Emerging Church movement dead?
What do you do when a revolution isn’t sexy any more?
So asks Danielle Shroyer (hat-tip to Julie Clawson). Danielle notes that the “emerging” movement has emerged into the mainstream and become established and institutionalised — they are teaching courses on “Emerging Church” in Bible Colleges.
The revolution we now call the emerging church movement may not be as sexy as it once was. It may not be feeding our endless obsession for what’s new and what’s next. It may not have arrived in current form the way we had wanted or anticipated. It may not be stroking our egos as much as it used to, now that some random guy on the streets of Dallas can probably define “missional” without our help. But it is far from over.
I don’t see myself as part of the “Emerging Church” because I’m not emerging from or into anywhere that people who see themselves as “emerging church” are coming from or going to. So if they see themselves as going somewhere else, that’s OK too. But I have enjoyed participating in the “emergin g conversation”, and I would be sorry if that disappeared.
One of the focal points of the “emerging conversation” in Southern Africa is the Emerging Africa blog, or rather collection of blogs and bloggers. But recently Nic Paton asked there “Why does this site does not engender much enthusiam? Has it had its time, and we need to move onto another platform, or just get on with it in the real world?”
So what do you do when a revolution isn’t sexy any more?
I only heard the term “emerging church” for the first time four years ago, but from what Andrew Jones (alias Tall Skinny Kiwi) says, it sounds as if it was around for a lot longer, even if people weren’t calling it that. We were plugging house church in the 1970s, based on a model developed in the 1950s, to give just one example. We were doing “church as a party” in 1969 (see Notes from underground: Psychedelic Christian Worship — thecages). But we didn’t call it “emerging church” (when I say “we” I mean our generation — the old farts).
Back then there was a radical Christian magazine called The Catonsville Roadrunner, and on one issue the front cover had a picture of a young girl and and old man dancing, and the heading “We shall celebrate with such fierce dancing the death of your institutions”. But, as Danielle Shroyer points out, there is a tendency for revolutions to become institutionalised. If old institutions die, new ones arise to take their place, or the old ones simply absorb the revolutions.
Andrew Jones is concerned about the history of the Emerging Church movement. As a historian, I think it is a good concern. What has been told of the history of Christianity in the second half of the 20th century hasn’t told half of it. I have a similar concern about the history of the charismatic renewal movement in Southern Africa. It had a tremendous influence on Christianity in southern Africa, yet the story of it has not been told. What happened to it and where did it go? I think that to some extent it is linked to the history of the emerging church movement, though the latter seems to be far smaller. Will it continue to grow, or is its time past?
One of the reasons I find the Emerging conversation interesting is that even though the answers it produces may not be relevant, the questions are. There is the concern with being missional, and one of my concerns is that the Orthodox Church should be more missional. The answers produced by the Emerging Church people are not usually relevant, because we’re not coming from the same place. Some of what they say simply doesn’t translate from an alien context. But the concern is an important one, and needs to be fostered.