Immersed in emerging

I’ve been thinking a lot about this last year (2004) and wanted to take an audit of my encounters with the “emerging” brand-name-label-noun-verb. I’m inspired by Will’s musings about emerging as an attitude. I would like to think that of the many directions the EC might head, it must be into the heart of mission. That is, I believe a missional attitude will save the EC from some potential pitfalls (eg. Being/becoming – just a fad, a commodity, another exclusively Evangelical [white male?] sub-culture, a talk-fest for religious insiders). (There’s More)

This past year Sherry and I have had the great pleasure of attending several Emergent events (May convention in Nashville, September forum in Atlanta, October Gathering in New Mexico). We have been given the opportunity to spend time with some of the people identified as important (leading) voices in the “emerging church friendship” in the United States. We were also very pleased to meet with a few Alt. Worship peeps from the UK. As a result, this Communality blog was born.

Preceding this more deliberate involvement with Emergent-US, I participated in a Forge intensive in Melbourne, Australia (October ’03). Alongside these ‘live’ experiences I have been a blog-maniac, spending (too many?) hours trying to find the balance between information-overload and feeling like I just can’t read another post. I have read the bulk of the Zondervan/Emergent-YS catalog and have kept up with the recent press about emerging in CT and CC.

Finally, I have the unusual pleasure of serving as a missionary among a beautiful group of people committed to the missio dei alongside the marginalized in our city. Suffice to say, there is always plenty of day-to-day action to accompany the reflection.

“So what?” I hear you mutter…. Well, I am increasingly excited with the broad-based interest in re-imagining the church. The conversations in the books, articles, blogosphere, pubs, coffee shops, conventions, gathering, and (even) churches are energizing. , and I long for servant leadership among peers. Power corrupts, which is a danger in the church as anywhere else… and a heirarchical structure is the breeding-ground for the corruption of church leaders. Jesus talked about this, about what can happen to church leaders who start well but end up enamoured with their positions. Practically speaking, this drives the necessity for decentralization so that the structures can be interrelated but independently manageable in smaller sizes.

Here are some distilled hopes from this year’s experiences….

  • This is a time for asking questions that require a renewed examination of ecclesial/theological/missional ideas and practices. The tiresome (and straw-[wo]man laden) debate over the relative/qualitative difference of this age over any age past seems to get us nowhere. The church has not always existed and it is my understanding that it will cease to exist when we enter into the fullness of the Kingdom, “on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems to me that the church is by definition a temporal agency and when it ceases to be born of mission, it ceases to be the church. It’s always time for an ecclesial revolution/reformation/re-imagining.

  • I hope this friendship/movement will (continue to) be rooted in mission. I hope we discover that the EC has mission in its DNA. To this end, I am going to follow the lead of Alan Hirsch (from Forge) and call this collective of ideas-communities-individuals-attitudes the Emerging Missional Church. (Alan says all this much better than I just have in this newsletter). Language is important and perhaps this slight modification will more deliberately move the conversation in the ‘missional direction’.

    “But what is mission?” I hear you ask. If it is everything, then it is nothing….right? This is the million $ question. In my view, it requires a collectively-lived-out response to the hope that all of creation is being reconciled to God. It will be bound by the twin commitments of community and place. (Wendell Berry beautifully describes community as “a placed people”…..see his essays on community, sex, and economy).

I hope the EMC conversation elevates the value of contextualization. We can’t overstate the importance of self-theologizing missional communities. Mission (as service/proclamation) and theology (as poetic, rigorous, biblical imagination) will be so tightly wound together in the life of a collection of people we might someday wonder why people ever went away to seminary for ‘training.’
I hope the EMC develops an explicit love for the world and for the ‘common good’. I would like to see the EMC incubate concerned-activism relating to the environment, politics, and social justice. Such activism would reflect an urgent awareness about the fact that there is continuity between “this world” and “the next world.” Enough talk of who’s in and who’s out of the discussion…a concern for the common good means ‘it’ is all for the all of us. The divisions drawn between “the churched” and “the unchurched” (or “the church” and “the world”) is dualistic in the worst ways and seems to me a misreading of scripture and culture. In this spirit we will better participate in the co-creation of the whole world, not just a “conversation/revolution in the church.”

I hope this will lead us (as the people of God) to Reclaim the Margins (Rodney Stark’s The rise of Christianityis a potent lesson in Kingom-marginality). We need to repopulate the edges of our culture, never assuming we can engage in the power-plays so often associated with being effective…YET we need to be ready to make a difference in every layer of our various contexts, from the street, down to places like the White House (upsidesown Kingdom!) I would be happy for others to worry about Reclaiming the Center.

Here ends my rant. I’m not suggesting these things aren’t already happening, I’m just hoping they take the attention away from the (real or unfair) caricature of the EMC as just a subculture of Evangelicalism….with fancy-facial-hair. We are excited about the coming year and hope we will have the grace to walk in the Jesus-ways of Justice, Love, Mercy, and Humility.
Geoff is “an australian in the USA – a stranger in a strange land. at best: caught up in the missio dei. at worst: lost. ” and one member of the community posting on the blog ‘The Ashram’