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A Prayer

The Emerging Church

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:

Comments

Mark,

Thanks for being the encouraging and inspiring leader that you are. May God continue to bless and anoint you.

In Christ,
Sam.

Thank you, Mark, for mentioning the Emerging Church. Once again, it's a timely topic, and I appreciate your comments.

I have to say that from time to time Christians from certain emerging churches are overly critical of the mega-churches and the traditional churches. (But I have to emphasise that they are not the majority.) This is unhelpful.

Having said that, we all have to examine our own church lives. Why are there disillusioned Christians in the first place? Is it simply their own fault? Should we do something positive to embrace them? I think there should be genuine and sincere dialogues. One way for that dialogue to happen is to be part of the community – that is, to sit down and listen to one another within each other’s community. An emerging church person should hear your heart (the heart of a mega-church pastor). Likewise we can learn heaps by listening to the cry of an emerging church person – why is there such a longing for change and authenticity? (Thus I suggest that let’s not just read books about the emerging church, but see the real people and listen to their hearts.)

You helpfully mentioned that “the emerging church is a recent organic movement among postmodern believers seeking to practice the way of Jesus within contemporary culture”. I think there is much to ponder for those of us who are in the more “traditional churches” (whether Pentecostal, charismatic, mega or established churches) and who are Baby-boomers and Gen-X. (This includes me.)

I think postmodernity has raised a lot of good questions for us (although whether they offer good solutions is a good question too). Let us all be humble and learn to listen. Do we truly practise the way of Jesus – the way of the Cross, which is self-giving and sacrificial? Do we really embody the values of the kingdom of God in our daily life? Do we really understand what the kingdom of God means? (When I ask that question people normally say, “the reign of God”. This is true, but surely we need to dig much deeper than that. The kingdom of God is the key message of Jesus in the Gospels.)

Once again thank you for your comments and your big heart.

Siu-Fung

Hi Mark,

I really enjoy reading your heart on these topics. I've had many friends that have walked away from church over the years... but somehow most are still searching for God. It truly is sad that many will be turned away because of perceived inadequecies in the church. I think God's heart breaks for those ones, and we need to reach out with love.

My firm belief is that the church is God's plan for the world, and we would be naieve to think that the current format or program of the church is perfect. We must continue to study, continue to learn, continue to adapt those things that are adaptable, whilst maintaining the good news and principles of the Word of God which is the foundation and authority (above all other philosophies and trends of society) for everything we do.

Thanks Mark for being such a man that stands firm on the Word, and always learning and growing... it creates the space for the community of CityLife to grow and learn as well.

Always,
Mark.

I've been reading about this topic and talking to a lot of my friends about it. There's a bit of buzz around this topic 'emerging church.' A lot of this talk has been centred around the book 'A New Kind of Christian' which I haven't been able to read just yet, it's currently doing the hot potato around my friends and will come to me in turn. And I would agree, it seems a trend for disillusioned Christians.

There's two key things about the church that causes disillusionment for me. Neither of these apply to Mark C, for mine. Well the first one doesn't, the second one I wouldn't know because I don't hang out with him!

1. Cliches. It feels like a disconnect from the real world when we talk in a language full of Christian jargon and nice-sounding phrases, when we talk in a language that an 'ordinary' person would never use.

2. Robot thinking. Too many people checking their brains in at the church door, so to speak. The preacher, cell leader, church doctrine is occasionally wrong, it doesn't have to be 100% right. Just as Mark said once : 'eat the meat, spit out the bones.' The 'nothing is open for discussion' mentality is a real turn off.

Hmmm this gets me thinking, one or two of my comments have sounded negative. What I love about Citylife:

1. It's not plastic/over-commercialised. I love the down-to-earth feel. I also love that two of the biggest, fastest growing churches havecompletely different styles : it shows that presentation isn't the key to moving forward, something many people are cynical about (esp. with Hillsong.)

2. The church practises what they preach. Missions, KCC, Waverley Christian College.

3. Community of people from many nations and walks of life.

4. Incredibly strong cell structure. I was out of cell for a bit and Ben Chia kept on working away to make sure I had one despite the fact I had only met him two or three times. Made me feel wanted and cared for.

5. Lastly and most importantly, it feels like God is there. It's not a vacant space. We're all humans... and the more humans in a place, the more fault that can be found I guess? God rises above our faults and the success of Citylife gives credit to Him.

You say "we're endeavoring to do most of these things".

Please list which ones are you not endeavoring to do.

Thankyou.

Hi David

The one we aren't focusing on is 'communal living'. We do encourage close relationships and connection but not via a communal approach (something not every emerging church is doing either). Acts 2 records believers 'living in common' - but this was a one off experience and due to the fact that many had arrived recently from out of town.

I know great Christians in both mega-churches and in small 'emerging communities". Indeed I am not sure whether we should label them as 'emerging' every time. The question each one of us should ask is: "Are we living as a community that reflect the values of the kingdom of God?"

Siu-Fung

Some good comments here - thanks everyone. I think all churches (and Christians) can benefit from dialoguing with each other. I enjoy talking to friends of mine who are more in the 'emerging church' orbit. I always learn things from them. I also think I am able to help them too. Mark

Hi,

thanks so much Mark for posting this topic on your blog. I am studying at Kingsley and currently have to write an essay about the emerging church (I believe our principal is now part of such a church). I am finding it a bit of a struggle as it appears to present itself as " The new true church and all the rest is doomed or at least criticized". It describes the mega church as a consumerist church, which I was highly offended by. I don't consider Citylife church as a consumerist church, just because there is music and topics that are of interest to (young) people . However I think we do have to critically look at as to why the emerging church has come about. There are many disillusioned Christians and often do struggle with the "performance level" of larger churches (this at times does include myself). Another important aspect is that Post-modernism is a view that has captured a large part of our society. Is our church equipped to reach out to those and what are we donig to reach out to those?
Part of the assignment is that I have to read two "Revolve" articles and use them as a grid for our church and discuss options with our leadership. As I evaluated our outreach programs I noticed there is a trend of running most (not all) programs at church and that mainly we rely on "friendship evangelism" or "relationship building evangelism" for people to come to the church. Are we positioning ourselves in society enough to connect with those that would never step into a church? Or are there opportunities for us out there to increase our interactions with the lost or disillusioned? Like discussion nights on spirituality held in the community, or meeting with those that have left the church and listen to their concerns, come along side them and be the body of Christ to them.

One aspect in the revolve article appears to be quite true, perhaps someone can give me some feedback on their view on this: it talks about inherited churches expecting people to follow a certain process in order to become members of the church: the in and out group -
1. the person believes in a creed or set of beliefs
2. then they behave in a way that is consistent with the church's religious, social and cultural norms
3. once they satisfy the conditions they belong to that church

I must admit that one of my struggles with church is the "membership" bit. Our church does appear to follow the above model through the lifetrax system. I love our church but disagree with a membership system as it does create an "in and out" group, particularly on the nights when the "new members" are presented to the church. To me that isnt very biblical and can create confusion or guilt for people. I can understand why the emerging church is not agreeing with this kind of model. Mark, if you do happen to read this, would you please explain from a biblical point of view the need for membership to our church. I started this discussion with Gerard...but didnt get to finish it during meet and greet ;-)
I know this has been a long comment...looking forward to read some feedback!
thanks for your willingness and openness Mark to listen, you and Nicole are fantastic leaders and provide a great role model for our church - Monique

Hi Monique. Thanks for your comments and questions. As far as evangelism, yes I think we need to not just have 'programs' at church for this. That's why we have our community ministry, where people can go out and do things to help people. Life Groups are also a good way to get people out into neighborhoods relating to the unchurched. We need to see more of this.

As far as membership, we try not to make an 'in' and 'out' group, but I can see how this may be perceived. Essentially, we believe every Christian is a 'member' of Jesus' church. We just try to define what that membership looks like. As a large church, we also want to include people in decision-making, hence our opening 'membership' of our legal entity to the congregation. A lot of large churches only have their key leaders as legal 'members' and it's pretty closed. Ours is not a perfect model and we're currently reviewing it, so open to feedback. Thanks. Mark

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