christian ashrams in India, already had a network of over 30 houses in a new kind of dispersed community in Brisbane called The Waiter's Union. And some will quickly add Late Late Service in Glasgow and we could go on and on with mid and late 80's emerging churches.

But every movement is preceded with experiments and early examples. And every movement has streams that continue unabated for years afterwards. Such it will be with the EC. But in the meantime, there is room for a lot more stories to fill the pages of the emerging church history if we are to decide on a date.

A quick story to gain some perspective. Sorry this post is going on so long.

Pastor Bob Beeman, who I spent a few days with this month, told me that 1985 was the year that Sanctuary took off. There were so many goths, metalheads, and punks coming to Jesus in Redondo Beach, California, that they decided to start their own discipleship ministry. Bob is working on a video that will be released in 2010 to celebrate 25 years of the movement. At their peak in the 1990's, Sanctuary had 36 parishs ("house churches" Pastor Bob called them) but there came a time when they decide to close them all down (except San Diego with Dave Hart) because the traditional churches were no longer rejecting metalheads and punks. God used the Sanctuary churches for a period of time in which they were needed to preserve wine in new wineskins, and God is using them powerfully today around the world in an advisory role. In many ways, I see the story of Sanctuary as a mirror image of the wider emerging church movement. And 2009 was the year when many emerging church steams realized they had to make that shift.

How about you? Can you add to my list of emerging church models in the 1980's? How would you date it?

What sounds better to you - Emerging Church 1989 to 1999? or Emerging Church 1985 - 2010?

Previously on TSK: Defining the Emerging Church, 2004

Thoughts on the "Edinburgh Error"

This morning I have been discussing my response to David Hesselgrave's excellent paper "Will We Correct the Edinburgh Error" (available here) and reading through it again. I posted my response in 2008 as part of much larger piece on the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, 1910 but it was buried deep down and most of you probably didn't see it. But you can take a look by downloading the PDF "The Skinny on Hesselgrave's Edinburgh Error" and you can also leave your own notes on the PDF and send it back, if you want to add to the discussion.


- Brian Stanley's superb book The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 was published this year. Google books has a preview.

- Latest edition of Lausanne Pulse features articles from my friends Jim Beise who speaks on Helping Christian artists find their place through La Fonderie (Paris) and, also from Paris, Eric Célérier talking on Reaching an Online Generation

Merry Christmas from TSK and family

Merry Christmas from our family. Hope you have a wonderful holiday. We are spending our Christmas in the ancient town of Silves, Portugal, where we are waiting for some paperwork and some funding so we can get into North Africa. Actually, its a great place to be for Christmas and quite warm, compared with the rest of Europe right now. Although this week we have already had flooding, an earthquake and a small hurricane that was sucked open our motorhome door until I locked it. Pretty cool, actually. (Nothing to worry about Mum!)


Silves is a beautiful old town, unspoiled by tourists. Except us, that is.


Silves, in the south of Portugal, is the ancient Arab town of Xelb, once called the "Bagdad of the West". It has been vandalized through the ages by many famous people including Crusader King Richard the Lionhearted [of Robin Hood fame] who got sidetracked on the pilgrimage to the holy land and decided to console himself with a spot of violent looting in Xelb. All for the glory of God, of course. I think he really lost the plot, don't you? Our Christmas shopping, on the other hand, was quite timid and not a window was smashed. And since our Christmas spending limit was 5 Euros, we didn't really walk away with much loot either. Although we did take a few photos . . .


My Christmas treat was a retro haircut from an arthritic Portuguese barber. What an experience, despite the fact that my mullet has gone back to ground zero! It took him over an hour. Not bad for 5 Euros. And that photo that Debbie took was worth the admission.


Dang that haircut makes me look so incredibly HANDSOME! Oh yeah, and I have a beard now, in case you didn't notice. I think I will just BLEND into Morocco.


Donald and Alana have been accompanying our family during our travels. Yes, 9 people in a truck can be a little crowded, in case you were wondering, but we often spill out into tents so its not as bad as it seems.


There has been a lot of flooding lately with the stormy weather which means an occasional 4-wheel drive moment to show off for the camera. Our truck kicks butt! Really. Try doing that in a Winnebago!


Anyway, Merry Christmas. Have a great one! God's richest blessings on you this season.

Christmas Medley

Its very retro and terribly dated and you really had to be there, but here's an old Christmas geeky poem I wrote in 2005.

All I want for Christmas is Ajax

All I want for Christmas is Ajax
I don't want a tall skinny tree
or lots of presents under it.
All I ask for are some Web 2.0 goodies
that are zipped and not wrapped.
I want PHP and not PAJAMAS.
Give me widgets and not gadgets.
Give me a torrent of flashy gifts that flickr brightly under MySQL clouds.
I want Wiki and not wassel.
I want Christmas feeds and not Christmas food.
I want shareware and freeware and not underwear.
I want my OPML Christmas list to be meta-tagged and checked twice by automated folksonomy-based aggregators exhibiting an emergent Christmas cheer that can be mapped visually and dynamically on my poor and miserable blog that limps along like Tiny Tim on the pathetic crutches of Web 1.0 architecture.
All I want for Christmas is Ajax.

Andrew Jones, 2005

And a few other Christmas posts from years gone by:

The most famous Christmas Eve ever

Always Easter but never Christmas

Cruelty-Free Christmas Feast

George Mackay Brown poem and Christmas message

Catching Up

Christmas Greetings everyone. Haven't blogged for a week. We are have been sitting out an unexpected cold spell by wild camping in the mountains in our truck. I got a bit of a cold and was in bed for a day or two but bouncing back. We are currently at a camping place in the mountains of Portugal and do not have phone or internet access. Weather is good now.

Christmas giveaway: Ed offers his Coffeehouse Theology study guide as a free download.

Still waiting on visa stuff and also for more funding to get us into North Africa.

Earthquake this morning. Our truck rocked and Debbie thought someone had jumped on it.

More later.

Kiva and faith-based micro-finance

The Kiva Effect is a great article on micro-finance and faith based micro-credit unions. Thanks to CT for publishing it and Becky for the HT. Of course there are a lot of these initiatives that escape the media's eye. Check out my post on emerging philanthropy and the Indian Taxi Fund.

Related: I read a book from the 1960's on Christian cooperatives and the work of Roman Catholic missionary Father Topshee. He created micro-credit unions for Pacific Islanders to help them become sustainable. He figured out that it only takes 100 people to launch a successful cooperative.

Rocking on Christmas

Rock on Christmas Festival was a great experience. Thanks for your prayers and support. The attendance was less than we hoped for but we all had a fantastic time and pretty much everyone is making plans to do it again next year and maybe add a country or three to the tour.

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Mark Richard Jordan, a Methodist pastor and wicked drummer for the Sanctuary Worship Band, took some photos. He liked our truck as well as our children. More photos and video coming from me later in the week. Right now we are taking off for some R&R with the family. No - that rest and relaxation, NOT rock and roll.

Emerging Church and Black Rimmed Glasses

Here's one for the theologs. Guess the person behind the black rimmed glasses? Answer at the end of the post.

tony jones, rob bell karl barth

From the fantastical mind of Todd Heistand, Karl Barth has a beer and a smoke and a chat with emerging church leaders. Nice post, although I cant imagine a room full of emerging church leaders hanging in a German pub with Karl Barth WITHOUT the majority of them being German and not American. And I say that from being in many of those meetings in Germany, hanging with the Germans, although without Karl Barth.

And if I was blogging it, as I was in Todd's dream, I would no doubt discuss Barth's impact on missiology more than theology, in particular his understanding of 'missio dei" that would later inform the idea in its current incarnation as "missional". More on that here. Besides, that, good post Todd!

Who's behind the glasses? Tony Jones, Rob Bell, and, you guessed it . . . Karl Barth.