I’m confused

No surprise there then.

Having spent some of this afternoon discussing Emerging Church, I got the names of a few projects to follow up on as possible research subjects for my dissertation. I’ve just spent some time looking at their websites and I’m left with the feeling that either I’ve completely missed the point of Emerging Church or someone else has (or I’m missing something very obvious).

The projects I’ve looked at are what I would refer to as ‘detached youth work’. Or, in one case, ‘semi-detached youth work’. One project doesn’t restrict its outreach to any particular age-group, but its focus seems mainly to be pastoral care, in the very broadest sense. None of this means that the projects aren’t worthwhile. In fact, they are all doing a great work in their community and all praise to them for it.

But I’m left wondering what makes this ‘Emerging Church’. Yes, I understand that EC is characterised by its very missional outlook, but missional outlook alone does make a project EC. It must go hand-in-hand with a number of other factors, otherwise, surely, it is ‘just’ mission?

Or maybe these are simply the first tentative steps towards finding an expression of EC for their particular communities. Get alongside people first, earn their trust and respect, then begin to think about spiritual guidance. But isn’t this just ‘church’ and the sensible (only?) way of outreach into a community – itself an imperative of the gospel?

But that still leaves me confused because it doesn’t, in my mind, adequately deal with what EC is. In fact, these projects, arguably, are not ‘church’ – merely the work of the church.

Or am I simply too impatient? Is it unrealistic to expect to see ‘church’ in these projects at these early stages? But is anything else not being a bit ‘dishonest’? Shouldn’t an EC project be characterised by aiming to be ‘church’ – that is, a worshipping community’ – as part of its project work?

Ah well, plenty of food for thought there for an essay or two and a dissertation.

11 responses to “I’m confused”

  1. Good questions John, and I think you have every right to be ‘confused’! At the end of the day the early church was an Emerging Church (but hey it’s cool to think we invented it)! It was all to all people. I suggest you have a look at Alan Kreider.

  2. When I think of the term ‘Emerging Church’ it usually brings to mind a caterpillar in its chrysalis, which then emerges into a butterfly. The creature remains the same entity, but now looks and functions very differently from before.
    In the chrysalis, almost all of the caterpillar’s internal structures are changed around, rebuilt and re-used, to serve the new requirements.
    It seems to me that each expression of  ‘Emerging Church’ is developed and adapted to suit the context of those people and that place, out of the gifts, resources, and talents, of the people who are forming and building that new Church. It may be a fresh start, or it may be a revision, restructuring, and re-formation of an existing church community.
    That’s what I see as Emeging Church anyway!

  3. Nelu,

    Thanks for the Kreider recommendation. I hadn’t come across him before and some of his work looks useful to my research. More books to add to my pile.


    That’s certainly one way of looking at it. Depends what you equate the caterpillar with though. It has to be ‘church’ in its broadest sense. The point of EC is not necessarily that you take what you already have and restructure it to fit a context. Rather, the ‘church’ grows out of the context itself. It is much more organic in that respect. I am more reminded of Paul in the Areopagus when he takes a ‘context’ (the idol to the unknown god) and reinterprets it in to a Christian context.

    But regardless of how EC might be viewed, my assertion would be that it is only ‘church’ in its own right when it involves an element of worship. And that, for me anyway, needs to be explicit, rather than implicit – because people don’t ‘do’ implicit. There’s no point is saying that a joyous football game when you get a bunch of youths together regularly is pleasing to God and calling it EC. Yes, it may be pleasing to God that there is joy and maybe even love, but it is not worship.

  4. I think you raise some really valid questions.  The examples you give are not new, emerging or even fresh.  But then they might be to those congregations.
    I have issues with lots of the things the Church of Scotland is calling ‘Emerging’.  Most of them are at best missional, something churches should be doing anyway.
    My questions would be things like what makes church church?  And what counts as worship?  Is serving my neighbour worship?  Or does there have to be hymns and prayers?
    But those questions aren’t about what you are talking about, are they?  And that’s the issue.

  5. I’d agree. Missional focus is not the same as emerging. Outreach projects are not worship.

    Your questions are the core of the issue as well. Running a youth club, doing a God-slot and sticking an EC label on it does not make it ‘church’. My problem is that I would like to critique a CofS EC project for my Masters and, to be honest, I’m struggling to find one that I feel merits the name.

    The CofS, at GA, asserted its understanding of church as bearing the four creedal marks of ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’. I can’t help but think that holding up a youth outreach project to these ‘standards’ is both counter-productive and is like trying to measure the size of a field using a barometer – it’s the wrong measurement criteria. Add to that the reformation marks of order and sacraments and you might as well call it quits. So stop calling them ‘church’ and stop pretending that that’s what they are.

    But that doesn’t get a Masters dissertation researched and written.

  6. Yeah, sounds like a chapter entitled “What we are doing”, to be followed by a chapter called “And what we should be doing”.

  7. And some more questions, “Is your dissertation Emerging? And how will a critique of one EC Project, help another one Emerge?” But I agree that we should be self-reflective, and open to review and criticism from objective third-parties, so that we can avoid common pitfalls, and consider what has worked elsewhere. So stick in there and keep thinking, studying, researching, and writing! I look forward to reading the result!

  8. Not emerging, more sinking at the moment. If I can’t find a viable project to look at then it’ll need to come from the angle of what needs to be ‘added’ to move a project from an outreach or missional work to a new expression of church. Bear in mind we’re talking about new expressions of church – the contextual creation of a worshipping community.

    Now you need to define what’s worship. You need to define what’s community. But the crucial thing is that said community become participants in that worship. They own it and shape it. It’s not about doing a God-slot with a bunch of teens. It’s not about sticking on a worship songs cd instead of the latest pop music. It becomes about finding expression for a community’s spiritual understanding and shaping that within a Christian framework. Projects whose aim is to ‘do good’ in the community or keep the young people occupied and off the streets just isn’t anywhere near that point. But a crucial question is whether it’s a stage that has to be gone through or whether ‘church’ has to be an explicit expectation from the beginning, and not just tucked away in the mind of a supportive committee to roll out later.

    This isn’t aimed at anything you said Stewart, but your comments triggered a sequence of thoughts I wanted to record.

  9. Cheers Stewart.

    Aoradh looks interesting. If nothing crops up at next week’s conference I may well have to follow up a non-CofS project.

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