Saturday, January 20, 2007

Is Hills an Emerging Church?

Good Question!
I've had to think about that a bit over the last little bit and have had to do some more reading. The previous two posts will give you a bit of background on emerging and missional movements. However there is no real clear expression of what an emerging church really is. If I were required to accept everything that proponents of the emerging church advocate it would make me very uncomfortable. However in true postmodern emergent style let me tell you what we do instead of a list of our statement of faith - because in terms of theology, I am a evangelical who is part of a pentecostal denomination. But what we do doesn't really fit too many categories.

Do I think Hills is an emerging church? Yes and no. ... Someone described Hills as "a small church, a house church, not that unlike a cell group that meets (except with better musicians of course) ... with the removal of formality and hierarchy and format … “ I would add that we have a commitment to whole church participation, praying for one another every week, meals together (not as often as I’d like) a lack of a fixed order of service (although we definitely follow a pattern) and hopefully a responsiveness to the Spirit. I don’t think we are doctrinally different from the Evangelical mainstream although I am a bit offbeat sometimes. Living out life – we encourage holiness, prayer, evangelism, neighbouring. Approach to evangelism - God has placed you where you work and live – love God, love your neighbour, help your neighbour love God. Look for divine appointments.

I'll give you a general description of emerging church from my point of view. I’m not sure where the term originates, but I think there are those who take the concept to absurd extremes as well as others who react to it with equally absurd extremes. In general it is to me a view and practice of Christianity that recognizes its unbiblical practices (dating back to Constantine and the ongoing unbiblical changes made to the church) and tries to recreate church in ways that line up more closely to the New Testament and tries to address the needs found in our world.

Even as I say that, I know that I still participate in some of the stuff I feel has little Scriptural basis Рhowever my approach is to hold those things lightly and make them our own. The best example of that is our Advent sevices РI think many of our Christmas traditions have pagan origins but they can be used to point to Christ and incorporate Scriptural teaching. (The whole debate over the past few years about Christmas trees and cr̬ches and saying Merry Christmas is just so silly to me.)

What all this means to me is that many of the things that we traditionally consider Christian are at best merely conveniences or traditions and at worst heretical. For example the traditional Sunday morning church service has very little biblical backing. Things like church buildings, professional paid staff (ouch), hierarchies of denominations, sitting quietly, one main speaker, choirs, worship teams, the centrality of the pastor/teacher role, lack of participation by 95% of the people, to say nothing of paganized and commercialized celebrations (like Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc.). This has resulted in a passive Christianity with a lack of discipleship, purpose, anemic Christians who don’t use their gifts, a complete disappearance of certain functions (apostles, prophets, etc.) - building centred worship, consuming all of our resources on ourselves, a “come to us – all are welcome” mentality that has for the most part lost credibility and relevance to much of our world. What comes with that is a top down control structure that borrows more and more from the corporate model. Large churches need a CEO type senior pastor in order to make sure everything happens right and very little is flexible enough to meet the changing needs of our communities. This structure also makes everyone so busy with church that they have no time to be connecting with their neighbours, and with their communities.

I see the emerging church as a way of viewing life and a reaction to the churchy traditions of the past that have hurt rather than helped individuals and communities. It meets because it has to meet and because it wants to meet. The people celebrate what God has done during the week. Its people live out what they believe. They know each other and hold one another accountable. It’s small and nimble, able to adjust to its surroundings. It’s tough to do in our busy, commuter world. It’s tough to do with Christians who have gone to traditional churches because they think that the pastor is an expert who knows God and Scripture better than they do and who can block for them (football analogy) as they go through life.

I'm sure there's much more I could say to describe us but that's all for now. Next I think I would like to address some of the shortcomings and even heresies included in the emerging church movement. Stay tuned!

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Missional Church

Just to confuse you a bit more, many people who are thinking about how the church is changing are using a new term called "missional" to describe the charactaristics of this new way of doing church. Jim Thomas writing on the Urbana website ( writes a good summary of what missional means and what missional churches look like (and what they don't). I thought I'd quote portions of it here to give a bit of an overview.

The Missional Church
by Jim Thomas

There is much talk in the (North) American church about being missional. This word implies at least two theological and ecclesiological (i.e. church related) course corrections. On the one hand, missional hints at moving from church as a “club” for Christians, to church as Christ’s body, sent by God to reconcile the world to Himself. On the other hand, missional means moving from missions as an activity in which a few Christians are sent to foreign countries to convert unbelievers, to mission as God’s most basic purpose, intended for all believers.

Two of the leading threads in contemporary church thought are called ... emergent and missional. 
The emergent and the missional church movements share a conviction that mission is the heart of the church; that the meaning of mission in contemporary society needs to be recovered; and the need for new manifestations of mission that break free of some traditional models which are either no longer effective, or worse, have become a negative witness.

The essence of their message is the importance of both word and deed in witness, and rejection of the liberal/conservative split over how to witness to the kingdom of God. Liberal churches have traditionally emphasized social justice as witness and the here-and-now of God’s kingdom, but they have deemphasized verbal proclamation. Conservative churches have placed nearly all of their weight on verbal witness and the “by-and-by” of God’s kingdom, while shunning social change and justice. Integral mission underscores that God’s kingdom is both present and future, and in the absence of deeds and lives reflecting the nature of that kingdom, verbal proclamation falls on deaf ears.

Characteristics of missional churches

Minfred Minatrea studied a number of missional churches. He defined missional churches as “Reproducing communities of authentic disciples, being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim his kingdom in their world.” He noted nine practices that they have in common (with my explanatory phrases in parentheses):
1. Having a high threshold for membership (high expectations for believers)

2. Being real, not real religious (being transparent, authentic, with one foot in “the world.”)

3. Teaching to obey rather than to know (a practical faith)

4. Rewriting worship every week (Creative, participatory Sunday morning services)

5. Living apostolically (each believer as a missionary)

6. Expecting to change the world (aggressively engaged in transforming communities)

7. Ordering actions according to purpose. (Ruthless aligning of resources with mission)
8. Measuring growth by capacity to release rather than retain. (Not megachurches but multiplying churches)

9. Placing kingdom concerns first (in contrast to denomination first. Thus, cooperation with other churches)

Common Deviations from Missional
To further clarify what a missional church is, we can describe a number of common alternative models.

Missionary churches. Some churches are described as “missionary churches.” They are noted for sending a lot of missionaries to foreign countries, raising funds for missionaries, holding missions conferences, and featuring missionaries prominently in the Sunday services when they are in town. In this perspective, however, the missionaries are a subset of the congregation. In a missional church, every believer is regarded as a missionary and church life is oriented around the implications of that view. Thus, missional churches significantly “raise the bar” in terms of mission. Also, since the term missionary carries such strong mental images, some of them not very positive, an alternative to saying that every believer is a missionary is to say that every believer is to live missionally.

Church growth. One might think that churches that are focused on growth in numbers have evangelism as their mission. While this may be true for some churches subscribing to the church growth philosophy and practices, there are some aspects of the church growth school that run contrary to missional church philosophies and practices. For one, missional churches focus on kingdom growth rather than church growth. They are more likely to focus on planting new churches than in enlarging themselves (though they do not shun numerical growth as a by-product of being missional), and to measure growth by “the ability to release rather than retain.” Kingdom growth often means collaborating with other churches. Church growth, however, often occurs at the expense of other churches and creates competition rather than cooperation. The church growth school promotes “the homogenous unit principle” which says that people want to become part of a group of people like themselves. This principle is thought by many to be counter to the biblical mandate for cross-cultural unity. In addition, one study has shown that multi-ethnic churches grow faster than mono-ethnic churches. Finally, a church that is remaining stable in size while also releasing people to other and new churches is growing in a sense. It has to be bringing in new people all the time to compensate for those who are leaving.

Maintenance churches. Minatrea refers to these as conventional churches. McNeal describes them as churches with a “club” mentality. They are churches that have made themselves their purpose. Their priorities include maintaining established programs and practices, in large part because they are established, and keeping people coming to the church in order to maintain the programs. The church building (enlarging and maintaining it) is often a key goal or priority. At the risk of overstating the nature of maintenance churches, I would place in this category churches that have a self-absorbed spirituality. That is, churches focused on orthodoxy, tradition, or health and wealth messages. (This is not to say that more traditional churches cannot be missional.) A related category of spirituality is what I would call "knowledge-centered." This is a church that elevates analysis and knowledge of the Bible but does not exhort and practically enable people to an active Christian life-style. Information (by itself) is seen as a necessary and sufficient witness, and believing it brings salvation and the Holy Spirit, leading in turn to a transformed life.

As we commit to becoming missional churches, we should expect some bumps. Becoming more missional will require "organized abandonment" of some policies and programs that do not align with our mission. There will always be tenacious advocates of any program we either abandon or radically change, and people who will take issue with every dollar diverted in another direction. To travel this course successfully, church leaders will need a clear vision of where we are headed and why, resolve to stick to decisions, and a strong community among themselves to help deal with the arrows that will fly. But the price we will pay will be worth the goal we are aiming for, a church that is working aggressively to: follow Jesus as Lord; manifest God’s kingdom to an unbelieving world; and work with the Holy Spirit in drawing people into his kingdom.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thinking in the New Year

Well it's been over a month since my last post. I've celebrated Christmas, been to Florida and back. and have been adjusting to a new year and writing 2007 on my cheques. A couple of conversations over the past little while have been about the emerging church and what it's all about and some of it's red flags. I thought I'd pull together a few quotes and a few thoughts and invite some feedback ... or maybe I'll just mumble to myself to more fully understand what I think.

So I wanted to start out with a quote from Scot McKnight who blogs at who explains through a letter to Matt the concept of emerging from and emerging to.

Dear Matt,
You’ve asked me what is one of the most commonly asked questions about the emerging movement ... what we are emerging out of ...?

Let me say what I think “emerging” means from two angles:

First, we are emerging into ... how we think the Church should be in the future. We use emerging it refers to the direction we are moving. We want to be the kind of Christians that speak the gospel in our world in such a way that it cuts into the fabric of sin and constructs a way of life that is fully consistent with the way Jesus calls us to live. Since we think culture is changing, we want to understand that culture and both connect to it and critique it. So we are seeking to be Christians in our day — and that means in the postmodern era.

We believe that there is truth to the claim that we are now in a postmodern era. We think that postmodernity is changing the current generation — in how it understands truth or (the best way of saying this) our articulation of the truth of the gospel, in how we relate to one another in the world, and in the weakening of the grip of the Western culture’s belief that scientific knowledge tells the whole truth.

That’s the into part.

Second, we think “emerging” relates to moving from where we’ve been, and frankly for must of us (though not all) where we’ve been is conservative evangelicalism. It is not that we have all (some have) abandoned that evangelicalism, but we think that shifts and adjustments are necessary to that traditional expression of our faith in order to ltrust, live and speak the truth of the gospel to the current generation.

It is also my hope that we are emerging from the disunity of the Church, the fracturing of the Church into all kinds of splinter groups. Most of these Christians really do believe the same gospel but can’t get along for what is sometimes not all that important of reasons. So I hope we can emerge from the tribal mentality that has too often characterized Christianity

And lots of us think we need to emerge from the power structures of our past. Matt, this is odd to say, but my generation is the hippie generation; we fought hard to democratize church members The problem is that my generation got tired of the effort to live like a body, and gave all the power back to the leaders. Maybe there’s a social cycle in this, but one thing is for sure: emergence wants to renew the democratization process. It’s fun to see how this is happening all over the place — from house churches and simple churches to smaller missional and emergent gatherings. (Again I could go on.)

All of this means we want to get together on the basics of the gospel, the basics of our creedal faith, and on the basis of a life devoted to following Jesus — and do all these as a community, regardless of “who” we are.

Above all, though, we are working at seeing “what will happen next.” In other words, one can’t predict emergence; one participates in emergence. And we are watching some grassroots shifts in gospel living begin to take shape in all sorts of ways — in how we do church, in how we preach, in how we evangelize, in how we organize our gatherings and “services,” in how we related to the State, in how we participate in capitalism and wealth and possessions … I could go on.
Blessings, Scot

Thanks Scot - a pretty good introduction.
He also has a good (although a bit intellectual) article about the emerging church in Christianity Today which you can find here.

More to come later. Stay tuned.