Most of you know I have at least some interest in the emerging church and write about it from time to time, or maybe it’s just a guilty-by-association thing. But in either case insofar as these new community’s are ‘missional’ expressions of the church, and exemplify ‘new forms’ of worship, practice and Christian-imagination than I find their stories to be helpful for navigating and dreaming of the possibilities for the church in the 21st century.
One thing I’m particularly interested in is how denominations might learn from these groups. A while back I wrote a post on this question and what I saw as four possible models of the emerging church. Part of the post, and certainly the great comments that followed, tried to display how particular denominations are showing ‘signs of emergence.’ Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, authors of the now-standard study on the Emerging Church, have now done the hard work of gathering actual stories and articles from nine leaders of emerging churches rooted within various traditions. As Ryan Bolger announced on his (new wordpress) blog, he and Gibbs edited the fall edited of Fuller Seminary’s ‘Theology, News and Notes’ the issue is titled “Emerging Churches in Denominational Structures.” Some of the denomination represented are Lutheran, PCUSA, Adventist, and Missionary Alliance. Here’s a quote from Bolger and Gibb’s opening article:
It is a mistake to think of the emerging church as a cohesive movement with authorized spokespersons. It is more of a matrix of networks attracting a range of like-minded travelers. It has been described as a conversation in which countless numbers participate via websites and weblogs (blogs). Critics and observers who focus on major gatherings and high-profile authors miss the core nature of diversity of opinions and ongoing dialogue. The church emerging is not a centrally organized, hierarchical organization, but more a spontaneous grass-roots phenomenon.
The language of emergence recognizes that the Church here on earth can never take on final form. All churches are part of the becoming Church, recognizing that the Church is not the Kingdom of God, but lives in anticipation of the coming reign of God. As such it is a sign, servant, and sacrament of that future hope. It is imperfect, provisional, and adapting to its varied and changing cultural contexts.
Emerging churches recognize that Western societies are moving beyond the context of Christendom which has prevailed for sixteen hundred years. In this post-Christendom and culturally pluralistic environment, the church finds itself increasingly marginalized and no longer a pillar of society. As it forfeits its privileged position, it must learn a different tone of witnesswith grace and boldness in a marketplace of differing ideologies. In response to cultural shifts of seismic proportions, emerging churches re-imagine themselves, seeking to be a missional presence. It is this conviction that lies at the heart of the emerging church conversation.
From a missiological perspective it is very good to see the church traditions engaging with their cultural contexts, a tradition that is alive and being led by the Spirit will not be stagnate but engage the world on behalf of the reign of God. I hope to see more denominations making shifts in a more missiological direction.