I've been OD'ing on continuing ed this week. Thru Wednesday I'm at the Pennsylvania State Pastor's Convention themed "We've Never Done it Like This Before: Lessons from the Emerging Church." Presenters include Karen Ward, Holly Rankin Zaher and Diana Butler Bass.
Doug Pagitt addressed the opening session Monday offering “Emergent 101,” an introduction to the conversation.
Doug said that the “emerging” language isn’t really helpful; “if you get confused by these words, join the club.” The term is drawn from forestry, where the “emergent growth” that takes place at the forest floor determines the future of the forest. “Emergent growth is really dark, really cold and very lonely” and a “movement” arose to connect people down on the ground of these new stirrings in the church.
“The church that is emerging” is a good way to look at the creativity and innovation in the church because the next question is “From what? Then the context really matters.” Rather than setting up a false competition with the rest of the church, it matters what it looks like to emerge from the place where one is…in a denomination or tradition, for example.
The bigger question is, “What if it’s not about church at all. What if this emerging thing is about the hopes and dreams and aspirations of God?” Doug said. “God has an agenda in the world, and those who want to be a part of it are emerging.”
“The last 150 years have seen a lot of change and creativity in the church.” He thinks its instructive to look to the 1860s rather than the 1960s for the seeds of the church that is emerging. “We need to look at how an agrarian expression of Christianity morphs into an industrial world and now an information world.”
Tradition is not a bad thing, he said. But “tradition means doing what the people who went before us did, not just saying what they said.”
Doug offered a descriptive, not prescriptive, list of 10 Characteristics of the Emerging Church. Emerging communities are:
1. Not preserving something. They see Christianity as neither a revival nor an insurgency protecting faith from the big bad culture… “it is forward leaning into what God might have in store for us and the whole world.”
2. Missional. “God is on mission in the world and we want to be people who are about that mission.” Its not about outcomes…how is God active and how do we join in? Doug noted that many people are more interested in the somewhat mysterious “kingdom of God” than concrete beliefs and dogmas.
3. Humane. “People matter. It makes a difference who is there and who is not.” Communities don’t assimilate people but change when new people come in.
4. Young. “revolution is work for young people.” For many in the room, their role may not be to be on the ground but to be caring for those doing new things. “It’s also young in thinking.”
5. Open. “Wide open, often with no rules familiar to those on the outside as to who’s in and who’s out.” People often ask, what do you believe? “Most statements of faith aren’t all inclusive, they separate you from other people. For most of us the question is not how are we different, it’s how are we similar?”
6. Integrated. “We live in a world that is interconnected in so many ways” – globally, locally, to past and future. Communities move beyond bounded-set (a line between in and out) and center-set (people at varying distances from the same center) styles to function as a connected set, like the Internet or a family. “Who are you affiliated with? Seemingly everyone.”
7. Experimental. “We’re trying things. If they work, fine… One of our questions each year is, Does this still make sense?”
8. Familial. “If we’re going to be community, we have to be family like: You still fight, but you’re connected in spite of that.”
9. Holistic. “Everything counts” – the environment, personal morality, how we consume, etc. “There is no place at which you draw the boundary that this is a secular experience and that’s a Christian experience.”
10. About living in the way of Jesus, rather than believing the right thing. “If I put off living in the way of Jesus until I believe right, I may not get there. These are communities of practice rather than belief.”