The emerging church is a recent organic movement among postmodern believers seeking to practice the way of Jesus within contemporary culture.
Eddie Gibbs' and Ryan Bolger's book Emerging Churches endeavors to provide a pulse on this diverse grassroots movement. They define emerging churches by nine practices. In their opinion, emerging churches: (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, (3) live highly communal lives, (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities [p.45]. These are all good things. In fact, as a mega-church pastor, I'd say we're endeavoring to do most of these things within our own church community, although most people would not refer to us as an emerging church.
Most emerging churches are forming outside the confines of traditional denominations and not without controversy. One influential church leader in the USA recently told me that, in his opinion, most emerging churches were filled with disillusioned Christians. I also have a friend who pastors a large church in Australia who lost a number of young adults to a nearby emerging church a few years back. Recently some have returned indicating that they are now not sure what they were emerging to.
Needless to say, any true Christ-follower longs to experience a more genuine expression of Christian community, spirituality and mission in our generation. When a follower of Christ is not experiencing these things within their local church they may seek to find it elsewhere, even through different expressions of church life.
Personally, I'm for all expressions of authentic church life. After all, we need all different types of churches to reach all different types of people. As long as churches are loving God, loving each other, and reaching out to people far from God, we shouldn't be overly fussed whether a church is large or small, evangelical or charismatic, traditional or contemporary, urban or rural, or ... emerging! We need to value diversity!
What concerns me is when one type of church, or expression of church life, criticises or belittles another. Together we are the 'body of Christ' and every part is valuable and necessary. Let's seek to have a greater respect and appreciation for each other, as well as for different expressions of church. The truth is that from time to time, ALL of us need to rethink the way we 'do church' and how we are to best follow Christ in our culture.
Here are some other resources on the emerging church:
- An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches by Ray S. Anderson.
- The Emerging Church by Dan Kimball, Rick Warren and Brian McClaren.
- A popular emerging church web site.
- Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church - a critique of the emerging church by D.A. Carson.
- Listening to the Beliefs of Emergent Churches - perspectives from five pastors.
- An Emergent Manifesto of Hope by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.
- The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church by Alan Hirsch. Alan would not limit himself to the 'emerging church' label. However, in this book he challenges the contemporary church to reconsider the apostolic ethos of the first century church.