What is the ‘Emergent’ movement?

This is an introductory post so that we can move onto the subject of the Emergent movement, as Bull has requested.  The purpose of this post is for people like myself (maybe only me?) to understand what the distinguishing theology or practices of the Emergent movement are, if there are distinguishing features.

The ‘Emergent’ movement should be distinguished from the term ‘Emerging church’, because the term ‘Emerging’ covers a variety of exploration of new forms of church.  Even blogs like this one can be said to be an emerging form of church, but are not necessarily Emergent.

[Note: I’ve just been informed by Greg the Explorerthat “Anyone who claims that there are two distinct groups called emerging and emergent is off on the wrong foot to begin with.”  So there you go.  Perhaps we can explore that here.]

Teddy contributed a video of Mark Driscoll usefully explaining the difference:

[NOTE: I’ve also just been informed by Greg the Explorer that “posting a video with Mark Driscoll trying to explain the emerging church is like getting Lance to post a video explaining Hillsong.” – so maybe bear that in mind.]

So can anyone list or sum up the particular theology or practices that distinguish the ‘Emergent’ movement?  The main thing I learnt from Driscoll is that they are ‘liberal’ – but in what way?

Then perhaps we can use this thread to pinpoint the individual features that people want to debate.

Thanks everyone!

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RavingPente


58 thoughts on “What is the ‘Emergent’ movement?

  1. When I read that link, I had to tick a number of the boxes. So am I emergent? I’d better find out, from the sound of things!!!

  2. Here are some of the things I ticked off about me from that list:

    – used to listen to Moby, although now I mainly listen to the Wiggles and people from ABC’s Playschool;
    – am currently enjoying reading Dallas Willard (though taking ages);
    – find Calvinism too extreme – though with respect as they also make some good points;
    – don’t much like George Bush, and see inherent problems with institutions (but believe they are unavoidable in life);
    – think poverty, global warming, racism and oppression are huge problems which we have much scriptural reason to actively oppose – gay marriage and abortion are not the same scale of issue to me (please don’t get the idea that I approve of abortion);
    – once enjoyed bohemian, goth, rave and indie at least to a degree, not that you’d know to look at me these days;
    – have talked about the myth of redemptive violence;
    – believe its OK that I don’t even attend an organised church, let alone one with bean bags etc (but I have a bean bag at home, if that’s important);
    – support women in ministry provided that they are actually gifted in that area;
    – I do not see a sacred/secular divide and think that’s important;
    – definitely into being the church and not just going to church (maybe a post on that one day?)

    I know the article was tongue in cheek, but I do recognise where it’s heading (I think).

  3. Teddy, did you notice how in the book review, the reviewers kept calling it ‘the emerging church’, far more often than Emergent. No wonder it gets confusing.

  4. Emergent or Emerging

    Similarities:

    Both are a reaction to Modernism and the Modernist church situation

    Both despise what they term as “dead orthodoxy”

    Both desire to “reform the church”

    Both desire to be “missional” and its members to be “authentic”

    Both have a preference for “narrative theology” and have a skepticism of truth claims.

    Anymore confused?

  5. Is there a stream of the emerging church that isn’t even missional? In otherwords the focus is on being rather than doing. Just relationally being church in whatever setting and seeing how that plays out and what fruit it bears.

    So there’s not even a focus on sharing Scripture, witnessing or making disciples but seeing if these become a natural fruit of being the church.

  6. Ta Greg, will have a read.

    Muppet – emergent and emerging don’t seem to be the same thing. So yes, naturally I think there is an emerging church as you describe, and its always been there but not necessarily recognised, but don’t think it would identify itself as ‘Emergent’ since its very nature would not acknowledge a label. (Unless someone can point one out that I’ve missed.)

  7. “I would also have to say that posting a video with Mark Driscoll trying to explain the emerging church is like getting Lance to post a video explaining Hillsong.

    Anyone who claims that there are two distinct groups called emerging and emergent is off on the wrong foot to begin with.”

    Oh, OK Greg. I thought Mark Driscoll was being quite mild in that video. But I see the point you are making.

    I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve posted, but it will take me a while.

    There must be room for a traditional definition of ’emerging’ somewhere, since any new thing ’emerges’ at some stage. But maybe reading those contributions will help me see otherwise.

    Am wondering if this topic (which is merely about a definition) is opening a Pandora’s box? Although, being Christian, should I avoid references to Greek mythology??

  8. Greg, would you say within the emergent church (as opposed to the emerging church) that there is a drift towards universalism?

  9. Its very difficult to define a whole movement like the Emerging church, but there are some common indicators – see if any of these resonate with you:

    You dont have any church services on a Sunday, because everyone else goes to church on a Sunday.

    Your church blog has more discussion about coffee than the scriptures

    You think that Bono might be the fourth person of the Trinity

    You have at least one service which has discontinued the use of music for worship and replaced it with incense.

    … ok?

  10. Don’t forget the stool in the middle of the room, the lounges all around in a circle, blackberries on, so you text all your friends in the muddle (oops middle)of the “conversation”. Oh, and of course a very large takeaway Starbucks cup.

    One more, you have got to be really, really, really cool and wear glasses like Rob Bell. And finally you MUST be patronising, because you’re smarter than anybody else because YOU have the secret of life, the universe and everything……….42! (and yoga).

  11. Well, I had a look at the Emergent Village website, and also read through the long post from Dan Kimball which Greg put up in the comments here. Definitely worth reading.

    I think I know a _little_ more now that I’ve waded through it, without claiming any kind of expertise.

    Dan Kimball’s letter was very descriptive about various specific stereotypes that exist about the movement – and basically denied that he had ever been to or knew of a specific church within the movement that conformed to those.

    There were some things on the Emergent Village website that I think probably ring that kind of alarm bell with people – a reference to the discipline of meditation for example, and also the agreement to be friends regardless of theological differences.

    Those two things would worry people. But Dan Kimball said that he’d never come across an emerging church practicing Buddhist meditation for example. So what is meant by ‘meditation’?

    It’s fairly typical for people to worry that if they are ‘friends’ with someone of differing theology, they will somehow compromise their own theology, or endorse falsehoods.

    “We are committed to honor and serve the church in all its forms – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anabaptist. We practice “deep ecclesiology” – rather than favoring some forms of the church and critiquing or rejecting others, we see that every form of the church has both weaknesses and strengths, both liabilities and potential.”

    From http://www.emergentvillage.com/about-information/values-and-practices

    Is this one of the things that concerns people? But it does seem from Dan Kimball’s post that most of the churches he knows are fairly orthodox.

    Exploration of different forms of church – well, these days surely not too many people are fussed about that?

    Also, it does not sound as if all emergent churches preach universalism, since according to Kimball, the ones he knows preach repentance (probably unnecessary for most universalists).

    It does seem as though this was too complex a question to expect a simple answer.

  12. Re incense – I used to think it was idolatrous. However – I heard an explanation that in some churches, I think Orthodox ones, the incense is actually a way of helping people worship God with all their senses – so they use images for the eyes (not worshipping them as idols), incense for smell, and obviously must cover ears and touch as well. I wonder how they cover taste? Anyway when it is used as an aide, and not imbued with any mystical powers, then I can’t see a problem with it any more. It’s the purpose behind it (the heart) that determines whether its use is OK or not, rather than the thing itself in this case.

  13. Stop shouting at me Greg!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The two streams seem to be called churches in the states. I really wouldn’t know – I’m no longer Pentecostal with all those amazing gifts of knowledge about such things. 🙂

  14. Another thing worth noting is that they state everyone who is part of the Emergent Village movement is expected to be involved with at least one issue or cause of peace and justice.

    So if someone is Christian and not involved in one of these issues at the time, are they sinning? Or not a Christian? Or ignorant of what scripture requires of us? Or just not part of the emerging church movement?

    To be honest, I have actually attempted some reading on the issue in the past. The view I read was that the Christian walk is incomplete without an ongoing involvement in social justice – it is a one or two dimensional walk (both of those are defined terms), and not a three dimensional one. To walk a three dimensional walk as a Christian means we need to exhibit a concern for the ‘other’. Not just ourselves, or our immediate church environment. A criticism of typical evangelical churches was that they had a two dimensional faith – looking after self, looking after the congregation – and evangelising – but not usually becoming involved in issues of social justice or peace, without which our walk in Christ is limited.

    That’s my somewhat rusty understanding of that view. Unfortunately, the way it was presented to me had a strong sense of legalism to it, whether or not the author had intended it, and it really put me off. Not that the concept of involvement was wrong; just the legalistic fashion in which it was presented as a requirement of faith. I may well have taken it the wrong way of course. But it is my view that you can’t legislate love, and love needs to be our motivation. So we involve ourselves in social justice issues because of compassion and concern that God has birthed in our hearts, or in whatever issue He calls us to.

  15. I haven’t the time to read Greg’s post at the moment … thanks Greg, btw.

    in the NOOMA videos, Rob Bell does come across as arrogant and patronising.

    but DON’T PANIC!

    since Bell and McLaren are recognised leaders in the emerging church, and everyone who is emerging should read their books to be “in the know” and tap into their special insight, all we need to know about the movement as a whole, and the direction it is going in, is to read their books right?

    In their books the regularly endorse New Age leaders … what does that say to us?

    Look I want to reach out to Catholics and Orthodox and yes, even CCC and Hillsongers as well. But to draw them into a right relationship with the Father and to throw away all the stuff that is unhelpful.

    However, that is not the goal of Emergent Village. We can all join in with the new things we are getting from Catholic and Orthodox and New Age practice and drawing that into the church instead. It is considered arrogant and prideful that I have better handle on the truth than catholics or orthodox christians. There is no level playing field as Bell and McLaren have to be right … don’t they?

    What if they’re wrong? A true level playing field is one that Holy Spirit operates in. But when I or others point out problems with Ball and McLaren’s new approach we get called divisive and rebellious and end up getting cast out and ignored … by our own church, because the local Pastor isn’t up to the job perhaps, and prefers to defer to some higher, human authority.

    Pastor’s have to lead spiritually, but very often, we forget how human they are and all the doubts and fears that I have “can I do this, am I up to the job, why should people listen to me, was that God speaking?” probably infect them as well. So, you end up listening to someone who assumes a higher calling, an unwarranted authority.

    Local Pastor’s should have a direct line to God. If they don’t, they should reconsider their positions.

    Are they the person God want’s to be an Elder?

    The whole Pastoral system is wrong. We need lots of Elders, not a few with one super-elder.

    Leaders don’t trust themselves and end up just playing the numbers game.

    Given the very vague definitions for emerging … I’d say we were all emerging. But we can be emerging without adopting anything being promoted by emergent … Probably very few fellowships are adopting the wacky side of it …

    Such as:
    Lectio Divina
    Labyrinths
    Extreme ecumenism including treating Islam as being equal with Christianity with respect to truth and divine inspiration. (another reason for downplaying the authority of the Bible … it’s just another book with some truth in it.)

    There’s lots of other stuff, but dodgy catholic and new age practices are the latest fad for the fad-driven church. Give it a few years it’ll be something else. If we dig a little, we can probably smell it out …

    My tip is it’ll be a Todd Bentley started band-wagon. They’ve buggered up his rehabilitation on-line for now, but once he goes on stage somewhere again, then the internet crowd will be in the minority and Todd will re-ignite the hellish money making false revival rubbish again and will impart kundalini on everyone he touches.

    Oh … I guess it’s coffee time. 😦

    BTW, I am sure that everyone blogging here is pretty sound! 😉 So Greg, please don’t make a wrong assumption … I am not accusing you or anyone you know of playing with Ouija Boards or anything!

    Shalom

    PS, lost track of things for a while … company I work for has just announced 1200 job cuts (after record profits this year!)

  16. Oh, that’s not good news re your company, Bull. Hope your job is safe. Have gone through this relatively recently, in both our immediate and extended family. Let us know if you need us to pray for your work.

    *********************

    Maybe we should have a look at particular practices being promoted that are dangerous. Greg – if you are a typical example of emergent, then I’d imagine that many emergent types would steer well clear of some of the more concerning extremes.

    For the record, Bull, I’ve never heard of those 2 first things you mentioned. This is very educational for me.

    Good thing I’m not attending any church at the moment – clearly I’m naive about a lot of what’s out there! Who knows what I’d stumble over? (And I’ve only just stumbled out of the last movement, and am still processing a different perspective…)

  17. Well I guess I’m slightly more enlighened on what the emerging church is after reading this thread. It sounds like the emerging church might just be another name for the postmodern church. Postmodern – as in there is no absolute truth, only relative truth, my truth is not the same as your truth, being agnostic regarding what consititutes reality, all belief systems and cultures being equally valuable and true etc The only absolute is that there are no absolutes etc

  18. yes P7.

    however, many individual believers who are swept up in this due to being in the wrong place and the wrong time but are otherwise just like any of us.

    People don’t like the word doctrine. It makes us think of hellfire and damnation preachers. Angry men who want to smite sinners and damn people to hell.

    But we have to watch our doctrine. If that goes, then it’s likely our children will not know Jesus Christ. Or our Grandchildren, if we are a bit long in the tooth now.

    Bible learning is unpopular too … relativism is in.

    Christianity as a whole can be hijacked unless you have locally accountable elders who the membership of the local church will hold to account. If they start teaching stuff that is well dodgy, then you replace them with sound preacher/teachers instead. The trouble is, in most fellowships these days, the members don’t have the power to hire and fire.

    I don’t know much about Lectio Divina or walking a Labyrinth to be honest. Just know enough to want nothing to do with either. This is all contemplative spirituality of course (Crowder) … I thought we had a direct line to God! I thought we have the blood of Jesus and and presence and power of the Holy Spirit!

    Isn’t that enough?

    It isn’t enough if you don’t actually have it.

    =====================================================
    Regarding the job situation … don’t pray that I keep my Job. Pray that God’s will is done. There are plenty of people with families etc … I just want God to be sovereign over the situation, that’s all.

    Then I will know that things will work out regardless of what happens in the short term.

    Shalom

  19. Thanks Greg – good to know then that that article is a reasonable educational source.

    So far in this thread, you’ve been able to reassure me about the practices that at surface value sound alarming. I’ve no objection to Christian meditation or Lectia Divina when they are as you describe; there is value I think in awareness of past Christian disciplines that may still be helpful to our walk.

    Also, retreats are quite popular among various of my Pente friends, some of whom are also interested in the practice of silent retreats, for the purpose of prayer and contemplation.

    That article had a diagram putting various well known teachers at different points along a line representing the emerging spectrum (from not emerging, to very emerging). Perhaps the more extreme teachers that people worry about are at the far end, and there are plenty of others that have a lot to offer the church at large – it certainly sounds that way to me.

    From reading this, I’ve found that my own interests do align with someone who is exploring some of the concepts that the emerging church seem to be talking about. I’ve had direct involvement with some people who simply must be part of it, based on that article. But I didn’t take it the whole way to become part of their group myself, since I am quite careful of any ‘group’ at this stage in my walk. I was also wary of what I saw as a different form of legalism which I tend to stay away from… many churches have this.

    I find it interesting that so many churches don’t regard themselves as ‘religious’ yet get very particular about Christians needing to express themselves in certain ways in order to be OK. I’m talking about specific actions, not character – so things like tithing, being involved in a social justice cause at all times, needing to go down the front of a meeting to ‘confess’ Jesus in public, or even having to attend a particular meeting on a regular basis. To me, these things all miss the point; they are all religious. But many of these practices can be good and helpful when they aren’t done in a ‘religious’ fashion.

    I am enjoying reading Dallas Willard at the moment partly because he deals with the heart rather than the surface actions. So I am beginning to think that I would definitely identify with some of the people and things happening in the emergent world, at some point on the spectrum.

  20. I saw the labrynth being demonstrated on “Songs of Praise” recently. Looked like quite a good way of making a break from the business of life in order to focus your thoughts and your walk with God.

    On the same program they had a Christian Yoga instructor. The actions and meditation weren’t to clear the mind but to focus it on Sriptures.

    I like the thought that we can use these things in a positive way and gain some benefit from them.

    Can’t remember the denomination of the church unfortunately – was one of the traditional ones though.

  21. I dont see any problem with Meditation in a Christian context even when it is focussed on stilling the mind. I did a course on it at my local Church of Christ a few years ago.

    Sometimes the mind needs to be still so that the spirit can communicate with God. I found out that one of the reasons they kneel in the Catholic church is not so much for the attitude that it brings, but for the fact that it bloody well hurts so much your mind is taken up with dealing with the pain. This stops the thoughts from wandering and allows the spirit to pray.

  22. Thanks, Greg. Small Boat Big Sea looked like something I would have enjoyed in past times. They seem to have a desire for a very authentic walk. It will go on my list of places to visit when the time is right.

    The labyrinth exercise seemed potentially worthwhile also. It seems to be a way of focussing on our walk with God and being aware of His presence, using imagery to help us engage with powerful metaphors. I’ve encountered smaller examples of that kind of thing even in my Pente days, but nothing quite so elaborate.

    The most similar exercise I have ever done was many years ago, way back in my Anglican church, in the local youth group. I can still remember it. This was before my Pente days. I did feel a communion with God as I went through the exercise. We even lay down on the floor to do it. Some of the other youth, who weren’t participating, watched in through a window. Apparently they were ‘freaked out’ by some expression on my face at the time – I’ll never know what they thought they saw, but they let me know that they thought I must have had quite an experience. All I know is that it was very peaceful. But it wasn’t called the labyrinth. Maybe it was some kind of Christian meditation. Anyway Teddy – that was for you – you never know what you will find at your local Anglican church! (This was a church that taught us ‘tongues are of the devil, and stopped us from having study groups with anyone who wasn’t also Anglican.)

    An aside: So many church groups seem attracted to the beaches (and often Manly, on the north side). I live a fair drive away – especially carting small kids around, so to do anything regularly over there wouln’t really work at the moment. If I did live there, there are several different kinds of church groups I’d visit at some stage.

  23. “I found out that one of the reasons they kneel in the Catholic church is not so much for the attitude that it brings, but for the fact that it bloody well hurts so much your mind is taken up with dealing with the pain. This stops the thoughts from wandering and allows the spirit to pray.”

    Yes, I found that in my Anglican church. It hurt! It didn’t focus my mind on praying much; it used to focus me on waiting for the hymns or whatever was next so that I could stand up again. It’s OK for _short_ times. I was never ungrateful for plastic seats in my Pente churches after that! (Of course CCCOF has now moved up to soft cushiony seats, I believe.)

  24. RP says – “Anyway Teddy – that was for you – you never know what you will find at your local Anglican church!”

    Just finding the gospel of law and grace being served in precious quantities. My “discernment monitor” is on high alert these days.

  25. P7 “Postmodern – as in there is no absolute truth, only relative truth, my truth is not the same as your truth, being agnostic regarding what consititutes reality, all belief systems and cultures being equally valuable and true etc The only absolute is that there are no absolutes etc”

    This is a pretty extreme version of post-modernism. Hard-core as the dude below would say. You can make pretty much anything sound bad if you judge it by its more extreme participants.

    I think c michael patton put it very well in Soft-postmoderns do not deny the existence of truth, they simply are less naive about the possibility that their particular take on truth sums up the whole. Hard-postmoderns deny truth all together.

    The core of post-modernism is just the realisation that we all view facts through our own experience and that this may sometimes make it difficult to communicate meaningfully. That when I say something to you, you translate my words into concepts that you understand that may or may not be what I mean. The deconstruction P7 maligns is just a recognition of the difficulty of communication of ideas.

    Post-modernism is not a trap, it is a tool for not being fooled into condemning people unnecessarily. We can try to be objective about other people’s views but we can only do this if we understand that they see things differently to us. And to understand better sometimes we have to change our world-view – which is the literal meaning of “repent”.

  26. Explorer: “You are going to get a better idea by checking out people such as Dan Kimball.”

    Didn’t he write “They Love Jesus But Not The Church”?

    If so, that was great. He didn’t need to tell me that. But when I read that, I felt comforted that a person like him was promoting that form of ministry and evangelism. With me and God, and I’ve had some divine moments praying for people in those instances where people have actually had an encounter with the Lord.

    It’s a great read… Most of it.

  27. For Muppet:

    “Is there a stream of the emerging church that isn’t even missional? In otherwords the focus is on being rather than doing. Just relationally being church in whatever setting and seeing how that plays out and what fruit it bears”

    Have a read of one of Wayne Jacobsen’s latest blog posts here:
    http://lifestream.org/blog/2009/08/01/in-search-of-the-ideal-community/

    Likeminded? He is one of the better teachers about this in my view. I agree with him, but he has gone a lot further along in his journey than I have. I’m just learning the ropes. (But trusting God will guide me along the way.)

  28. PS: Jacobsen is not part of the ’emerging church’ or any ‘movement’. Like the emerging churches seem to, he rejects labels.

  29. Thanks RP I’ll read it properly at the weekend. But after glancing though I’m not sure if the tensions he mentions can ever be avoided.

    Can we avoid organisations and institutions? I don’t think all churches purposely control their members by regulating their relationships and how they relate. I think that is just a natural outworking of any functional large organisation. It needs to do things to exist. The larger it becomes the more it needs to do and the more resouces / people it needs to maintain it.

    I don’t currently attend an organised church, but I used to attend what is now Hillsong City. My relationships haven’t changed, I just don’t relate to people around the organised events of the church anymore.

    So my church friends are still the same and my non-church friends are still the same. All that has changed is that I have a little more time to relax with the family on Sundays!

    However, even with loose friendships there is still a level of commitment and organisation, otherwise you’d never meet. Sometimes you’ll even sacrifice your own desires for the other person for the sake of a healthy relationship.

    I guess we just need to decide at what point we feel we are being too controlled by the relationship?? Being feel to deal with this without feeling pressured or guilty is key.

    Having said all that – I have lost a couple of friends because I no longer fit into their timing of church programs!

    It is nice to know that there are other people on the same journey (according to the article). The flesh side of me would like a label though so that I could feel justified and have any easy answer to provide to the question “Where do you go to church?” – without feeling the need to explain my status regarding salvation.

    As usual, not much to say just lots of questions!!!

  30. There are lots of issues raised in your last comment, Muppet, that could be whole threads in their own right.

    My stance at the moment, is that there is a season for everything, for all of us. (Not a terribly original thought, of course.) So I don’t think we need to avoid organisations or institutions all the time – they do good things; we just have to be aware of the pitfalls. I agree that most churches don’t ‘purposely control their members by regulating their relationships and how they relate.” The ones that do, become cults. There are others that find a balance, and are committed to doing things in healthy ways.

    A degree of regulation, if the members find that useful and want it, is OK. As long as people realise there are many ways of doing things, and don’t get religious about it.

    The problem sets in when conforming to a type of regulation determines whether one is a better Christian or not; people can attend lots of meetings but not be transformed one jot internally; friendships can be frustrated by too many meetings or commitments. There has to be a balance; there has to be freedom from guilt and judgement by others when doing what is required to achieve this balance.

    I have made wonderful friends through various groups; these friendships were God-supplied via these settings; not all groups automatically have this effect. Also, I am very blessed that I have not yet lost a friend as a result of changing or stopping attending a church; the friendship is valued more, which is fantastic. (I have lost friends as a result of changing home groups – why the difference?)

    Of course as you say, you have to be willing to put some effort into the relationships, or it won’t happen. In some ways, its easier to know an event is happening at the same time each week, and turn up. I must say that I do feel its benefitted us as a family to have free Sundays, and I’ve enjoyed the fellowship of Christian friends to a greater degree because we’ve had more time to put into it, and I do like that the kids are included.

    But I can imagine a time when I might go back into or become involved in an organised setting, if I feel God drawing me to it. Now it would be by choice, rather than because I thought I had to do it. I have the freedom to do so; there might be particular reasons for doing so at the time. If there was a mission that was well organised, that I wanted to be a part of; if there was a community there that for some reason I wanted to get to know or become involved in – plenty of reasons.

  31. I’ve actually had more time to read the article now – and like it very much.

    I suppose this is a subject for another thread so won’t spend time on it now but in the future would be interested in:

    1. Is not being part of an institutional church just a season to detox as it were or is there developing a different understanding amongst some saints as to what it means to belong to the larger Body of Christ?

    2. If “Being Church” is relational only, what are the implications for communal worship and bible study and how do we gain from ministry gifts like teachers and evangelists?

    3. Is the local church actually just a resource for the “Real Church” and how do the two relate?

    4. And of course, is all this type of thinking just off beam and frought with danger?!

  32. Well, I think its worthwhile looking at those. Glad you liked the article.

    My first reaction to each question:
    1: I hope it is about more than just ‘detoxing’ and that a broader or different understanding is being developed;
    2: Would like to explore this in more detail;
    3: Need to define the terms in ways everyone can understand, then discuss – getting beyond the definitions might be a challenge, but worth a try;
    4: Ha! I think its dangerous not to consider this kind of thinking! But others definitely think it is dangerous, and get cross with me about it.

  33. Muppet said:

    Can we avoid organisations and institutions? I don’t think all churches purposely control their members by regulating their relationships and how they relate. I think that is just a natural outworking of any functional large organisation. It needs to do things to exist. The larger it becomes the more it needs to do and the more resouces / people it needs to maintain it.

    Tend to disagree that our religious institutions are like they are because they are large. I think they are like they are because they assume the authority of Christ that does not belong to an institution.

    My local council is much larger than most churches but it does not tell me what to do and how to run my life what values I should have. It does not usurp the authority of Christ because it seeks to serve me. The individuals in it may attempt to have power over me but they are limited by the nature of the institution which is to serve.

    Religious institutions are not bad of themselves. The salvation army and wesley city mission are examples. It is when individuals step into Jesus shoes and start being Jesus on behalf of other people (determining right and wrong for them, directing them, providing meaning) that problems arise. And institutions give individuals this opportunity.

    I think an institution that only attempted to serve would not fall into this trap. And by serve I don’t mean to rule but call it serving.

  34. Heretic, I agree with you in theory but I think reality can be different to work with. Different churches have different dominant cultures. I presume your are mainly refering to the larger pentecostal type churches.

    I’ve seen many smaller start up churches that have been established because of these prevailing attitudes. However, even the smallest house church eventually tends to fall into the same patterns. There is a limit to the number of people you can serve before the church hits a size when the organisation itself (because of logistics -stacking chairs etc) receives the most attention.

    It tends to be less of an issue in large Anglican churches. Perhaps they a more able to operate as a resource, rather than a drain? But they can only do this because there relative wealth (most of which was gained centuries ago).

    Can a large modern Pentecostal organisation operate purely as a resource to the local church (different groups of local people in relationship with one another and Christ)?

    That way there would be a separation between the relationships with one another from our choice to be involved in a program / ministry. If we want to attend a service at this “resource” we could pay and entry fee rather than being encouraged into tithing.

    I saw this happening in a country town in England years ago – by default though.

    By the way, my local council are extremely controlling. I can never find a place to park when I want one!

  35. Actually, as a builder I often find councils have a lot to say on the controls they set out, and the values they impose. And it is a rarity to meet to come across someone who truly wants to serve you. They are generally taking a wage with the least amount of fuss possible.

    That’s a huge generalised criticism – but at least its aimed at council workers!

  36. Heretic, I agree with you in theory but I think reality can be different to work with. Different churches have different dominant cultures. I presume your are mainly referring to the larger pentecostal type churches.

    I am talking theoretically. I have not been a member of a “church” where the sole purpose of the institution was to serve. Possibly the local methodists when there was such n organisation but I was only a boy then. Yes the pentes were the least about service.

    A denomination is a section (sect) of the church proper that regards itself as different. It has its own mission(s) and culture as you say. It has leadership, or perhaps “ownership” of members who look for it to do things on their behalf.

    Such an organisation is symbiosis of two organisms. A full-time one (called clergy) and a part-time (or perhaps casual) one called laity. The clergy has the direction and management of culture but feeds off the laity without whom they cannot survive as an organisation. The laity get some-thing out of the deal too; the culture, the differentness, an identity, a feeling of having arrived – I don’t know.

    But what would the church (without inverted commas) look like if we had no denominations. After everyone has emerged from under sectarianism. If there were no clergy who had a claim to specific laity to support them. What would the church look like?

    I suggest that it would (and perhaps will) look like gifted people serving the body of Jesus.

    Would there be teaching? Yes, there would be teaching gifts and we would seek them out. Not just one who we would be expected to believe without question (what a joke) but rather in much counsel is wisdom.

    Would there be healing and prophets and administration? As above.

    Would there be elders? Yes we would know who they are over time. Would there be titled leaders an positions of authority? Probably not, there is no real excuse for it in scripture.

    Would everyone have the same doctrine? No. The same goals? No.

    So people who served would be serving the body directly. Serving people directly. If there was an organisation that served (a la wesley central mission) then people would support it for its mission’s sake.

    At the moment the symbiosis is a bait-and-switch. You come along to a “church” because you are told that is where Father is (literally at my old church I am afraid) – you have to attend or you have no “covering” but you have to be “loyal” to the symbiant and fulfill its missions whether or not they have anything to do with you.

    Yes all theory I am afraid.

  37. Heretic – again I agree, I’m just playing devils advocate to help sort out my own thinking.

    Salvation Army etc also struggle with internal politics and I’m sure all organisations will reveal more problems as you get more involved in them.

    For myself I would like to see how just serving in everyday life unravels. I can serve the Body of Christ every day with how I carry out my work, family and social life.

    This also is theory, there are already problems and questions – but at least its an exciting journey.

  38. Salvation Army etc also struggle with internal politics and I’m sure all organisations will reveal more problems as you get more involved in them.

    I am sure you are right about the Salvos. I am not familiar with them other than giving them money. I have the impression they are also a denomination for some reason. I used them as a type of organisation that only serves rather than as an example.

    I do recall they have a military-style structure so they are especially not an example of a service-oriented organisation as it were. There are theories about these kinds of organisations though.

    H.S Dent (an economist) predicts “a radical redesign of our production and organisation systems” referencing a bunch of work on the subject. Dent says the human condition is that:

    most managers like to control and dominate people. (What’s the use of being rich or powerful if you can’t be a jerk?)

    just like in “churches” :), he says

    Management is the problem not the solution [I love that quote :)]. Our brightest people should be designing and mediating networks of information and relations that allow companies and institutions to run in “real-time” with no bureaucracy and from the bottom up or customer back, like the New York Stock Exchange.

    The theory is that the process called just-in-time that started with Toyota (or some say Henry Ford) will end up with most large organisations working something like Wikipedia in that the system is set up and managed but the work is done by people who are not “directed” as such.

    This is just the way the economy works anyway so organisations become small economies. I diverge but the bottom-up service-oriented organisation is workable and is coming. I think management theory is approaching the wisdom Jesus talked about the church having within it. Shame the “churches” are missing it.

  39. Heretic,

    There are a couple of books from Harvard Business School I could arrange to lend you – The Support Economy and the Future of Competition.

    They’ve been around a while now, but say the same things you are talking about. Our current management systems have developed since the division of labour on the factory line (Ford etc). This has separated people into categories and produced heirarchies etc.

    The last 10 years has seen a massive shift. The availability of information to everyone through the internet etc has transformed our exchanges with the business world.

    It used to be that we would go to a doctor when we were sick and he would write a prescription and you left to take some pills you’d never heard of.

    But now access to information is very important to us. This gives us more control back to our personal lives. So if we are sick now, we will ask our friends advice, confer with alternative health practitioners, google the symptons and remedies – and armed with all that information go and see the local GP. A simple prescription is no longer satisfactory, we will want to know what and why we should take the pills, would alternative remedies work along side them etc.

    The church is being faced with the same generational change but as always is 20 years behind the business world. Churches would pride themselves on being the head and not the tale are too busy franchising and protecting their brand to notice the changes in society has a whole.

    I can now access the best teaching, preaching and worship in the world, I can enjoy it in the car, home or where ever. I can debate Scripture and doctrine on a blog like this. Community has changed, gathering has changed church will change. I think church community is far more networked than building orientated than it used to be and will increasingly be so.

    Is it just a season, while we follow the pattern laid out by Christ in the business world? Or is it something longer term that Christ is establlishing in the world to reveal His Body????

  40. Heretic this shift of control back to the individual also brings greater responsibility. If I personalise my own sphere of health by choosing how I relate to a GP, a chiropracter, a nutritioniste and so on – I am releasing my GP from the sole responsibility and trusting my decision making.

    The same is true if I personalise my spiritual sphere. I might use Hillsong CDs for worship and access preaching from various churches through the internet, and relate to other Christians through on-line chat forums. This releases the responsibility for my spiritual growth from a local gathering and in particular its pastor and puts all the responsibility on me.

    I personally think it will lead to healthier growth but there will be problems and dangers to address.

  41. Well, I’ve always been into DIY. 🙂 Spirituality is no different.

    When you pay to outsource something, its hard to find someone who will be completely altruistic about the supply of the service, and usually the person who cares the most about the effect of the service received is the one who receives it, not the one who gives it. There are exceptions, but how does the consumer find them?

    A great example is the financial advisory sector, which now looks like it will be regulated to the point where many financial advisors find their business comes tumbling down. The trailing commissions they automatically receive from selling a particular product are likely to be outlawed – because it has been proved in practice that this does not work in favour of the end consumer. (Any analogies here?)

    A consumer, knowing little about how finances work, goes to someone called a ‘financial advisor’, assuming that they will be looked after, but instead is sold a product that is most advantageous to the advisor. How else do people account for the fact that if you look at the written advice handed out to the clients of an advisor, they are almost always templated and small variations of a one size fits all pattern. Not the individualised advice the consumer imagines. Often even when the consumer pays several thousand $ for the advice, apparently.

    Anyway – the moral hazard implicit in these arrangements has now been recognised, and regulations are being revised accordingly. It will change the face of the industry.

    The moral hazard implicit in handing over responsibility for your own spiritual walk to an external advisor whose organisation has something to gain from groups of people behaving in particular fashions, is also dangerous.

    Somehow I don’t think it will be regulated. So its up to us to recognise the hazard, and take responsibility for ourselves. The easy option of handing it over to someone else is appealing and easy, but not helpful in the long run.

  42. “But instead sold a product that is most advantageous to the advisor”

    This has been the basis of business for the last few decades. We package a product, and market it, convincing the consumer of their need for it.

    The game is now changed. Consumers are more educated and aware. They have access to a wide range of information. It’s no good coming up with a product like Coco Pops and spending loads of money to convince me that it is what I need. I want a particular blend of oats and fruit that is particular to my dietry needs. I have the ability now to access exactly what I need. It’s irrelevent how clever the TV advert for Coco Pops is – I wont buy them.

    Marketing Jesus and selling the Gospel as a product will become less effective. What do we do now? How do we recognise what God is doing in an individuals life, and how do we help them move towards Him even if we can’t relate to their individual experience of Him?

    By the way, I don’t think the problem with the financial industry is as much to do with the lack of regulation as it has been our aversion to let it fail and allow the correct people to reap the rewards of their decision making. Over regulation tends to make things even more complicated. How this wisdom applies to the church, I don’t know?

  43. “By the way, I don’t think the problem with the financial industry is as much to do with the lack of regulation as it has been our aversion to let it fail and allow the correct people to reap the rewards of their decision making.”

    Yes, very true. Very embarrassing for the regulators, really.

    I agree that overregulation can be bad too. Having let the cowboys ride as they please will probably lead to some kind of overreaction.

    Have you noticed how often regulations achieve the exact opposite effect than the one they set out to?

    Still – all things have their place. If all of society followed Jesus commands to love one another, then I don’t think we’d need much regulation, but that’s just not the world we live in right now.

  44. The books sound interesting Muppet I will borrow them if I may. We can talk off-line.

    Is it just a season, while we follow the pattern laid out by Christ in the business world? Or is it something longer term that Christ is establlishing in the world to reveal His Body?

    More of a convergence than a season I think. Jesus saw his body the church as an organism that worked not by being directed (“as the gentiles do”) but by the parts serving each other. Held together by relationship. Paul took up the theme.

    The world has taken a long time to move away from thinking of nations being directed from above to be served by their leaders (the “churches” have largely aped the political beliefs of the day – but that is another subject).

    The economy has been regarded as a market (or markets) for some time. Directed manufacturing-based economies are failing and service-based economies are understood to be superior. Failure to adequately regulate markets have been an issue of course.

    So this change to corporate structures is just the market being applied again at a finer grain. We now understand that directed economies do not scale well and where a corporation is in effect a market if we want it to scale we need to manage it as a market (as in fact the company I work for does).

    So how is this convergence? …

  45. Father gave his idea of the perfect army being a swarm of locusts that without any leader go this way and that with great effect. Wilderbeast and gnu stampeding left and then right are another example of this kind of wisdom Father designed into the world.

    This is the kind of wisdom the “army of the lord” is to have. The army with no leaders that works like the locusts et al. This is the body with just Jesus as its source/head.

    This kind of wisdom is what gives markets their power. All the individuals make their own little decisions but the sum of those decisions is a mighty power.

    Corporations are realising this and want to harness this power.

  46. Pretty interesting, especially the reply from Steve Cornell that looked at some of the pros and cons.

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