Archive for the ‘emergent’ category

Unintended consequences

June 3, 2010

The one phrase I will take with me from this morning’s opening plenary of the Edinburgh 2010 Mission Conference is ‘unintended consequences’. Dana Roberts challenged delegates to take a long view of mission and to consider the unintended consequences following the Edinburgh 1910 World Mission Conference. She outlined these as the destruction of the churches of the near east, the suppression of the Orthodox churches in Soviet Russia, the growth of the Churches in Africa and Latin America, the ¬†decline of the churches in Europe in the face of overwhelming secularism and indifference.

In his reply, Bertil Ekstrom, Executive Director of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Mission Commission, replied that in the face of such decline, the churches of Europe had to face honestly the need for repentance and a renewed commitment in their witness to Christ today. That’s certainly the case but I was interested in what the possible unintended consequences over the next century are likely to be.

Chatting with my neighbour after the presentation we were talking about the emerging forms of evangelicalism that are developing in parallel to the historic denominations. That’s a challenge for traditional mission agencies which in many instances look to particular evangelical champions who, in several instances, are quite critical of the emerging streams. How can mission agencies work with and draw upon the missional energy and vision of emerging churches and streams in a way that makes the best possible use of partnerships?

If the next century is to be a post-denominational future (and that’s a big ‘if’) then one unintended consequence of the missionary endeavour might be that traditional mission agencies fail to make the connect with these streams and movements and become a mere missiological sideshow. Direct church to church partnerships within Europe are increasingly common. Basic cross-cultural mistakes will be made. Individuals and agencies involved in cross-cultural preparation within the existing structures of mission agencies may increasingly need to take account of how to work at the church-to-church level.

There will be many more unintended (and unforeseen) consequences of mission passion and vision. God, in the name of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, remains able to prompt and lead in such a way that we can sometimes be a part of the ‘new things’ that God is doing. Our task remains one of listening prophetically, speaking boldly, and acting in humility.

Emerging and European: how significant are the experiments of the 1980 and 90s?

April 6, 2010

Just been trying to find out a bit more about the history of Emerging/Emergent Church whilst I’ve been updating several lectures for Redcliffe’s European Studies programme. I became a Baptist minister in 1989 and have seen a few things come around in the twenty years since. I also collect too many books and thought I’d get some out and try to remember what I heard some of their authors say at the time.

The issue I have is that the short-list of emergent histories (mainly blogs – like this one!) mostly discusses it with reference to what was going on in the USA. They mostly overlook the missionary/missional shifts in congregational thinking going on in a number of European centres. Of course, the major mistake that Europeans made (according to some emerging leaders) was to believe that something new might emerge out of established church traditions and remain closely identified with those traditions in some instance.

Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi) traces the explosion of the term to 2001 although he mentions a book written in 1970 called The Emerging Church (and later used by Dan Kimball as the title of his 2003 book). He’s very frustrating when he writes in a 2007 blog that in 1988 he discovered that British models were far in advance of other continents and although he promised to write about it ‘another time’, I’ve yet to see what he would have written if that time had come.

The first reference I can find to its use in a European context is its appearance in the title of of a 1981 book by Johann Baptist Metz The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Postbourgeois World. Metz argued that Christian memory generates change, not only of the congregation but also of the surrounding world. In this way, the church was ’emergent’.

Robert Warren’s Being Human, Being Church (1995) where he outlines three chapters on ‘The Church in Emerging Mode’ including chapters on ‘Models’and ‘Marks’. The key for Warren was missionary/missional aligned with spirituality.

It’s also worth taking a look at what came out of the ‘Towards Missionary Congregations in a secularized Europe’ ¬†that kicked off in 1989 within the Conference of European Churches and the mission section of the World Council of Churches. The resultant process and book Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches (edited by Gerhard Linn, 1994) has a really organic feel and describes 25 congregations that were emerging during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A concluding phrase from Hear what the Spirit says.. says ‘And the result? The answer is simply: We do not know! We are still on the move.’ The sense of the church being in emerging mode is clear and undergirds the occasional use of the term throughout the book.

It seems that the contribution of European churches and mission leaders to the emerging church is a history that is waiting to be written; even if only an emerging and provisional history. Its contribution might also be to challenge the emerging consensus that emergent church can only ever be contained within totally new wineskins.