Link to Alistair Macindoe's PhD Thesis
What’s emerging as Church? – Scottish Reflections
The church of Jesus Christ is always emerging. We have not yet seen what the fullness of the church of Jesus Christ will be. Until the day of the new heaven and the new earth when the Church of Christ comes “like a bride adorned for her husband”, we are in a constant process of transformation from glory to glory being shaped and reshaped by the Spirit of God to reveal Jesus Christ to each generation and culture.
From the beginning Christians were called people of The Way. The church is a movement of people following Jesus Christ into the heart of God in worship and to the ends of the earth in mission; to new depths of honesty and dignity about our inmost being and to new lengths of compassion to friend, stranger and enemy. Church without Walls described the church as “people with Jesus at the centre, travelling where Jesus takes them.” That is a journey of becoming and “emerging”.
Hans Kung uses the language of journey and transition:“The Church is essentially en route, on a journey, a pilgrimage. A Church which pitches its tents without looking out constantly for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling….It is an interim church, a church in transition, a therefore not a church of fear, but of expectation and hope; a church which is directed towards the consummation of the world by God.”To re-imagine our church as an “interim church, a church in transition” liberates us from our inherited assumptions of being settled church for settled community, lest our short-term memory gets in the way of God’s long-term imagination.
This openness to change is embedded in our Reformed tradition. The Reformation principle of “reformata semper reformanda” reminds us that the Church is always “requiring to be reformed” as an intentional task of being faithful to the Gospel and addressing the issues of our times. “The Grammar of Emerging is closely related to the Grammar of Reforming.”
The process of “emerging” is rooted in the nature of the Church created to reflect the image of God in the world. The church of God exists to reflect the missionary nature of God revealed in Jesus Christ: the God of grace whose nature is to flow outwards to his creation and creatures in self-giving love. The Church of God is both the fruit of God’s mission and the agent of God’s mission, living in the slipstream of that grace flowing to the ends of the earth and to the end of time.
The God we see in Jesus Christ is the God of incarnation – entering the world to be part of it and to transform it from inside our skin, part of the culture of his time, yet challenging it so radically as to be crucified for his words and actions. The Church of God will follow this movement of seeking to embody the grace and truth of God in the neighbourhoods and networks of our culture. At the same time it will offer support and accountability to faithful followers of Jesus Christ to live against the tide of destructive cultural values.
The God of Jesus Christ is the God of resurrection who brings new life out of death, and gives birth to hope that does not disappoint us. The Church of God will not settle for resuscitation of old ways in attempts to maintain our security, but will face change with courage and the hope that beyond the dying of old ways lie patterns of life together that are recognisably “Jesus-like”, but may be unlike inherited forms with which we are familiar.
The God of Jesus Christ is the God who sends his Spirit to bring intimations of God’s future Kingdom into the present so that, by faith and obedience, we may enter into the gift of God’s tomorrow today, and celebrate God’s possibilities in the midst of all that contradicts it. The Church of God will be a servant of the Kingdom of God, discerning the signs of God in the world and seeking to be a sign of God’s presence to the world.
The Church of Jesus Christ is always emerging. We have not yet seen what the fullness of the Church of Jesus Christ will be.
The Church of Jesus Christ has always been emerging as it has struggled with the challenge of expressing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a variety of cultures throughout history and across continents. This process of contextualisation has shaped patterns of communication and community, and even our understanding of the Gospel itself, which is always seen through a cultural lens, in emphasis if not in essence. The book of Acts is the story of the continual conversion of the church as the Jewish plant of Jesus followers adapts to the cultural climate change of the Gentile world. In Acts 6 we see a church adapting its structures to address discontent over racial and economic injustice. They listened to the outsiders, affirmed their core values and purposes of communion with God and communication of the Gospel, and then took the risk of sharing power with voiceless Gentiles men to serve the disenfranchised women of the community. The Church of today needs to learn to live out this focused purpose with structural flexibility, moving from the church controlled by the “shareholders” to one that listens to the “stakeholders” around us.
The Church has always been emerging
The story of Peter meeting Cornelius (Acts 10) reminds us that the church needs the outsider to unlock our cultural prisons. In a society of spiritual searchers, we need to be converted like Peter to a larger vision of the grace of God that will take us beyond our walls of prejudice or fear to let the full Gospel of Christ touch the shy searcher on the edges.
By the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) we are witnessing the “institutional” centre of the church responding to the stories from the edges, and making policy decisions to remove any barrier to the Gospel for Gentile believers. At a stroke 1500 years of Jewish tradition was set aside. That is the kind of bold decision-making required today to create an environment of possibility for new patterns of church to flourish.
The story of Acts is a reminder that our deep tradition is to be open to new ways of being the church for people who are not yet God’s people.
The Church has always been “emerging” from its inception, and will continue to do so until the consummation of all things.
“Emerging Church” LanguageThe phrase “emerging church” can become the cheap jargon of the moment to baptise novelty as though it were radicality, and to confuse style with substance.
“Emerging church” can be used to seek out a product or notional model as some cultural will-o-the-wisp rather than describe a deeply challenging process of engaging with Christian Gospel and our changing culture. It is not possible to apply the managerial model of visualising the destination and mapping the route. It is a journey of obedience to Christ in our times undertaken one step at a time.
The language of “emerging church” has crept into the vocabulary of the church mainly through movements in the Western Church – UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia – wrestling with the seismic shifts of culture change. In simple terms it is the church doing what it has always done, working at the process of embodying the Gospel in a particular place and time, within the culture of our times, both to engage and transform it.
It should not surprise us that today we are experiencing a sharper awareness of being an “emerging church” as churches shaped by the culture of the 19th and 20th century struggle to adapt to the rapidly changing culture of the 21st century.
Whether labelled post-modernity or hyper-modernity, there is considerable agreement that the Western World is moving through a massive culture shift that is of epoch-making proportions. One commentator on contemporary culture, Edward J Veith, culls these comments from a range of observers:Most Christians do not perceive the church to be in the midst of the most severe struggle it has faced in centuries.
Certainly the turmoil of this present time is characteristic of a transition from one epoch to another.
A massive intellectual revolution is taking place that is perhaps as great as that which marked off the modern world from the Middle Ages.
The post-phenomenon is not just a fad. We have truly entered into an epoch fundamentally at variance with everything we have experienced to date.
Commentators on culture change have used striking metaphors of shifting tectonic plates, a tsunami of change and old mental maps being inadequate the read the new cultural landscape. In the Church of Scotland, the founder of the Society Religion and Technology project in the 1970’s spoke of our culture heating up like water in a kettle, but the combination of advances in technology and communications meant that the water was coming to the boil. We are undergoing a radical change of state.
John Drane sees the “emerging church” as the outcome of two wider movements. First there was the ecumenical call for contextualisation articulated pre-eminently by Lesslie Newbigin who returned to Britain from his years as a missionary in India and declared that Western culture was the most resistant to the Gospel next to Islam. This was a wake-up call to recognise that Christendom was past and we were now a primary mission frontier.
The second was among the evangelicals who had been most confident of their Gospel. Many have been asking questions about the nature of the Gospel, of faith, spirituality and Christian community. Essentially it is a critique of the individualistic presentation of the Gospel and a quest for authentic Gospel community.
This was most evident in the alternative-worship movement of the 1980 and 1990s. Bishop Graham Cray has warned against trying to build a church around that angst of rejection. As children of the Reformation, we recognise the gifts and limitation of being reactionary. Negative identity of rejection needs to be nurtured to a new place of mature inter-dependence. The future is not in calling the child back to “mother”, but in moving forward to new friendships of maturing adults under God.
These two movements have shaped what is called “emerging church” – not a phenomenon to be discovered so much as a process with which to engage. We might speak of “responsive church” as we engage in the transformative process of “double listening” to the Gospel and to our culture, both local and global. It is out of that process that we learn faithful improvisation, shaping communities of radical faithfulness to Christ.
Church without WallsIt is at this point that the Church of Scotland can begin to use her own language of the decade, the language of Church without Walls. It has been a liberating metaphor for many churches – bringing down walls between church and community, professional ministry and the ministry of all God’s people, partnerships for mission, local, ecumenical and international.
At its heart it was focused on the two words of Jesus: “Follow me”. These words lead us (as we have said already) to the heart of God the Father in worship, to the ends of the earth in mission and to the depths of community life in learning to love brother, sister, stranger and enemy as Christ loves us. All emerging church literature affirms this same starting point.
Following is about movement. The discipline of returning again and again to these two words is the core of any continuing re-forming of the church as people with Jesus at the centre, travelling where Jesus takes us.
Church without Walls has been a stimulus to significant transitions in local churches as people have embraced the four “shapers”: shaped by the Gospels (“Follow me”), by the locality (engaging with neighbourhood, networks, wider cultural issues), friendship (the quest for authentic community) and by the gifts of God’s people (not to “run the church” but a expressions of passions and dreams for the transformation of the God’s world).
Before the language of “emerging church” became common currency, Church without Walls encouraging the conversations that would lead to the conversion of the church into a Gospel community of people released into their gifts and callings in today’s culture.
Of course, the constraints of “so far and no further-ism” mean that many have halted in sidings rather than travel on to the great destination of the new heaven and the new earth, but the impetus is there.
The people movement that has been stirred by the Church without Walls Celebrations has exposed a wide range of creative responses to Christ’s mission in today’s world. But it is only a modest beginning.
The research on Finding Faith in Scotland Today conducted by the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity in partnership with the churches and agencies in Scotland showed how people come to faith through random contacts with genuine Christ-followers and the hospitality of authentic Christian community. It also revealed the depth of support needed to support and equip people to live as 24/7 disciples of Jesus Christ. It challenges us to take the core elements of Church without Walls further and deeper.
Features of Emerging ChurchesIf we turn to the masterly survey of 50 “Emerging Churches” in UK and USA by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, they identify nine marks of such churches. They affirm much of what is unfolding in Scotland and offer further clues to the next stage for churches engaging with Church without Walls. We can use their rubric of key elements as a useful outline, but weave into that framework other examples of how people are shifting the gear to be more aligned to the culture in which we live and move and have our being today.
Three recurring themes are that emerging churches 1) identify with Jesus of the Gospels,2) seek to transform secular space and 3) build committed communities of faith marked by inclusive hospitality and a spirit of generosity. These three themes are entirely consistent with the core values and shapers of Church without Walls.
There is a strong focus on a down-to-earth spirituality of following the incarnate Jesus which heals the spiritual schizophrenia of the sacred-secular divide and the split between body and spirit.
God’s creation is the arena of God’s action and where the life of faith is often lived against the grain of the prevailing culture. There is strong ecological awareness and concern for the issues of justice in the world. Ethical businesses are set up as places where the traffic of the community intersects with the Christian community. In terms of mission “church after Christendom might resemble a para-church organisation more than a congregation.”
Hospitality is a core feature of emerging churches. Food plays a major part in gatherings and many of the gatherings are in homes. Hospitality is more than a function organised to welcome the stranger at the church door; it is an attitude of the heart that makes people feel at home.
Generosity is not measured by the amount of money given to “run the church”. Generosity is rather a mark of the church’s giving to others. Many emerging churches desire to be simple and sustainable without the crippling financial overheads inherited by churches committed to buildings and full-time staff. Another strand is the move from the micro to the macro – where some churches have become resourcing churches for others. Their generosity is in offering their people and expertise to other churches in a wider network of support. In England this is known as “the minster model” with a central strong church and a number of smaller satellite churches supported from that centre. That was the core idea of the “presbyterial cathedral” mentioned in Church without Walls. This could be one way of arranging parish groupings based on a spirit of mutual hospitality and generosity.
Consumer religion and spirituality shopping are challenged by calling people to participate counter-culturally in God’s mission, affirming that we are all created to be creative for God. The emerging churches give space to the visual arts, paying attention to shaping the context for worship as well as the content. The sacred space will not look the same from week to week, or in Advent or Lent, as the people walk into an experience. We do this at Christmas and Harvest, but could be more creative at other times. The creative use of technology for music and visual meditation is commonplace. These developments create spaces for people with gifts other than the usual wordsmith or musician of the Christendom church.
Leadership is through shared discernment in the Body of Christ. The quest for authentic community makes the post-modern searcher wary of the power dynamics of much congregational life. There is a desire for more participative forms of decision-making, more evidence of listening to each other. There is a strong focus on being a healthy church, where truth is measured in the quality of honest relationships more than a checklist of beliefs. There is space for questioning and doubt, and room for pain to be lived with and prayed for. There is a strong focus on mutual accountability to help each other live faithfully for Jesus Christ.
We hear much about the rise of spirituality in our culture and how the rationalist inheritance of the modernist church is a barrier to the spiritual searcher. Emerging churches focus on spiritual life and growth sustained by a blend of ancient and contemporary spiritualities. Some will draw deeply on our Celtic heritage while others submit to the discipline of Ignatian spirituality.
“New monasticism” ranges from locally committed groups to widespread communities bound by a common rule or rhythm of life, or as new mission orders committed to missional lifestyles. The surprising response to the televised series “The Monastery” exposed the spiritual hunger in the nation. One Celtic order captures the spirit of the spiritual quest in its mission statement: “A worldwide pilgrim people reconnecting with the Spirit and the scriptures, the saints and the streets, the seasons and the soil.”
Emerging churches are Christ-centred, Trinitarian, mission-oriented, Kingdom-inspired, grace-filled churches digging deep into history as a launch pad for the future, but it is not cheap grace. Clues to the cost of this journey lie in the life stories of the 50 church leaders voicing their struggles to connect church life with the contours of the culture they know.
It would be wrong to use the nine core practices described as a checklist to fabricate the “emerging church”; but Gibbs and Bolger encourage us to keep going - or even to begin - on a journey of re-connecting, re-imagining and re-inventing for ourselves.
Richard Foster suggests that today we live in a “spiritual centrifuge” - “an apparatus that rotates at such tremendous velocity that existing densities break up as new densities emerge.” That image may help us to recognise the reconfiguration of culture and church through which we are living.
In the 1990’s Professor William Storrar analysed the Church of Scotland’s challenge as a modernist institution trying to relate to a post-modern culture. He argued that it was the success of our capacity to adapt to the modern world with its emphasis on the individual, the scientific worldview, rationality and bureaucratic forms of organisation which has left the Church beached when the tide of culture changed so rapidly and radically as at the close of the 20h century.
Not only did he anticipate the challenges of post-modernity, but he anticipated the language of post-Christendom. In his survey of the identity of the Scottish nation, Storrar argues that the Reformed vision of a godly nation was lost after the Disruption. For 150 years there has been a secular moral vision with a steady loosening of our Christian roots. Like a cut flower continuing to bloom in the vase, the nation was sustained by its Christian heritage, but that has lessened throughout the 20th century. “We are not dealing with the contemporary collapse of the Godly vision of a Christian nation. That happened a long time ago. We are dealing with a long-established secular alternative.”
Post-Christendom has been described by Stuart Murray as “the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story and as institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.”
This realisation that being Christian is no longer normal – in terms of worship, worldview, shared ethical assumptions or institutional influence – is one of main drivers for rethinking the nature of Christian community and Christian communication in our times.
“Emerging church” begins with the missionary connections with an alienated generation, asks what kind of community will support that engagement, and then explores the spiritual disciplines of worship and prayer that will nurture that community
“Emerging church” is a response to the depth of cultural shift involved in our post-Christendom context, and the eschatological challenge of being an “interim church”.
What is emerging?Some churches are responding to the changes by offering a menu of worship. Some congregations offer different styles of worship – traditional, interactive, reflective or celebratory - at different times from morning to midnight, at weekends or midweek. One church encourages feedback sessions after morning worship every couple of months as a way of listening and responding to the changing needs and dreams of the congregation.
Other churches are recognising that the stretch of change is too great for their current congregation. It may be pastorally cruel to ask people to adapt so radically. They are exploring ways of encouraging “new alongside the old” to offer another hospitable space alongside the existing churches for people to explore the Gospel and express their faith. Archbishop Rowan Williams describes this development as “mixed economy” church.
In a rural village a group meets monthly in the local pub for conversations on topical issues with the minister and members of the local church. They are open to question and engaging in dialogue which intrigues some about the Christian faith. They are church beyond the walls.
A group of men and women gather round a table in a northern town sharing the dream of creating a farming business where youngsters with brains in their hands can learn skills and Christian values about the care of creation and each other – and find value that is denied them by an education system that values heads over hands. The group is feeling after a pattern of Christian community and prayer that will nurture their dream of transformation.
One church based on the cell-church model, works without a church building but out of homes, schools and shop-fronts. A committed group of 50 people are already planting another church, exploring options in partnership with others and into the second year of training pioneer church planters who will operate in “tent-making ministries”.
In a Highland village a group meet for contemplative prayer. The group grows from 4 to 16. They consider how they might live out their faith. Environmental issues are important to them so a recycling scheme is created. They have families who meet together. They sing Christian songs, share Scriptural stories and pray together. They are witnessing a kind of spontaneous combustion of Christian community.
In Glasgow “Urban Expression” recruits and supports teams to live in some of the poorest areas of the city where all the statistics recognise that the area is “underchurched”. These teams will encourage the emergence of indigenous Christian communities.
In Edinburgh a gathering of some 40 people in their 20s and 30s form a small community committed to hospitality and Christian spirituality for urban living. They live by an annual rhythm based on the journey inwards, the journey outwards and the journey together. The place of children is valued, mothers explore the theology of motherhood and men are gathering to reflect on male spirituality. They draw on the insights of our Celtic tradition and the Ignatian tradition, and sit within the stream recognised as “new monasticism”.
Areas like the waterfronts in Glasgow and Leith challenge existing understandings of “community” as people relate to city networks rather than local neighbourhoods. We require a multiplicity of Christian communities to touch the diversity of our fragmented culture.
Church without Walls gave birth to the Parish Development Fund as one way of fuelling the dreams and visions of people around the country. In almost 100 communities projects are being nurtured through the Parish Development Fund, engaging with young and old, asylum seekers and alienated communities, offering new places of contact between Gospel and community. Some are projects in their own right. Others are bridging places for people to explore the Christian faith.
Will they bridge back into the existing congregation or will that be a bridge too far for some of them? Will they need to keep moving onward and outward to explore their own pattern of Christian community with their own style of worship, discipleship, decision-making, Gospel spirituality and mission?
The Church of England would affirm these outposts of mission as potential “fresh expressions” of church:“A fresh expression is a form of church for our changing culture established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the Gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for the cultural context.”
While this process is not only about worship, worship is a significant area of exploration today in the emerging church. From a Scottish and Reformed perspective, Doug Gay has identified five stages in the process towards recovering worship appropriate for our times:
The Reformation gave us much, but distanced us from the gifts and heritage of the visual arts. The Reformers operated with a different aesthetic emphasising ‘simplicity, sobriety and measure’, but has left a church that lacks colour, rhythm, symbol and participation. Our bodies are reduced to “ears and lungs”. Many people ache for more than that.
Taize and Iona have helped us retrieve much from the Catholic tradition and the Liturgical Movement. We are to draw from treasures old and new.
Just as Microsoft had to unbundle its Internet Browser from the Windows operating system, we are discovering how to “unbundle” the theological realities of being true to our missionary God from the ecclesiastical “operating systems” or practices which have alienated different traditions from each other. This frees us up to listen and learn.
Affirming that God is at work in our contemporary culture as much as our history, frees us to make full use of the gifts of technology and cultural diversity, and to release the people of God into the mission of God in God’s world.
The openness of ecumenical conversation means that we have fresh opportunities to remix our worship drawing on the riches of past, present and yet unimagined ways of engaging with God. 
We recognise that discussions about emerging church cannot be resolved into conversations about worship. This is a journey about the nature of the mission of God in our times and the nature of Christian community to embody the Gospel among people who no longer relate to much of what we call church today. The ultimate motivation for engaging in this process is the evangelisation of Scotland. Basically a parish church does not mean that a parish is “churched”. It will take a variety of Christian presences to be incarnate in the networks of our society, with the subsequent challenge of discovering a deeper unity in Christ that might heal our fragmented society. Incarnation is the first step in a Gospel of reconciliation.
We need to face honestly the generational and cultural distance between our inherited models of church where the average age of worshippers is 51 and the missing generations under 50. The vision of grace for all in the land is not being fulfilled by our current approaches. We need to embrace positively the vision of creativity in a mixed economy of Christian presence and realign resources and procedures to facilitate that vision.
The church is in an era of exploring new territory without maps. In times like these it is important to create that “environment of possibility” where people are actively encouraged to explore new patterns of Christian community – through the permission-giving decisions of Kirk Sessions, Presbyteries and the General Assembly.
In the Church of England, the impetus for the current developments has come through significant endorsement by the Archbishop of Canterbury and by Diocesan Bishops committed to mission in the area. They created policies, deployed personnel and redirected finances to make the ideas a reality.
In our Presbyterial form of ‘episcope’, it is essential that the General Assembly affirm the need for this exploration in mission, and that Presbyteries appoint an experienced practitioner, who would form a team to advise Presbyteries on the practicalities of strategising, starting-up, sustaining, and resourcing these new forms of church. Within the Presbytery Plans it will be essential that areas of new work are identified and resources of money and people are redirected from shoring up old models to nurturing new models for the 21st century.
The explorers need networks of support and mutual learning to share the insights, questions and theological reflection, so that practical explorations are underpinned by solid theology and cultural exegesis. These networks may be encouraged through a news-sharing website, but require regular personal encounter as well.
We need training for these initiatives. There are indications that women and men are being called to these areas of cross-cultural mission. The Council of Mission and Discipleship has endorsed the “Invest” course for pioneer church-planters run by Whiteinch Church of Scotland, a course designed for people who are called to a “tent-making” bi-vocational ministry. This course is currently being developed to be the Scottish version of the “fresh expressions” leadership course being offered through the Church of England and the Methodist Church in England.
Avoiding early mistakes of “cloning,” this course is committed to the long haul of seeing missional communities of Christians established in neighbourhoods and networks in our society, working through those robust conversations about Gospel and culture, as well as the raw practicalities of building communities. It is to be hoped that other vehicles of training will emerge to equip people across the theological spectrum.
We welcome the indications that the Ministries Council is encouraging the Church to recognise a range of specialist ministries, working in teams and with appropriate training. If the new patterns of Christian community are to be actively encouraged alongside our current congregational models, then it will be necessary to identify those whose calling is to work on these frontiers of mission as distinct from a nurturing role in the congregation. We encourage a pattern where every congregation – or parish grouping – is staffed by a partnership of pioneers and nurturers to ensure that there is time, energy and attention given to these “emerging” communities of faith.
We need to celebrate each other and respect each other as we work together for the evangelisation of our nation, a more just world and kindness to creation. As these new patterns of Christian life and community “emerge”, will they be feared as a threat to the old ways or welcomed as gifts and signs for the future? For their part, will they stand anxiously distant from their older relatives in the Body of Christ, or welcome the gift of the grandparent to invest together in God’s mission in Scotland today?
Keith's Blog - June 2011
|Do not be discouraged!|
|I have learnt not to take myself seriously after about 10.00 at night. I know that when I am tired it is all too easy to let things get out of perspective. I am also aware that one of Satan's most effective weapons against me has been discouragement. Discouragement not only robs you of joy, it takes away your desire to do anything. Guess what? When you do nothing you feel even worse and get even more discouraged; it's a vicious circle.|
I bet that's how the disciples felt in the midst of the storm in Matthew 14; which is why when Jesus came to them walking on the water his first words were,"Don't be afraid, take courage, I am here!" The presence of Jesus changed everything for them; they were no longer afraid, they knew that they were safe and were going to get through the storm.
Have you ever noticed how often before God does something incredible, that there is often a battle to be fought, an enemy to be overcome or a perspective to be changed? Think of David hiding in a cave, or Jonah, or Elijah on Mount Carmel, or Peter in the garden at
God is with us and he will not let us down.
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