Archive for the 'Emerging Church' Category

Backlash to the Emerging Church

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008


Recently I received a letter with a rather withering criticism of CRM for being “sympathetic” to the emerging church movement. I think portions of my response are worth posting here so there is no misunderstanding as to our perspective on this movement.

Regarding the “emerging church” and CRM’s relationship to this renewal movement, I believe it is important to understand that this movement is not monolithic. It is very diverse. It should also not be confused with “Emergent” which is a specific organization here in the U.S. but which does not, however, represent the totality of “emerging churches” by any means.

The emerging church movement as a whole reflects a variety of theological perspectives, some of which I would agree with and some that would give me pause. But overall, I personally believe this is a movement of God which stands squarely in the flow of the great, historical renewal movements of the past 2000 years.

As in almost all renewal movements throughout the history of Christianity, it’s messy. That’s to be expected. There are always excesses,muddy thinking, and some level of deconstructionism that takes place when such change occurs. That was even true of the Protestant Reformation. I saw it myself in the Jesus Movement of the sixties and seventies in the U.S. and astute observers see many interesting similarities to today’s situation. Regardless, CRM is committed to serve the emerging church and to help in any way possible to develop and empower the leadership of this movement.

What God is undoubtedly doing is raising up, on the cultural fringes, a new generation of people who are faithfully and wholeheartedly followers of Jesus and true to the bible, but they are committed to living that faith out in an increasingly secular, postmodern world. From my experience, what I believe is most unsettling to the traditional Christian establishment is not primarily the theological nuances and questions that emanate from emerging churches, but forms and ecclesiological expressions that are outside the acceptable box. While some would attack the emerging church on theological grounds, my suspicion is the real backlash is primarily cultural. In many respects, the emerging church movement is profoundly biblical.

Urban Cultural Creatives

Sunday, November 4th, 2007


I recently spent several days with these skuzzy characters in Germany to get acquainted with a missional community south of Heidelberg.

What we saw and experienced is a fascinating case study of an emerging church uniquely crafted for Europe. It is led and populated by young, urban, cultural creatives.

Every generation has had men and women like this, but as Western culture staggers into the 21st century, the magnitude of this demographic is significant and growing. The future of the Christian movement in a setting such as Europe depends largely on how historic faith leans into, and is absorbed, by this cultural milieu.

  • It is all about the creative arts …music, design, graphics, film, art, dance …

  • Music particularly is the lingua franca. It is the poetry and vehicle of emotional expression that crosses culture and speaks to the heart. Luther may have changed the world because of the printing press. In our day, it’s the iPod.

  • Media reigns. Film and video are no longer elitist but accessible to all in a flat, virtual democracy which provides unbounded outlets to creativity

  • It’s a profoundly urban phenomena influenced by all the swirling complexities of “the city” in which the majority of the population in the West now live.

No generation in human history has had the leisure time or the affluence that allows for young, urban, cultural creatives to become such a sociologically dominating class. Even when such individuals were elitist and in the past lived on the margins of Western society, the effect on the culture was powerful. How much more so today when the margin is now the center and by sheer numbers dictates the direction of popular culture?

For serious followers of Jesus, the real issue has become how expressions of the imago Dei are fully integrated into the missio Dei. The future of the West hangs in the balance.

The Dysfunctional Status-Quo

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

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A good friend in his late 20s emailed me about his frustrating dilemma:

“Our ‘community/organic church’ has been working to define ourselves, our mission, and overall purpose. In the meantime, we are trying to work through some tough issues with one of the local churches that all of us have been previously associated with to one degree or another.

They approached us about a month ago requesting us to consider taking on the responsibility of starting a ‘postmodern’ church service, under their umbrella. Basically, they’re stuck and realize that they aren’t effectively reaching people under 35.

All us have close relationships with various people in the leadership of the church. However, all of us in our ‘community’ are very reluctant to fall under the umbrella of such a local church and we’ve been fairly vocal about that.

Just last night my wife and I had one of the couples in our community over and they informed us that they (more…)

The Age of the Artist

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

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“What those thinking about emergent churches grasp is that the Bible is the most exciting book in the world, and we need to present it in ways that speak today. We’re no longer the culture of the orator; we’re the culture of the artist.” – Eddie Gibbs in Theology New and Notes, Winter 2007

It astounds me that anyone would continue to believe that monologuing (called “preaching” in the institutional church world) is the most effective way to communicate. That may have been true in centuries past, but it is could not be further from reality today. Being “talked at” is just plain boring. Even the very best monologue can’t begin to compare in effectiveness with the visual and virtual experiences that are the norm in public and personal communication.

Gibbs is absolutely right. We live in the age of the artist. It’s one of the great cultural/technological shifts of the latter half of the 20th century. All of the senses must be employed for communication to be effective.

May God produce multitudes of the artistic who can traffic with ease—and with spiritual authority—in the social currency of our day.

Hirsch and Frost

Friday, October 27th, 2006

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CRM’s Missio Team, in conjunction with Fuller Seminary and Forge-Australia, recently sponsored a 2-day conference at Fuller. This “Missio-Intensive” addressed the issue of missionality for the church of the future in North America.

The major presenters for the event were Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, authors of The Shaping of Things to Come (both pictured above) along with our own Hugh Halter.

CDs of these sessions can be ordered directly from Fuller Seminary or will be available through CRM online.

“The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church” (Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch)


Monday, October 9th, 2006


“The tragedy is that Christianity has become ayes-man for the culture,” says Boston’s University’s Prothero. Non-prosperity parties from both conservative and more progressive evangelical camps recently have been trying to reverse the trend…. a sprinkling of Protestant groups known loosely as the New Monastics is experimenting with the kind of communal living among the poor that had previously been the province of Catholic orders.”- TIME, September 18, 2006, “Does God Want You to be Rich?”

Today, as alluded to in TIME, there is a burgeoning interest in such structures due in part to a renewed commitment among the emerging generation to social justice, ministry among the poor, concern for the environment, and other elements of a more holistic, biblical gospel.

However, neo-monastic movements among Protestants are nothing new. Even though the reformers in the 16th century threw the proverbial baby out with the bath water when they overreacted to Catholic orders, Protestants have repeatedly reinvented and reintroduced such apostolic structures throughout the past five hundred years. The most notable thrust came with William Carey, popularly known as the “father of modern missions,” in the 1790s and every succeeding generation has repeated the process, often oblivious upon whose shoulders they stand.

For example, an editorial in Christianity Today, first published in 1988 and republished since, made a compelling appeal to “re-monk the church.” A cover story in the same magazine in September, 2005 gave a fascinating overview of such contemporary movements.

CRM’s InnerCHANGE is just such a neo-monastic structure, a present day “order among the poor.”

Presently, a fascinating issue is what direction will the “emerging church” go? Some of these new missional expressions are evolving toward such neo-monasticism and others toward the church in local form, two structures which are distinct from one another but equally “church” in the biblical, historical and missiological sense. I believe the health and vibrancy of the emerging movement may well depend in part upon its ability to recognize and embrace the distinctives inherent in both structures.

Any hope for the renewal of authentic Christianity in the West will require a plethora of such neo-monastic movements. As in each of the eight great epochs of the Christian movement since Pentecost, such sodalic, apostolic expressions are designed by God as necessities that infuse life, vitality and spiritual power into the broader church and society. They are not aberrations. They are essential.

Traditional and Emerging Need One Another

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006


“...both the emergent and traditional churches need each other and have much to learn from one another; that in our willingness to struggle together, we will be given an imagination from the Spirit that is bigger than all our assumptions, positions, and strategies; and that if that spirit of working together is compromised, all of us will lose.”

So says Alan Roxburgh in his new book, “The Sky is Falling—a Proposal for Leadership Communities to Take New Risks for the Reign of God.”

It is a important read. He prescribes a much needed synergistic ground between the church that is and the church that is to come during this chaotic era of “discontinuous change” in which we live.

“The Sky Is Falling: Leaders Lost in Transition” (Alan J. Roxburgh)

Emerging Church and Mission

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006


What I wrote in yesterday’s post (9- 2-06) is mostly aimed at the church in its traditional, modern setting.

But what about the “emerging” church? How can those within these creative, emerging expressions of the church who have a passion for the world beyond their own communities be effectively stifled? What could be done to straight jacket what God wants to do with them?

1. Believe that the necessity for such workers and such ministry is passe’, doesn’t exit, or is “too modern for us.”
2. Be so enamored with social justice and a holistic gospel that we fail to embrace the clear commands of scripture regarding the evangelistic mandate or reject such categorization out of hand.
3. Have a lack of appreciation and understanding of the doctrine of spiritual gifts and be unable or unwilling to help identify those emerging leaders who may be gifted and called to ministry across social, linguistic or cultural barriers.
4. Convince them that just because they are enjoying life as a missional community in one cultural milieu, they can then duplicate the same forms of community in another.
5. Help them buy into the theological and historically naive concept that structurally the church in its local expression is the same as the church in its cross-cultural missionary form.
6. Encourage them to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the past 500 years of missionary activity and missiological understanding. Write it all off as modern, institutional or non-organic.
7. While astutely helping them apply missiological eyes to their own mono-cultural settings much better than their modern brethren, simultaneously fail in helping them to apply the same understanding to the international and cross-cultural dimensions of the missio dei.
8. Embrace a theological posture that says only “presence” is necessary for kingdom influence.
9. Consider hell a repulsive, outmoded concept for the postmodern mind and work to erase any motivation that could stem from the biblical reality that people without Jesus risk eternity separated from God.
10. Be like many of those committed to the radical discipleship movement or the Anabaptist tradition who have been so concerned for the purity of the church and living counter-culturally that they are rarely able to engage contemporary culture and instead, remain irrelevantly on the fringes.
11. Encourage them to read, think, write and blog about being missional but don’t empower them to do much in practice.
12. Write off mentors from the over 50 crowd as out of touch and irrelevant.
13. Inculcate such an anti-institutional bias and suspicion of authority that they become useless in a neo-monastic or sodalic ministry context which will require discipline, followership and sacrifice.

Missio Intensive

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

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CRM’s Missio Team, in partnership with Forge, Australia will be sponsoring a unique conference in October. Hosted by Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, this two day conversation will feature Alan Hirsch, Hugh Halter, Michael Frost, Matt Smay and others. It will focus on the nature of a missional/incarnational church in the North American context as it engages the culture around it.

Also being introduced at this gathering will be Missio’s MCAP (Mission Church Apprenticeship Process) for those looking for a relational distance-learning community of like-minded church planters.

Brian McLaren

Friday, June 9th, 2006

I met Brian McLaren almost 20 years ago at a church planting conference near Atlanta. We were both inconspicuous nobodies back then (a status that I have maintained rather well). We enjoyed an afternoon together wandering the north Georgia woods in intense conversation about many of the themes and issues that have blossomed into that portion of the emerging church world for which Brian has become one of the most visible spokespersons.

I was impressed then, as I am now, by his grasp of historical themes. The attached audio file of Brian (McClaren.mp3) is a wonderful macro view of how we evolved to postmodernity in the West. While a couple of years old, this talk is still an excellent primer on the influences that are shaking the foundations of Western culture.

It saddens me as I have watched Brian increasingly become a lightening rod for criticism of the emerging church, some of which has been vehement. When I read his books, 95% of what he writes I wish I could say with as much skill and clarity. Then there is the 5% at which I cringe and wonder, “Who is helping vet these comments? He doesn’t have to say that to make his point!” From where I sit, it seems that some of the wounds he is experiencing may be self-inflicted.

This seems odd to me as I write these words, since I am no stranger to the same dynamic but on a much less visible scale. I know the feelings. And I know that it is easier to comment on someone else’s dilemma when I am not in the middle of that fray and when I have been the object of blessed obscurity.

However, being an effective change agent does not require being a martyr.

Brian, may the God of all steadfastness bless you in the role he has thrust upon you. May Proverbs 3:3 characterize your posture and conversations, where “truthfulness and kindness” are yours in abundance (even if you have to wrestle with how “truthfulness” is perceived, like we all must, in the reality of a postmodern world!)


Two Cultures …

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

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“There is a fundamental schism in American cultural, political, and economic life. There’s the quicker-growing, economically vibrant …morally relativist, urban-oriented, culturally adventuresome, sexually polymorphous, and ethnically diverse nation …and there’s the small town, nuclear-family, religiously-oriented, white-centric other America, [with] ...its diminishing cultural and economic force …[T]wo nations …” – Michael Wolff, New York, 2/26/01, pg. 19.

This is reality. And the clock is not turning back. The challenge to the Christian movement is how to be in word and deed the presence of Christ in the culture Wolff describes as the future. Good missiology tells us:

1) The new won’t be influenced by imposing cultural norms from the old.
2) The old, like nearby cultures the world over, will only be marginally effective, if at all, in influencing the new.
3) The new requires fresh, indigenous expressions of authentic biblical reality.
4) These new expressions, if they are effective, will probably not be recognized as stereotypical “church” by both the secularists of the new or the religionists of the old.
5) These new expressions will require missionaries, in the classic sense, who can cross language, cultural, and in some cases, socio-economic barriers to incarnate the gospel of Jesus in a holistic way and stimulate the emergence of these new expressions.
6) Not every follower of Jesus is a missionary, i.e., not everyone has the skills, gifts or calling to do this.
7) Missionaries need missionary structures if they are to be effective.

8)Missionary structures are not the same as followers of Jesus gathered in these new expressions for community, mission, and nurture (i.e., local churches in the truly biblical sense).
9) Therefore to have a sustainable movement in the new, both the church in its local form and the church and its missionary form must be present and play interdependent roles.

The Emerging Church…Fish or Fowl?

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006


One of Ryan Bolger’s observations from the research that he and Eddie Gibbs did of emerging communities of faith, both in the UK and the US, is that many of these communities are morfing toward a contemporary form of monasticism. Some are increasingly taking on the form of orders.

As the emerging movement has picked up momentum from is beginnings in the UK in the 90s and after 2000 in North America, it faces the same dilemma that confronted the Protestent reformers and many other renewal movments throughout the history of the Christian movement. Are emerging churches apostalic structures/entities or are they churches in local form? Are they orders or are they contemporary “parishes?” Are they sodalities or are they modalities? They can’t be both. (more…)

Puritans, Holism and the Emerging Church

Monday, March 20th, 2006

One of the characteristics of the emerging church is the abolition of the sacred, secular divide and corresponding dualism that such an artificial and unbiblical distinction fosters in how followers of Jesus in postmodern culture live their lives. As Bolger and Gibbs put it, “For these communities, there are no nonspiritual domans of reality.”

As has been true with other renewal movements, this not a new perspective. While powerfully articulated at various junctures throughout the history of the Christian movement, one of the more interesting case studies of such holism is the English Puritan movement of the 16th and 17th century.

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LeLand Ryken calls them “…worldly saints – Christians with earth as their sphere of activity and with heaven as their ultimate hope.” Few in Christian history have lived out biblical holism as fervently where all of life belongs to the Lord and His kingdom rule permeates all. (more…)

Emerging church interest in Singapore

Sunday, March 12th, 2006

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Along with Tom Middleton (back row center) I spent an afternoon with this remarkable group of people in Singapore. They wanted to interact about the “emerging church.”

I had no idea I would find such understanding or interest in Asia. Among the questions we delved into together were:

1.What are emerging churches? What are the characteristics and commonalities?

2. To what extent is it a western/urban phenomena with western values and does it look differently in Asia and in their culture?

3. What’s are the consequences and the reach of globalization and the secular, postmodern elements of such?

4. How do fresh expressions of “church” occur in their context? Will these expressions be within existing evangelical instititutions or something new?

5. What price may they have to pay as they cooperate with God to engage their own generation with the Gospel, living it out in forms of community that are authentic, creative and missional?

6. What is apostolic giftedness and calling? How does that affect each of them as they discover God’s kingdom purposes, particularly as it relates to finding their niche in some form of the church local as well as some form of the church missionary or apostolic?

These men and women have the ability to be and to influence the next generation of leadership for the Christian movement in their nation and beyond. May God give them the courage to live out their growing convictions. May they be in our day the missional pioneers not unlike some of their ancestors who were key, formative leaders of the Singaporean church in decades past.

Is leadership passé?

Monday, February 27th, 2006


“Many emerging churches have experimented with the idea of leaderless groups ….Whatever the roots of the leaderless group, be it Scottish Presbyterianism, the 1960s, postmodern deconstruction, a reaction to controlling charismatic leaders, or the desire for respect, some within emerging churches believe the leaderless option may be going too far.” – Gibbs and Bolger in Emerging Churches , pgs 196-197.

The modern era, as many others, has had its share of leadership deficiencies and failures: control, hierarchies, big egos, prestige, competitiveness and the shameless use of power.

Unfortunately, in a reaction to such a lack of genuine servant leadership within the Christian movement, there can be a swing to no leadership, or leadership gets redefined in way that essentially guts it and renders it impotent. How sad.

It’s a common dynamic throughout the history of the Christian movement. There is an abuse and an overreaction: Epicureanism produces asceticism …the misuse of charismatic gifts faces cessationism …sexual lasciviousness results in abstaining from all sex …and the list can go on and on and on.

An emphasis on godly, servant leadership is never passé. Unless we want to take out a razor blade and slice out passages of the NT text that clearly deal with the gift of leadership, it’s there. However we may want to construe it, label it, or deny it, leadership is necessary. And its healthy exercise is essential for the vitality and life of any expression of the body of Christ.

If we look to Jesus as model, we cannot escape John 17:4. In the midst of this passage where he prays and pleads for those who are his kingdom followers in present and future generations, there is this stunning, oft overlooked sentence where Jesus states:

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

This is pre-passion talk. It is before God’s redemptive purposes were fulfilled. So what is “the work?”

While there are many right and true things we could attribute to being “the work” in terms of Jesus’ kingdom presence and ministry the preceding three years, good hermeneutics compels us by virtue of the context to the inevitable conclusion that “the work” to which Jesus was clearly referring was the calling and development of the 12 disciples. His selection, training, and impartation of life and vision to the 12, and even more focused on a sub-group of 3, was “the work.”

Jesus, the master missionary, knew that the future of the movement he was launching depended on those who would lead in his physical absence. Those who would follow him as leaders for the masses were his priority. They were “the work.”

If so for the Master, how so for us?

Experiencing missional community

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

NieuCommunities is a superb opportunity for those intereseted in exploring, in community, God’s plans and kingdom purposes for their lives.

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Pretoria, South Africa.
Glasgow, Scotland.
Vancouver, B.C.

Check it out.

tall skinny kiwi comments on Alan Hirsch

Friday, February 17th, 2006

Andrew Jones,, recently commented on an earlier post of mine (Jan 31) about conversations with Alan Hirsh. Andrew specifically had some reflections about Hirsch and Frost’s book, Shaping of things to Come.


The comments were insightful – and provocative – so I wanted to post them separately so they would not be overlooked. He wrote:

“Shaping is a wonderful book and i love it but there are one or two things that i would add to the conversation.

1. we cannot avoid complexity. simplicity is needed in a world of complexity. simple structures enable emergence. but the end result is a multilayed ministry approach and mindset that relates to complexity (which is not the absence of simplicity)

2. new forms of hierachy are emerging but they are not institutional. aggregation on the web involves relational hierachies of information. emerging church movements, in my opinion, DO display hierachical tendencies but they are dynamical and horizontal (bring to front or send to back) – as is the dynamical hierachy of the Truine God in his creation.

3. an addition to Shaping – i think we need to understand bounded sets AND centered sets AND distributed sets (web)”

The Frustrated Pastor …

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006

I met Eric in the Emerging Church course at Fuller. He’s 29, married, two kids, finishing a seminary degree and holding down a role on a pastoral staff in South-Central Los Angeles, and he is frustrated beyond description.

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He is a strong, godly leader with clear apostolic gifting. He oozes with potential. But serving in a pastoral role has been a serious mismatch of who he is and the expectations of a local church. I’m not sure which will happen first …his local church killing him or he killing it!

The sad thing is how many people like Eric I meet on a regular basis …men and women with apostolic fervor and passion desperately thrashing around to find their niche in ministry. And all too many have been led to believe that the only path they can travel to fulfill God’s calling on their lives is pastoral ministry in a local church setting. How tragic.

The fact, historically, biblically, sociologically and missiologically is that:

Apostolic gifting must have an apostolic structure for that gifting to be adequately lived out and and fulfilled.

Until Eric and those like him find their niche in apostolic entities where they can thrive, move beyond maintenance to missionality, and be cut loose to see their vision soar, their lives will be models of frustration with a numbing lack of meaning.

Eddie Gibbs notes that 50% of those who graduate from American seminaries and who eventually end up in pastoral ministry drop out within ten years. My guess is that an uncomfortable percentage of that number is made up of the Erics of this world.

So to Eric and other like him, there is hope. You’re not crazy. You’re not a rebel. There is nothing “wrong” with you. May God lead you to right apostolic entity in the days ahead where you can make your ultimate contribution to the Kingdom.

PS: Get in touch with me to find out more about one such entity that I know a lot about. Have I got a bias? You bet!

Emerging Church Course

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

Along with Tom Middleton and Charlie Johnson, I’m in the midst of auditing a two intensive course at Fuller on The Emerging Church. Taught by Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs (pictured below), it’s a unique opportunity for me to stay current on the the thinking and evolution of the movement. And it’s a privilege to have the chance to interact with people who have the breadth, perspective and insight of Eddie and Ryan.


One of the things I have appreciated has been their articulation that much of the emerging church’s critique of the institutional, “Constantinian” church in the West is, in reality, taking good missiological eyes and turning them toward our own domestic backyard. It’s really the stuff that good missionaries have been doing for decades cross-culturally. Now those insights and biblical, historical and theological understandings are being focused literally across the street because of the massive cultural and social changes rocking Western culture as we continue the transition to postmodernity.

I strongly recommend their book, which just came out. It provides one of the better overviews of the emerging church. A must read for anyone itent on understanding …and appreciating …what God is doing in our midst.


Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger