empowered by the spirit for mission

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 Comments (3)

2 of the Best Videos on the Missional Church

I love these two little videos that simply and clearly explain how we can be the missional church.

The missional church is not the latest fad or a new denomination. It is simply how church should be. God has a mission to transform the world be bringing in his kingdom. It’s amazing how this video gets the message across in a memorable way in a few sort minutes.

This mission is not something that should be left to the experts or to those who feel a calling. It is not up to the church leaders to advertise the church and set up programmes that will attract people. Not that there is anything with wrong with church programmes or inviting people to church. But if that is all we do that we will fail to fulfil God’s mission. We are all sent into the world to be salt and light and to reach our friends with the kingdom. It is not a case of ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’.

This next video on what it calls missional community gives a very practical tip on how to do it. I think we all relate to stories and turning this into one simple story works really well.

The message is simple yet again. Don’t get so caught up in your church as to lose your non-Christian friends. Yes, on occasions new Christians may find their friends taking them away from God. But generally, God wants us to keep those relationships so that people have someone they can talk to when they want to discuss spiritual issues.

Can you empathise and maybe even identify with Bob? What’s your story?

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August 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comments (0)

Missional Living

As Christians, God has sent us into the world with a mission to transform the world into the world that God wants. Missional living is simply responding to that commission. It’s all about being a missionary in our everyday life. It means identifying with Jesus’ mission on earth and continuing that mission in culturally relevant ways. I’m so slow. After thirty years of being a Christian I feel that I’m only just beginning to live like this. It’s not just a special calling for a few. I want to encourage all Christians to live like this.

God’s mission to transform the world

Jesus was anointed with God’s Spirit at his baptism to empower him for God’s mission to transform the world. Our baptism in water and receiving the Holy Spirit prepare us to continue that same mission of transformation. For most of us this won’t involve crowds flocking to hear us preach and hundreds being miraculously healed by our touch. But it can involve our being hospitable to someone less well off than we are – if only we are prepared to take a few risks. It can involve people gaining spiritual insight through having a conversation with us – if only we are prepared to listen to them.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

There are two important aspects of how we can transform our world. We need to hold on to what we believe and we need to present it in ways that are meaningful. The challenge is to be immersed in our culture and to maintain our distinctiveness at the same time. Then we can effectively transform that culture. Just as Paul adapted his presentation of the gospel when talking to Gentiles rather than Jews, we need to keep adapting today.

Lifestyle choices make a difference

For us as a family, embracing missional living today has involved a number of lifestyle choices. Among other things these include living more simply and buying fair trade and environmentally friendly products. It has also meant helping with charity work that serves asylum seekers and being involved with a Drop In Centre and ministry to the homeless, and more recently setting up our own project. All of which I’ve fully enjoyed and in doing them I’ve grown in confidence. In giving we receive.

Some of Jesus parables show us that God’s Kingdom grows through the influence of the minority. Just as Jesus mentored a close-knit group of friends, so those of us who are beginning to catch this idea of being missional can encourage others on this journey – not with any manipulation but with an openness and honesty about our own doubts and reservations. So let us encourage one another not to be scared to interact with our culture and to let enough of it rub off on us to be relevant.

Two way spiritual conversations

Of course we transform our culture not just through our lifestyles but also through our conversations. For most of us it isn’t as easy having spiritual discussions with those outside the church who may be less sympathetic to our ideas. But when Jesus sent out his disciples he promised he would never leave them. The mystery of the trinity means that Jesus is present by his Spirit, enabling us to relate to God as our father. The image that Jesus wanted to convey when he taught his disciples to pray ‘Our Father…’ was one of a loving father who would never leave us. We can be secure in our attachment to God and that gives us confidence to be an influence to those around us.

Jesus sends us out today in the same way that he sent out the seventy disciples to preach and to heal in Luke 10. So when my little daughter is ill I lay hands on her and pray. And she is learning to do the same not just for me, but also for her friends at school. Some of us once even set up a prayer stall at a local community event and a number of people requested prayer. I don’t know why everyone isn’t healed. Some may argue that healing may just be the result of positive thinking. I’m sure God does use people’s expectations to help bring about healing. Nevertheless I still believe that it is God’s work and it is God whom I thank.

When I first became a Christian I was eager to tell everyone about my faith. Over the years my natural shyness reasserted itself. I find it important to find time for socialising. It’s not always easy with a busy family life to find time to go to pub with friends. But I am learning to be more sociable both with Christians and non-Christians alike.

I have always been one to listen carefully and to question when learning from other Christians. Now, as I listen in the same way to non-Christians, they too want to listen to me. Looking back now I think what passed for conversations in the past was just me arrogantly blurting out some Christian slogans. But now I sometimes find myself chatting to others exploring an issue together. I probably gain as much from them as they gain from me. And I am learning to trust God that he will lead us all into his truth.

I don’t think listening undermines what we stand for. It enhances it. It makes it meaningful to others. Genuine two-way spiritual conversations enable us to learn how others think at the same time as opening their eyes to what we have learnt of God. Hence the gospel is communicated and we become more effective as we go. So for me embracing missional living is as much about what I do as what I say and how I say it. My prayer is that people will see something of God’s glory through believers as we learn about missional living.

August 8, 2011 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)

Becoming CharisMissional

Finding God

At the age of eighteen I was searching to find the meaning of life. I had read a number of books on spirituality and a number of different religions when I decided to read the Bible. I then started to visit a nearby church. I wanted to learn more so I kept going every week and decided to go to their midweek prayer meeting too. It was there that first experienced the Holy Spirit. I heard people speaking in strange languages and began to speak in a language that I didn’t know too. I didn’t really understand what I was getting into. To tell the truth I didn’t even believe everything I was told about it at the time. But the result of this experience was one of overflowing joy and a desire that everyone could know about Jesus and experience the Holy Spirit too.

Early enthusiasm

I began talk to my parents and friends at work about my new found faith in Jesus and what I had experienced. This enthusiasm to talk to people about my faith continued despite me being naturally very introverted. At university I remember having deep conversations about even sometimes late into the night. Sometimes I wasn’t as tactful as I might have been and I wince now at some of the things that I said and I am sure that there were more extroverted Christians who talked about Jesus more than I did. Nevertheless I think like a lot of Christians that I would love to recapture some of that early enthusiasm.

Growing in God

Over the years the busyness of work as a college lecturer and more recently family life as well as getting involved in serving in the church has meant that conversations outside of my Christian circles took more of a back seat. But I have been no less passionate about my faith. I am someone who is never afraid to ask hard questions about my Christianity and so I am grateful for a church that has been so encouraging in my growth. As I have been stirred up to hear God more I’ve found myself able contribute in our meetings. And as I have learnt more about God I have begun to see how some of the ways I used to express ideas were oversimplifications or legalisms that may not always have been helpful. So that now, when I’m asked about my faith, I hope I sound a little less arrogant than I used to.

Missional projects

More recently I have been more involved in missional projects that are serving our local community here in the inner city of Birmingham in an area where there is massive unemployment and a significant number of refugees and asylum seekers. In our spare time my wife and I have set up a work club called WorkShop that meets every Thursday morning. We are working in partnership with Karis Neighbour Scheme – a local Christian charity, our church – Church Alive, and another local church – Church of the Redeemer who provides a room for us to use. Our church is also involved in ministry to the homeless and I have sometimes supported a Drop In Centre that at the moment works out of our little church building.

What about you?

I’m not claiming to know all about becoming CharisMissional. I’m still on a learning journey with this. Please feel free to share your experiences and what you have learnt about becoming CharisMissional in the comments below.

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August 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm Comments (0)

Why CharisMissional?

CharisMissional is a word made out of the two words blended together – charismatic and missional. It was coined by Emerging Grace (now blogging under the name Kingdom Grace). Along with Brother Maynard and Rob McAlpine she wrote a series of articles on this for the Porpoise Diving Life a number of years ago. These two terms represent two important aspects of Christianity that perhaps don’t always overlap as much as they should.


Charismatic churches are probably one of the biggest growth areas in Christianity. They emphasise experiencing the Holy Spirit and the gifts of Holy Spirit. Christians speak out what we believe God is saying to us, praying for people and sometimes seeing God answer in miraculous ways. People invited into gathering where such things are happening experience God for themselves and learn how to hear God and start to pray expecting God to answer. This is exciting stuff. Of course charismatic needs discernment. There has been and continues to be abuses of this. The answer to abuse is not disuse but correct use. Yet even where the gifts are used well the initial excitement with God can slowly disappear of the years. I wonder if part of the reason for this is that in all the excitement we have sometimes neglected the mission that God was equipping us for in the first place.


A recent topic that has been talked about a lot recently in Christian circles is missional living. There is a growing recognition that Christians are on a mission from God. Missional Christianity values rubbing shoulders with those outside the faith. It says we need to be serving our community and having genuine conversations about things that matter. Without this emphasis our faith can stagnate. The conversation around missional living has emphasised being true to ourselves and being relevant to our culture. In some circles people have been experimenting for decades with more creative ways to worship God. Others have been gathering more informally in homes sometimes having left formal churches that they found weren’t helping them grow in their faith. As some of these groups have reached out to people they have found people joining them feeling that they are ‘scratching where it is itching’ so to speak.


My reason for creating this blog is simple. It is the conviction that these two aspects of Christianity can inform each other. We need them both. Those discussing missional living have neglected the Holy Spirit to some extent. I wonder if this is because of some of the extremes and abuses they have seen. Similarly those of us who believe that God speaks and move today sometimes don’t let the Spirit move beyond our own worship times. My aim in writing this blog is to stir us all up to be more outward looking, more relevant, seeking to transform our culture and to see the Holy Spirit move not just in our churches but also in our families, our workplaces and our communities.

If you would like more information on CharisMissional please get in touch through my contact page.

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August 1, 2011 at 7:57 pm Comments (0)