Where Is the Emerging Church Headed?

April 13, 2009

Emerging Church signpost

Photo by Ville Miettinen (license), altered by Jon Reid (copyright)

Where is the emerging church headed? What direction is it taking?

One of the problems with trying to answer such a question is that “emerging church” means many different things. I think this is because God is doing many different things, working large shifts in the church in the new cultural contexts we find ourselves in.

For me, the emerging church saved my faith. My mid-life crisis consisted of having the foundational, propositional arguments of “reasons to believe in Jesus (and what that means)” be torn apart. Through the emerging church (which was then called “postmodern” Christianity) I learned that

a) I am not crazy,
b) I am not alone,
c) Jesus is new all over again.

The difficulty of trying to label anything “emerging church” is that God meets each of us at a different point of need. I bet many, many folks can identify with the a-b-c process outlined above (not crazy, not alone, Jesus is still the center). But we start from different points and are presently at different points. And isn’t that OK?

So perhaps instead of asking, “Where is the emerging church headed?” a better question is “Where am I headed?” or “Where am I taking the emerging church?” I want to highlight four people whose responses resonate with me:

Dan Kimball wants to recover evangelism as the heart of the emerging church: “All this talk of emergent and emerging is really trivial and trite when compared to the mission we are on – which isn’t about what is or isn’t E-merging or E-mergent but what we need to focus on is E-vangelism.” Read Scot McKnight’s words made me want to cry (in a good way). Dan is starting a new network along these lines.

Mike Bishop, on the other hand, is done with done translocal networks and associations. “This will happen best on a local and organic level – not through translocal networks or associations. The emerging church failed as a movement because some tried to domesticate the necessary (but un-domesticatible) process of moving from the old to the new.” Read Welcoming a New Reality.

John O’Hara sees the Spirit of God moving in fresh (one might say “emerging”) ways among people who have never heard of the emerging church or had any conscious association with it. “I guess by now it’s obvious โ€” we’ve grown apart. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault.” Read Dear John Letter to Emergent (TM).

Michael Toy, though, wants to reassure everyone about the direction of Emergent Village under his care. “To replace the uncomfortable language around ‘walking in the Way of Jesus’ or ‘following Jesus,’ I would like us to just use ‘Jesish.'” Read Watch Michael Toy, National Coordinator of Emergent.

What about you? Were are you headed, and where are you taking the emerging church?
And do you like that image? I worked hard on it! ๐Ÿ™‚

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

10 responses to Where Is the Emerging Church Headed?

  1. Love the pic.
    I’m not very read up nor experienced in the emergent church circle. I’ve been too caught up in the current forms. I’ve wanted to be on the cutting edge, thought that I was, but honestly I find that I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to defend what was and not honestly look at what could be.
    I just opened up a box from a Chr. publishing company. They want me to do some book reviews for them. I’m staring at eight books, all about church leadership/growth/forms/formulas. Some look interesting. Some look exhausting. To me there is so much energy spent trying to keep the wheels on the bus going round and round. The curious thing is, a lot of people are getting off the bus and not looking back.
    Now that I’m not defending the old, I’m in a different place to process, but I’m still not sure that I’ll all that excited about discussing wine skins of any age. I’m more interested in being the wine. And drinking it.
    I’m meeting with a group of quasi-emergent leaders in my home town for a book study. I say quasi because the majority of them still have ministry roles in traditional churches. I’m not a part of their group because we are smart enough to figure out Church 2.0. I’m not interested in creating a new ‘thing’ with them. I’m weary of church being a ‘thing’ instead of ‘people’ and I’m tired of preachers who spout that line but don’t actually live it. I’m a part of this group because they are helping me understand how to “be” the church, and it is taking some careful deconstruction of things that weren’t really that sacred at all.

  2. Hi Jon,
    (and Hi Chad)
    I like the image too — kind of like the signpost on M*A*S*H. =O)
    As to where I’m trying to move, I like Michael’s thoughts as well as many others. I’ve written about some of my own thoughts on leadership here:
    and on “thing church” here:
    in the thick of it with you two!

  3. Chad, one thing I like about the emerging church is its emphasis on living relationships over set-in-stone models (even new ones). Though there has been a tendency for some to become infatuated with the latest lingo (deftly punctured by Michael Toy), as John O’Hara points out, God is doing something fresh with people, regardless of whether they have claimed any association with any particular “club.”
    Deconstruction is scary until alternatives begin to appear. But those alternatives often can’t be seen until a fair bit of deconstruction has taken place. Enjoy the ride, sacred cows make great hamburgers!

  4. Keith, I find it funny that of the various folks I linked to, Michael’s is the one you mention!
    The triangle diagrams in your first link reminds me of some diagrams in The Tangible Kingdom where a triangle is tipped on its side. Actually the title of chapter 12 is “Tip It Over”!

  5. I’m beginnig to wonder if fixing the church is maybe the wrong focus. Jesus established the Church on his identity as the Christ, the Son of the living God. I’m committed to helping people be Jesus in the world rather than doing church in any structural or doctrinal form. That calls on the process of spiritual formation as in “Christ is formed in you.” If we become Jesus in the world then perhaps the real church will emerge. Why not be Jesus? Oh, and yes, great graphic.

  6. Calvin, I know I’ve had a tendency to focus on fixing the church, but as I think back I cannot recall ever hearing this in emerging church conversations (except grumblers coming from an unhealthy place รขโ‚ฌโ€ which may be a necessary step towards health).
    But say the words “spiritual formation” and you’ll find the ears of emerging church types prick up! Let’s do the stuff of the kingdom; whatever “church” is will sort itself out.

  7. Hi Jon, I am looking forward to reading those links, don’t have time right now, but I DO like the graphic. I do a lot of work with graphics, so I found myself looking at it as I read the article, “Did he make that?” “He must have made that himself, because where would you find it otherwise.” ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Sami, you can click through the credit underneath the photo to see what I started with. I fumbled around in Photoshop but learned some tricks and got better with each sign.
    And do check out the links once you stop talking to yourself. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. Hi Jon,
    Russ Hutto, saw your response in the forums over at 31D2BBB at ploblogger!
    Just wanted to say hey!

  10. Hey back atcha, Russ! Thanks for coming by.