Jason Clark [UK]
Entry & Emphasis
There have been many entry points for people into the emerging church conversation, different events, books, speakers, experiences and flavors. Mine was through the association of vineyard churches, and it’s invitation by Todd Hunter to have Dallas Willard, Stanley Grenz, & Brian McLaren, resource some of us as young leaders 10-11 years ago.
This was before Emerging church was called emerging church. Despite Todd Hunter trying to stimulate us into this area, my denomination has largely become hostile and with great antipathy towards the ‘Emerging Church’.
I often surmise that it is this group, my tribe, who I have spent the most time ‘defending’ emerging church to, which is rather tiring. My own denomination with their interactions with the more anti/post church wing of Emerging church, who seem so visible on the web and in books, has wondered how I could be a vineyard pastor and be involved with emerging church at all?
On the other hand I have often (and still have), emerging church people ask why and how can I be part of the emerging church, and be a vineyard pastor.
My route into this wasn’t anglican alternative worship, and it wasn’t the post-evangelical route either. My personal driver was planting a church then having a nervous breakdown literally, and not knowing what I believed anymore about church, and church planting.
It was those initial theological resources of Dallas Willard, Brian McLaren and Stanley Grenz, that helped me understand the nature of post-modernity, the impact of foundationalim on how we communicate the gospel, and the need to see myself as a missionary in a post Christian context.
I went back into theological study to help resource me, and my church plant, to understand the context I am in, and to try to grow a church in that situation, and that has led me to the position of writing, teaching and speaking, to resource others.
11 Years later, one D.Min, and now P.hD and church that has grown to around 300 adults and 120 kids, with lots of unchurched people, and new christians, and a deeply missional identity, I find myself heavily indebted to the Emerging Church, and at the same time very troubled by it.
And I think that is the way it should be, we should always see organisations as the enemy of good practice (to paraphrase MacIntyre), and despite not wanting to organise, the Emerging church has become something itself, that in many ways gets in the way of what it aspires to do and be.
And anything I move onto and into, will do likewise. So this is no bitter moving on, it’s a taking stock, and knowing that as I move forward or try to, any re-focusing will have to be critiqued as thoroughly as the existing church that the emerging church has critiqued.
The Broader Emerging Church
I’ve always been an advocate for the broader emerging church and it is something I value in my friendship with Brian McLaren, and see so ably demonstrated in his book , ‘A Generous Orthodoxy’. The valuing of the body of Christ broadly and deeply. For me the ‘emerging church’ at it’s best has been the shared experience of the whole body of Christ to our emerging context, and the reconnecting of church to it’s identity and mission in history.
Whether you are catholic, house church, an naissant/proto emerging church, we are all the emerging church, with a deep ecumencalism, helping each other respond to similar contextual problems. Trying to form churches that see people find and grow in love and orientation around Jesus.
But the emerging church can become so broad, that it loses it’s meaning. It does seem that almost anyone and anything is called emerging church these days. I’m still more comfortable with this broader and generous delineation though. But I sense many are thinking of moving beyond the emerging church, due to it’s dilution.
The Narrow Emerging Church
There have always been groups claiming to be the progenitors of the emerging church (I’ve never wanted to do that, rather I have seen Emergent as part of the bigger emerging church), and I suspect some of this grouping want to stop using the term emerging church, feeling that it is overused by too many other people.
Some in this narrow grouping, often talk about how flexible ecclesiology is, then are utterly dogmatic about the forms that emerging church should take, or cannot take. Often I fear that these expressions of conscious emerging church are as exclusive, and alientating as the churches they have reacted against.
This narrow banding often reduce emerging church to aesthetical styles, and pathological axiomatics, of locations and practices. There can be a regular mantra of ‘we have no programs, we are organic, missional, and are participatory’, whilst doing very little that is missional, and beyond therapy spaces for disillusioned Christians (I’m not against the need for Christians to process the problems of church, it’s just that being missional requires getting beyond that stage).
And (you may sense my weariness at this point), often the stimulus to these emerging groups seem focused around people who are not in church communities, who seem to be peddling elaborate theories, blueprints and grandiose hypothecations, of churches that don’t exist, and that they have never planted, or been part of.
It’s these manifestations that I spend too much time qualifying in interactions with people interested in Emerging Church, but who have been hitting google and finding this stream so dominant and visible. This post/anti church, reflexivity is something I find increasingly problematic.
Part of my moving away from talking about Emerging Church, is my concerns with this narrow version, that is very prominate, and I think ultimately a genetic dead end to the church (in terms of growing viable groups with new Christians). I’ve made a lot of pejorative comments there and will come back to this critique in more detail over the next few weeks.
Another reason for moving on from the term emerging church, is that in my church life it’s one we don’t use, and I think that is healthy. Our church community is missional in orientation, it does attend to emerging culture, and key theological issues of foundationalism, but in a way that is natural to what it is and does.
It is not a collection of Christians talking about ‘emerging church’, and about what we don’t want to be. That surprises visitors who often expect ‘Emerging Church’ will be the most immediate topic of conversation amongst our people. It’s not…mission, community, life with Jesus are (I hope) our identity and focus.
I think for many of us, ‘emerging church’ has been a resource and become part of who we are, and it’s natural to start talking about what we are doing in different terms, than an ongoing critique of existing church.
So for some emerging church is too broad, for me it’s becoming too narrow and anti-church, at least in many of it’s UK formulations, or rather in ways that undermine it’s missional aspirations.
It’s more past tense, for me, something that stimulated and resourced me to be what I am doing now, and I treasure that. What I am focusing on going forward will be part of a series of posts here. And remember this post was a personal reflection, my evaluation of my experience, how ever riddled with misunderstandings that might be.
As you might have already guessed, Deep Church, is a mood, and focus that I am finding a home in, and trying to sketch out with others.
This article was originally published at Jason's new website : http://deepchurch.org.uk