Posts Tagged ‘Emerging Church’

Hearing From the Emerging Conversation

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Many are quick to point out the issues they have with the emerging church conversation. So it is refreshing when we get to read a post that doesn’t address the negative aspects of this movement. Singing to the Deaf is one such post. In it Michael Newnham gives us a list of things we need to hear from the emerging conversation.

Here is the ten items:

1. We can’t hear you when you talk at us instead of with us.

2. Jesus said go and do after we sat and listened.

3. Jesus probably wasn’t a Republican.

4. The story is a lot bigger than proof texts.

5. Most of us wrestle with some truths we’re not supposed to question.

6. There was a Christian faith before 1900.

7. The Lord didn’t give us a dress code.

8. We would actually like to see each other after the lecture.

9. Anything worth believing can stand up to questioning…and the big one…

10. Isn’t this supposed to be about the love of God and each other?

Some good discussion also, so pop over a give it a read.

Lots of Love for the Emerging Church

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Have you notice the number of blog posts lately talking about the positive good the emerging church movement has had? The posts usually (but not always) reminisce about how the movement has been an important part of the authors journey. They are a good reminder of the significance this movement has been in breathing new life into the spiritual wandering of so many.

Here are some recent samples:

Five Things to Love About the Emerging Church

Wheaton College and Positive Things About the Emerging Church

What Do You Do When a Revolution Isn’t Sexy Anymore?

Why I am still a friend of Emergent (even if we don’t talk that much anymore)

There have been even more “Is the Emerging Church Movement Dead?” posts and even a few of the posts noted above almost sound like eulogies. For a perspective on this, you might read David Fitch’s “Emergent, Organic, Missional Church: Methinks We Worry Too Much.”

Most good movements eventually fade as the nucleus of the church takes on the beneficial elements it espoused and is transformed. Let’s hope this is the case with the emerging church movement.

The Four “P’s” of Missional

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Michael Frost says that the missional paradigm takes seriously three fundamental doctrines; 1) Missio Dei — we are called to embrace God’s mission in this world and to go with him. 2) Participatus Christo — to participate in the work of Christ; to see where Jesus is at work and to dare to step into that context and work with him. 3) Imago Dei — all people bear the finger prints on their soul of the living God.

If we take these three fundamental doctrines seriously, there are at least four things (but not limited to these) which we will take seriously and that will inform our practices. Frost summarizes these in the four “P’s” of Missional.

The Four P’s

I’m paraphrasing Frost here.

Proximity: We step into the experience of those we seek to win and serve. We need to step out of our comfort zone and move into proximity of those who would not be in our normal circle of friends. Ministry happens in the neighborhoods.

Presences: We are to practice the presence of Christ in the midst of the world. We should be doing what Christ would have been doing if he was still physically walking in this world.

Powerlessness: Not spiritual powerlessness, but material or temporal powerlessness. Most Americans look at our churches and think that we represent a power base. They see us with enormous reserves of money, gigantic buildings, fabulous property — absolute power in a temporal sense. They think we will do anything to protect this power. Image if we could prove to Americans that the following of Jesus is worth more to us than the stuff of religious institutionalism. What would happen if we lost or gave up all “the churches” material wealth and only had the people left? Would we discover something about our spiritual power if we stopped relying on our temporal and material power?

Proclamation: Should we actually tell people about Jesus? If we move into the neighborhood and build relational proximity and are the presence of Jesus, going empty handed and naked as the powerless ones, sooner or later someone is going to want to know who you are and why you do what you do. The answer to that question is of course the proclamation of the person of Jesus. Without this proclamation we will be seen as just another good person. Of what value is that?

I’ve focused more on the last two because it is here where I believe much work needs to be done.

Pondering Leadership

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

In a recent post I asked you to ponder this:

Let’s reflect by asking the following questions: “What is the role of leadership within the body of Christ?”, “How does the modern church define leadership?”, and “How do we move from the current leadership model to an Ephesians 4 ideal?”.

What is the role of leadership within the body of Christ?

It is pretty clear from what Paul taught and from what we see in the first century church that leadership was about discipleship. A key text is in Ephesians 4 where Paul tells us that God has given the body of Christ, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to [become mature], to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13, ESV).

It is plain that Paul sees the role of these “leaders” to be that of equippers (ESV, TNIV), perfecters (KJV, Amplified), trainers (The Message, Holman). He sees them in the role of disciple makers fulfilling the commission given to them by Christ himself (Matthew 28:19-20). Because they took seriously their task of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, when a problem arose, they were able to confidently turn to the saints and have them select people who could deal with the issue. Acts 6 is a classic example.

We see that the role of leadership is discipleship – to equip, train, and perfect the saints who then become leaders able to do the work of ministry.

How does the modern church define leadership?

Unfortunately, the modern church (and maybe even the church from the time of Constantine) has define leadership in terms of a hierarchical organizational model where the pastor is the CEO with paid assistants who deal with the programs and problems. Any discipleship that occurs is done using some programmatic methodology which tends to focus on imparting information.

And where are the apostles, the prophets, and the evangelists in the leadership of the body? Why is the pastor considered the only valid leadership gift?

Is it any wonder that in the modern church so few of the saints are involved in any work of ministry?

How do we move from the current leadership model to an Ephesians 4 ideal?

Within an existing congregation full of consumer driven saints who only know the CEO leadership model, I don’t think it is easy to move to an Ephesians 4 ideal. But I do believe it is possible to make some progress over time.

The first step is to make a commitment to doing personal discipleship. Identify a small group of saints who you can begin to equip, train, and perfect. My suggestion is that you start with those who already have influence, like your elders or deacons. As they grow and mature, it is going to be much easier for you to wean yourself from some of the organizational maintenance responsibilities and their dependence on you being in such a role. They will have understanding and can support such a transition.

Don’t expect this to be an overnight transition. Expect it to take years.

Understand that making disciples is not a matter of more or correct biblical knowledge. Having classes where you impart more information is not enough. You have to move out of the classroom and get them involved in right actions. For more on this, read what Alan Hirsh has to say about acting our way into a new way of thinking.

I know most pastors by nature seek to ensure that there are no “messy situations” or conflicts within the body, but in the process of disciple making you are going to have to trust the people you are working with knowing full well that they will make mistakes. Use such situations as a training time. Don’t back away from empowering them to act and do ministry.

Finally, you need to begin the process of expanding your leadership to include the apostle, the prophet, and the evangelist. The team is incomplete without these gifted people.

Apostolic Leaders

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Here is an issue that I’ve been attempting to work through: How do we maintain the missional paradigm as vibrate long term movement?

I’ve focused on this issue because, let’s face it, movements come and go. I became a follower of Jesus back in the 60’s and have seen many, many movements come on the scene, flash with intensity and radiance only to quickly fade away. Some movements needed to fade away because they were just wrong, but not all. So, why don’t even the good causes last?

 Hirsch Quote I had the privilege and honor of being able to sit and talk “missional” with Alan Hirsch (“The Shaping of Things to Come” and “The Forgotten Ways”) along with a handful of others this past week. The first was with our Missio group on Monday and then again over beer and dinner at the Alameda Brewhouse on Tuesday. Now I’ve got to tell you that I felt completely unworthy of being there on Tuesday, but I’m not one to pass up such an opportunity.

The only reason I bring this up is that the chapter in Alan’s “The Forgotten Ways” that I’ve been camped out in is six, Apostolic Environment. It is also what we spent the entire evening Tuesday talking about. In this chapter Alan lays out what I think is an important part of the answer to the question I posed above. For a movement to survive it must have apostolic leaders.

Hirsch says, “The apostolic person’s calling is essentially the extension of Christianity. As such, he or she calls the church to its essential calling and helps guide it into its destiny as a missionary people with a transformative message for the world. All other functions of the church must be qualified by its mission to extend the redemptive mission of God through its life and witness. The apostolic leader thus embodies, symbolizes, and re-presents the apostolic mission to the missional community. Furthermore, he or she calls forth and develops the gifts and callings of all of God’s people. Without apostolic ministry the church either forgets its high calling or fails to implement it successfully. Sadly, such people are commonly ‘frozen out’ or exiled because they disturb the equilibrium of a system in stasis. This ‘loss’ of the apostolic influencer accounts for one of the major reasons for mainstream denominational decline. If we really want missional church, then we must have a missional leadership system to drive it “it’s that simple.” (page 152, emphasis his)

He further contends that apostolic leadership has a second important function, that of being the custodian of the DNA and ethos of the movement.

“This aspect of apostolic ministry can be described as creating and maintaining the web of meaning that holds the movement together. Apostolic ministry does this by reawakening the people to the gospel and embedding it in the organizational framework in ways that are meaningful. It is out of this apostolic web of meaning that the movement maintains itself over the long haul. And it’s critical to translocal mission. Watch what the biblical apostles do; they engage in missionary work, establish new churches, and once established they move off to new frontiers. But they also see as essential networking the churches and exhorting the disciples by traversing between them, cultivating leadership, and issuing guidance to ensure a correct apprehension and integration of the gospel message in the common and individual lives of the hearers.” They are quick to weed out potential mutations in the missional DNA. (page 156, emphasis his)

What will this look like in practice? I don’t know yet, but if He did hand “out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ” (Eph. 4), then we need to restore and cerebrate the ministry of the apostle.

“There is something essential and irreplaceable in the ministry of the apostle,” say Hirsch. Good words for us to ponder.

Every Christian Called to “Full-Time Ministry”

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

One of my pet peeves is the false dichotomy of “those called” and “those who have not been called” to full time ministry. Some spot on words from Bob Robinson over at Vanguard Church on this topic and a good suggestion.

It is my contention that we need to get beyond the false secular/sacred dichotomy that is so prevalent in the church today. One glaring way we create this false dualism is in saying that pastors and missionaries are the ones “called” to ministry. This creates the presumption that all the rest of us are simply working at our jobs. And underlying that is the presumption is that those not in “full-time Christian vocation” are doing something less than spiritual….

Every Christian is in “full-time ministry,” no matter what they are doing, no matter what it says on their business card, no matter if they punch a time clock or are on salary, no matter if they are doing technical work or people work, no matter if they are paid or a volunteer, no matter if they work for their boss or for their family as a housekeeper.

Bob then suggests that every local congregation should have, on some regular basis, a commissioning services for every single Christian in the marketplace, and actually provides an order of service.

Suggesting a Few Changes in Form*

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

We have all been reading for years about how people in our post-Christian society are changing in relationship to spiritual understanding and approach. And for many of us who have been apart of the institutional church, it is not surprising that these same authorities are telling us that the institutional church is unable to comprehend or take advantage of this shifting spiritual environment.

Here is part of the shift they report to us.

  • Religion is out, but spiritually is in.
  • Christianity is out, but Jesus is in.
  • Future religious concerns are out, but “here and now” spirituality is in.
  • Propositional truth is out, but truth validated by intuition and experience is in.

The Pacific Northwest region of the United States (where I live) is called the “None Zone.”** This is because, when asked about their religious identification, more people answer “none” than in any other area of the United States. It also puts us at the heart of many of the changes the researchers are telling us about.

Here are some stats:

  • Northwesterners are twice as likely as people living in the Bible Belt to claim no religious preference.
  • The Pacific Northwest is the only region of the country where a majority of the population does not affiliate with a religious congregation.
  • Most Northwesterners do not participate in religious institutions and never have.
  • Sixty-three percent of total population of the Northwest are religiously unaffiliated.
  • According to USA Today, Seattle is the #1 unchurched city in America.

Yet it is also interesting that this is a spiritual region. Take a look at the following:

  • When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that God exists?”, 63% said they agree somewhat or agree strongly.
  • When asked, “Do you agree or disagree that God helps me?”, 53% said they agree somewhat or agree strongly.
  • Only 1.2% of Oregonians (my home state) describe themselves as agnostics (and a statistically negligible number are atheists).
  • Christianity is the stated religious preference of 75 to 79% of Oregonians.

My reaction to this is that we are living in a splendid place and time, filled with almost unparalleled opportunities! But we must think and act differently if we are to take advantage of the spiritual environment that we find ourselves in.

Form Follows Function

Because our thinking and action have to change, we must deal with the current “forms” that were developed based on old thinking and theory. Let me just throw out a few “form” changes I think need to be made.

Contextualized Language

Michael Frost says that we must employ “the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus.” Here are a couple of changes in language that I’ve made:

  • Jesus follower instead of Christian — We should not hide the fact that we are Christians, but they love Jesus so identify with him.
  • Faith community instead of Church — Faith Community is neutral language and could mean any faith and is comfortable with the not-yet-Christian. Again, we are not talking about hiding who we are, but instead, using neutral language that allows for open conversation and relationship building.
  • Spiritual pilgrimage instead of Christian life — Even the not-yet-Christian understands that they are on a life pilgrimage or journey and are usually willing to share that pilgrimage which give you the opportunity to share your journey.
  • God is Light instead of God is Love (meaning the love message as exemplified by the “Four Spiritual Laws” track) — As John wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” Spiritual people by definition are looking for light, an excepted metaphor for a condition of spiritual awareness which could be outward (e.g., divine illumination) or inward (e.g., inner light). Using the term in a conversation allows you to explore spiritual “things” with the person at a level that they are generally comfortable with.

Remember, we want to employ the language and thought forms of those with whom we seek to share Jesus.

Smaller Faith Communities

Growing and maintaining large faith communities lends itself to attractional, seeker focused programs and activities, but also creates structural impediments for missional focused Jesus followers. We must consider establishing a greater number of smaller kingdom outposts where:

  • It is easier to foster community.
  • It is easier to be part of a supportive family.
  • You have better group communications and shared values.
  • There is less need (maybe no need at all) of dedicated buildings. The local pub or community center would work just fine.
  • The Pastor doesn’t become a CEO.
  • Community members don’t get sucked dry of time, energy, and resources attempting to maintain structure and organization.
  • It is easier to welcome the stranger into the midst of the community.

Geographically Close Faith Communities

Faith communities that are composed of members who are geographically dispersed foster, among many other things, individualism and attractional approaches to “doing church.” In contrast, members of missional communities should, as much as possible, live in the same close geographic area and become intentionally indigenous. This implies that many will purposely relocate to be part of a specific missional community. The advantages are numerous, including:

  • Shared values with that of your community.
  • Missional proximity.
  • Easier to built local relationships with local not-yet-Christians.
  • Easier to establish and maintain third places (a captivating concept).
  • Easier to contextualize the message for their own situation and place.
  • Easier to practice hospitality.
  • Concentrated prayer and missional effort.

Since I’m looking at this from my Pacific Northwestern USA context, I’d be interested in hearing your perspective. Its your turn to build on and add to this.

* This post is a rewrite and update of one I did a year or so ago which got lost in the great blog meltdown of December 2006.
** Killen Patricia O’Connell, “Religion and Public Life in the Pacific Northwest: The None Zone,” AltaMira Press (March 2004).

A Missional Short List

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

In my previous post, Matt asked this great question and one where I have only a little insight, so I’m hoping others will jump in here, particularly any of you have done church planting or have been involved in one.

Matt asked, “I struggle with what a missional church ‘looks like.’ Can you give a short list of practical ways a church can be missional from the beginning.”

Here is my short list of the practical ways a faith community can be missional from the beginning:

  • Select carefully those that will form your core group. If they are not committed to engaging the culture in a “go to them” life, then they would not be part of my core group.
  • Don’t make the Sunday gathering your organizational focus. If you spend most of your money, peoples time and emotional resources on the Sunday gathering, you’ll have little to devote to community engagement.
  • Your Sunday gathering should be for the purpose of worship, encouragement, story telling, teaching, training, and to seek God’s presence and to be realigned with God’s missionary purpose. It should not be focused on the needs of the not-yet-Christian.
  • Plant your faith community in the heart of the area you want to minister. (And if it were me, all leadership would be required to live in the immediate area, but I know that would be hard one for most.)
  • You and your core group should spend lots of time exploring the needs of your community and how you can join your community in meeting those needs.
  • When considering community needs, I’d be looking for those that center on the hurting people in your area. The gospel is about walking a new path and those that already know that their current path in life is a dead-end are the richest harvest ground. Get involved with the working poor, AA, NA, prisons, immigrant poor, etc.
  • Be desperately dependent on prayer.
  • Don’t become a CEO. Your faith community is not a business. Leave the American capitalist organizing and marketing principles for the business world. Your faith community should be organic.

What other answers do the rest of you have for Matt? Jump in so we can all learn.

Emerging/Missional Bloggers

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Brother Maynard has a good idea. He is interested in finding under-rated, under-appreciated, or under-valued emerging/missional blogs. He has started a list and asks that we add a couple of names. I’ve picked up the latest list and added the last four names.

To participate, copy this list into a new post on your own blog, and add the names you have to the bottom of the list, and encourage others to do the same. It could get fairly long, but that’s part of the point — helping us all discover those undervalued blog’s profile. Include these instructions with your post. When you’ve done that, leave a comment at Brother Maynard’s blog so he can keep track of who ends up participating.

Parachurch vs Church: A False Dichotomy

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

The popular definition of a parachurch group is any non-church based Christian entity or ministry. The simple fact that we use such a defined term indicates a misunderstanding of the biblical concept of the church.

The biblical ekklesia always describes a people and never a building, place, denomination or specific group of Christians to the exclusion of other Christians. It doesn’t matter where people are gathered together for ministry or what corporate structure they take on, they are still “the church,” God’s called out people ministering in the name of Jesus.

I ask, how can a group like Campus Crusade or YWAM be a non-church ministry? If they are followers of Jesus, its impossible! They are part of the ekklesia as much as some ministry that is part of a local faith community. As long as we continue to make this false dichotomy, we will continue to hear divisive statements like:

  • Parachurch organizations should strengthen churches, not detract/distract from them. (Sorry, but God’s called out people can’t detract/distract from themselves in the way implied by such a statement. It is a contradiction.)
  • Parachurch organizations address needs not being met by the church. (Sorry, when a group of Christians come together to address a need or minister to a group, that IS the church meeting the need.)

Ralph Winter talks about how God has expanded his Kingdom through two basic structures, the church as “modality” and “sodality.” (For more on this, see “The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission” by Ralph D. Winter.)

“Modality” is the continuing long-term nature and structure of the church expressed in the local congregations in which there is no distinction of sex or age. As Alec Hill observes, “Multi-generational and geographically limited, a congregation puts down its roots and makes a long-term commitment to its community.”

The second structure, “sodality,” concentrates on one or more specific aspects of the mission of God such as reaching one specific people group, translating the Bible into other languages, or working with youth. In this structure, “membership involves an adult second decision beyond modality membership” and is often limited by some criteria such as age or sex.

Another way of describing this might be to say that some expressions of the church have a narrow ministry focus (sodality) and others have a broad ministry focus (modality). Each needs the other and each is a part of the whole. We should honor and respect what God is doing through his people regardless of the label we put on it.