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5 Things to Learn from the Emerging Church

The Emerging Church is a significant development across the globe in the 21st Century. It is still going strong even though many emerging types may use different labels now. In fact a lot of its principles, once considered too hot to handle, are now being integrated in more digestible ways into other churches.

As an interested observer who has never been part of this movement I have heard a lot of criticisms. I might not embrace everything that this group stands for but here are a few things that I think we can learn from the Emerging Church.

1. Listen with humility

My first encounter with this movement probably began in the ‘90s when I came across a book by David Tomlinson ‘The Post-Evangelical’. This book points out how Christians have swallowed the modern way of thinking that there is one logically coherent world view that can be discovered through human reasoning. Post-modern philosophy challenges this forcing us to return to the ancient world view in which Christianity arose. I’m not sure that I liked all that this book said but I was struck by the idea that other people’s views might be just important as mine. This is what I mean by humility.

The Emerging Church has often referred to itself as a conversation rather than a movement. They tend to see their writing as part of a dialogue rather than the last word on a subject and have often showed a greater humility than those who have criticised them.

Of course we can take this too far and end up not believing there is any truth at all. But I think that humbly discussing what you believe and listening to what others have to say is a very important communication skill to learn.

2. Be creative in worship

Not long after reading The Post-Evangelical I began to hear about creativity in worship. I don’t mean the getting everybody up to dance or anything wild or embarrassing like that. No. I began to read about something called alternative worship.

Eventually I went along to a few alternative worship services myself. These services involved a more multi-sensory and contemplative way of worshipping than I was used to. They drew inspiration from ancient liturgies. They used new technology. People sat on beanbags with lights down low and candles. They played ambient background music while people interacted with artistically arranged installations.

God is creative and using creativity like this in worship and learning is a great way to engage people that over the years. I have used some of these ideas in my own devotions and occasionally in house groups. It’s great when we do things like this as a church.

3. Don’t wait to be asked

"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest." Proverbs 6:6-8

At the beginning of the 21st century Christians with these post-modern leanings and a heart to use creativity in worship began using the term Emerging Church.

The name Emerging Church comes from a principle in physics called emergence. Emergent theory says organisation doesn’t need to come from the top down but can develop spontaneously at grass roots level. You can see this working in the flat organisational structures of the Emerging Church that depend on individuals taking initiative in a more organic sort of way. Leaders see their job as facilitators rather than initiators. The Emerging Church is not about leaders developing big programs and then trying to persuade people to get on board. It is all about individuals hearing from God for themselves and taking the initiative.

Thanks to Neil Liddle for this amazing photo. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be like Solomon’s ant and get on with the job without having to be told? I trust we are getting there.

4. Network beyond your local church

The Emerging Church has been initiated largely be young people starting simple churches with their friends but that doesn’t mean that these groups are all on their own. It is connected by loose networks of relationships that span the globe.

Some of these networks have been marred by criticism and some have disbanded but others have persevered and are going strong. The term Emerging Church is sometimes not that well liked. It’s often confused with one particular controversial group from America called Emergent Village. Here in the UK one popular network is called Fresh Expressions who work within denominations such as the Church of England.

There are many places that a church can find support from it doesn’t necessarily have to be an Emerging Church network. I am very blessed to be part of a church that is linked to wider family of churches but many churches sadly feel they are on their own. Getting support you trust from outside of a local situation is another key that many can learn from the Emerging Church.

5. Seek to transform your culture

Today many in the Emerging Church movement are becoming more outward looking. One emphasis that I first heard many years ago was that of being incarnational. Incarnational means being Jesus to people today, particularly by the church community serving people in our neighbourhood. It is about extending God’s kingdom wherever you are whether in your work or at home.

They have for a long time talked about passages such as Luke 10 where Jesus sends out the 72, but now emerging types are talking even more about being missional and transforming our culture. The Emerging Church has always sought to be relevant. In fact it can be seen as originating as a reaction against the church being seen as irrelevant. But now the emphasis is on being, not just relevant, but also transformational. Groups that would have used the name Emerging Church now prefer the label Missional Church or Missional Community and want to be a positive influence in their locality and beyond.

So whatever you think about the Emerging Church I trust that you can see there are plenty of positives here and I’m sure that this list is not exhaustive.

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August 31, 2011 at 6:00 pm

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