Perhaps you have noticed all the attention the Emerging Church seems to attract these days. Within the last year the emerging church has been the focus of news articles on the front page of the New York Times, in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. It was the topic of an hour-long religious special on ABC, as well as numerous cable television and radio shows. Not to mention the attention generated by religious news outlets and publishers who are creating their own line of emerging products.
The Emerging Church even has it’s own detractors. Fearing we may have slipped, capitulated, lost the essentials, or otherwise gotten too close to culture for it’s own good – there are good people giving warning about this “movement”. If it’s true that a movement has arrived when it has official opponents; then the emerging church has arrived. With all the press the emerging church is getting you would think it would be easy to find a definition, but it’s more difficult than it seems to pin down this movement.
Many estimates put the number of emerging churches around the world in the thousands but there is no central hub. Part of the difficulty in getting the straight scoop on the EC (emerging church) is that there is no official brand. Church expressions from nearly every tradition are using the phrase at their own choosing. In one city there may be a Presbyterian church and a Catholic young adult ministry using the term; or an evangelical nondenominational church and an Episcopal expression right up the street both comfortable calling themselves emerging.
While there is no “emerging church seal of approval” and they come in many expressions and forms, I would like to take a crack at my list of tendencies, passions and perspectives of churches that call themselves emerging. By the way, my using such 1980’s techniques of making lists that summarize people could result in the revocation of my emerging church decoder ring.
In no way do I suppose to speak for all emerging communities but from my understanding as an insider – this is what I see.
Emerging Churches strive to be positive about the future.
There is a passion within emerging churches to become globally focused. Many hold the perspective that we live in the greatest period of time in history and the church can, and should, live into that. I like to call it “open-eyed optimism”. Optimism that understands the reality of the world, which is not always pretty, but sees the hope of God living and active in the world as a whole. This positivism is reconstructive, moving beyond critiquing Christianity and toward constructive change.
Churches within the emerging community are committed to God in the way of Jesus.
As Christ-centered people, many of us understand the Gospel in terms of Jesus’ radical, profound, and expansive message of the kingdom of God. The emerging church is helping to articulate the call for Christianity to go beyond mere belief in commands and into a life that’s in rhythm with God.
The Kingdom of God is a central conversation in emerging communities.
Mark Scandrette of ReImagine, a significant voice in the emerging church, says this, “The kingdom of God is a generative people who believe that a more beautiful and sustainable way of life is possible.” Within many of us there is a desire for the Good News of Jesus to really be good news for the people of the world and not just the promise of a world to come. Many find good news in the call of Jesus to join the kingdom of God. And let me tell you “Kingdom of God” language is really big in the emerging church.
The emerging church values communal life – living like family.
Emerging churches often speak of themselves as if they were a family where the love and commitment to one another is deep, meaningful and essential. Almost completely gone from the emerging church conversation is the idea that the church is a supplier of religious goods and services provided to a wanting consumer. Instead, people are invited to join in and become one of us.
Emerging churches seek to live as missional communities.
Being missional does not mean having a mission statement that clearly communicates the goals of the church. Instead, it’s the desire to be on the agenda of God. More than seeing their role as setting forth a bold vision (mission statement) and asking God to bless it, we seek to join God in the work of the kingdom wherever it is found. Brian McLaren puts it this way, “We practice our faith missionally – that is, we do not isolate ourselves from this world, but rather, we follow Christ into the world.”
Friendship and hospitality are transformational pieces in the emerging church.
Emerging churches believe that friendships change people. They stress that Jesus welcomed the original disciples into a warm friendship with himself and one another. Through the centuries the church has been an extension of this friendship through space, time, and transition. Emerging churches put much emphasis on hospitality. But this is not just your grandma’s after-service dinner in the church basement kind of hospitality. It takes the kindness of those dinners and adds a new level of vulnerability – a call to an intimate redemptive relationship.
Communities in the emerging movement value theology.
Emerging churches are often vigilant in their assertion that what they are about is not merely changing the methods of their faith; they are seeking to be full theological communities. Many will stress that they are not called to do “cover versions” of other generation’s faith with their own spin. But they are called to be living theological communities who articulate and generate understandings of God, life and faith.
So that is my list; it’s not intended to be static – nor the end of the conversation. I guess you could say it’s just emerging.