Thursday, December 3, 2009

Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures

A Brief Look at Culture
This book begins by examining the context that the church finds itself in currently. This is important material because without recognizing how the world has changed, one cannot find reason to experiment with new forms or appreciate innovation in Christian community. I especially resonated with the section on examining different forms of organizational structures. To many, the Sunday organization is the image of how the church should be formed, but this model as well as the denominational structure were themselves borrowed from the larger culture at the time.

What is the Emerging Church?
This is probably the question that everyone involved in innovative ministry gets tired of answering. They answer the question first by pointing to examples of communities that formed in contrast with those that remain traditional. The term “emerging” has been applied as a wide term of communities and this universality may appeal to some. To develop a more structural definition, they identify characteristics of emerging chapters which will be developed in the following chapters.

Identifying with Jesus
To be a church, one should expect to find something in connection with Jesus. What is especially vital to the theology and practice of the emerging church is the life of Jesus. This forms a basis for how community is defined, ethics of discipleship, and the practice of evangelism. Without this example, the church loses its distinctive heartbeat in the world.

Transforming Secular Space
To adopt the perspective of Jesus is to begin to see all of life as sacred, rather than through a dichotomy of sacred and secular. This movement rejects the dualistic premise because of the definition of secularity: a place devoid of the presence of God. More than transforming buildings, the emerging movements will seek to redeem all of life, music, notably, in an effort to create authentic responses to the invitation of God.

Living in Community
In creating a space for the kingdom of God to arrive (eschatology), the church creates a space to experience this life together, forming their ecclesiology. This is a departure from the predominant culture, which is moving towards greater autonomy and (as a side-effect) isolation. The life as the church offers a contrast to this by offering deliberate relationships across barriers that exist in the wider world.

Welcoming the Stranger
In extending beyond the barriers of the wider world, welcoming the stranger aligns itself with this goal. The emerging church is one marked with concern for the social welfare of the “other”, whether that be in the local community or the entire world. Especially for the person who has felt disenfranchised by the traditional church, emerging models may speak to them because of their shared departure from those traditional foundations.

Serving with Generosity
In contrast to the culture of accumulation, the emerging church is marked by serving with generosity. While traditional churches may have dedicated tremendous energies to human services, the emerging projects places the onus for service each participant. This change in thinking is a change from social programs to an engagement with the social arenas which each person is involved. Personally, this is a real issue, as the agency I work for is largely funded by traditional churches as “outreach”. For a wide swath of people to move away from supporting these churches which I turn support us, our financial foundation will need to adjust.

Participating as Producers and Creating as Created Beings
These two chapters dealt with the marker that a key distinguisher of an emerging church was that the majority of the people were active as an expression of their life in God. They were not passive receivers of Christian information, but participated in the daily function and creation of the kingdom of God within their community.

Leading as a Body
Another key aspect of participation is that the community life determines the direction that a church would move. Authoritarian management, although efficient, is not effective in leading people. This general lack of centralized leadership may affect the statistical growth of the movement adversely, but it retains the ethos which the individual communities strive to follow.

Merging Ancient and Contemporary Spirituality
An interesting development in the emerging churches, which stereotypically have rejected all aspects that remind them of the former, traditional church, is the appreciation of ancient practices that contribute to the Christian life. To me, this is a result of de-thinking the sacred-secular divide, as the so-called “laity” are able to experience the “spiritual” practices that before were reserved for a higher class of church leadership.

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