What will emerge from emerging?

It’s fascinating to watch current church movements. This is such an exciting time.

And, as I look around, I wonder, what will become of the emerging church? Emerging church leaders are beginning to define themselves more and more, not necessarily by what they are, but by what they are not. And, it seems, that they are not denominational. Some of them see denominations as structures that hinder innovation, as stagnant relics of church gone by. Which, I understand and respect. I just don’t find myself in the same place.

I find myself in the same position as most of the women leaders in the movement–I am also a part of a denominational church. A church that saw my potential for the pastorate even before I noticed it myself.

I wonder what will happen in the movement. The emerging church gained a whole lot of momentum through anglimergents, presbymergents, emerginglutherans and emerging umc. We are people who aren’t ready to pack up and leave our denominations–even if we might be frustrated with them. Even if we know that they are not going to look the same in a few years.

Yet we are excited about how God is moving in a new generation through the reclaiming of spiritual practices, a hunger to do something about poverty and the environment. We are innovative and interested in new ways to organize and form conversations through technology. We are comfortable with the questions of faith, and we have humility about what we can know about God. And we see how power is shifting to the margins, how much our local churches matter.

But it makes curious…are we being kicked out of the emergent church movement? Is the movement becoming more and more exclusive? Or do we stay and continue to shrug off the attacks on our denominations? And, will the emergent movement be able to survive if they cut the denominational churches off?

I wonder what will become of people like me. People who have no problem stating clearly what they believe about LGBTQ inclusion or women in leadership. People who have no qualms about being socially progressive. People who have no hesitation with some “-isms” (like feminism–the stream where so much great postmodern philosophy and theology comes from). Church leaders who are thoroughly postmodern, love reading Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, and still see value in structures that empower the powerless and give voice to the voiceless. People who see the ability to of denominational structures to keep power in check. People who like democracy. Postmodern pastors who are still really happy about having a pension.

There are a lot of us out here. So where do you think all of this is going? Will there be a new movement of Christians who are disenfranchised by the disenfranchised?

21 thoughts on “What will emerge from emerging?

  1. It is already there.

    I am learning to just be and trust that God is in all of this crazy stuff. The names, the buzz words, and the factions. God is present. THe moment I uphold my docterine, perspective, understanding or crew above another I am creating space between divine and profane.

    I am utterly convenienced that presbymergent will be a guiding voice in the future of the denomination. I am sure that there is a revival coming to the denomination. I am convicted that those that are called and feel the stirring in their stomachs must answer the call.

    We are in a transitional time. Those days when dreaming, hoping, and wishing for a shot at being a leader are gone. Those days are here.

    I hunger for a “church” that reaches outside of itself. A place where all are welcome and affirmed to their calls to serve. A home to be and a vessel of rising courage. I believe one can be presbyterian, evangelical, progressive, and post modern in one imperfect package. I hope that the pcusa opens its heart to the moving Spirit in its midst and calls on the passion and courage of its leaders, new & old to think outside of the ecclesiastical box and be “church” in new ways as we seek to serve those we are called to by Christ.

    It does not matter if the denominationalists are kicked out of the club. We are present and we have been blessed with the seeds of change as well. The Emerging/emergent pony is not the only show pony in town. It is a movement, they do not last forever. I see it as folks trying to squeze as much from the drying well as they can before it is to late and the well dries up and the masses move on.

    We have strengths in being denominational and postmodern why do we try to be someone else when we as a denomination are being called to something else. Something that speaks to our beautiful traditions and guiding structures. I think we are broken and need some sprucing up. I also believe that we are called to be presbyterian in these changing times…what will that look like?

    I am not sure but I really am excited to see what critiques will be made of us in 30 or 40 years.

  2. Carol, thanks for this post. It shows some frustration that is worth exploring. You asked the questions, “But it makes curious…are we being kicked out of the emergent church movement? Is the movement becoming more and more exclusive?”

    What lead you to ask those questions? Did someone not make you welcome? Were you excluded? What experiences lead you to asking these questions?

    It would be helpful to discuss the specifics. These are actually fairly strong words. You should account for them so that others understand what you are getting at, as opposed to just assuming that other emerging leaders are oppositional or even abusive in their manner with others.

  3. Kai,

    Oh yes! Thanks for that. It’s an ongoing discussion, actually. The latest installment in the discussion came from Tony Jones on his beliefnet roadshow entries:

    “the PC(USA) is a huge, hegemonic, and possibly intractable bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are really excellent at only one thing: self-sustenance. They mitigate against significant change and they chew up and spit out entrepreneurs.”

  4. Thanks for the clarification. I am not an apologist for Mr. Jones, but since I still don’t understand your point, I’ll point out here that his comment appears to be aimed at the bureaucratic wing of the PC(USA), not its experimental practitioners pushing for change and flexibility. Why then do you react so strongly?

    It seems, to me, to the extent that his argument succeeds with those inside the PC(USA)–benefits will accrue to your efforts. Would you disagree?

    To belabor the point, the text immediately preceding and following that which you quoted is almost entirely positive in its orientation towards changes coming inside of PC(USA), especially with respect to the recent election of Bruce Reyes-Chow as the new moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

    Perhaps I have misunderstood you? That happens on occasion…

  5. Am I reacting strongly? I know I have in the past, but this is about the fourth or fifth post I’ve written about this (my apologies to the regular readers), and I’m just grinding out some thoughts about all of this for my next book, so I thought I was more on simmer mode than boil.

    I wish that I was misunderstanding Tony. But he’s pretty clear about what he thinks about denominationalism. I’ve had a chance to speak to Doug Pagitt about it, but there’s not much wiggle room there. They don’t see relevance in denominationalism. I don’t think it’s anything personal.

    Of course, it’s fine if they don’t see the genius of my denomination. Probably if I was ABD at Princeton, I’d be hatin’ it too!

    It’s just that it makes me wonder… where does that leave those who find resonance in the emergent conversation and yet they are part of denominational structures? I hope there’s still room in the movement for us, but I don’t know.

    I am really excited to see what happens though.

    Oh! And thanks for putting me on your book list!

  6. Carol, can the movement exclude us? I am not sure they or anyone has the power to exclude. The movement has expanded beyond its original members and has taken a life of its own. The cat is out of the bag and missional, postmodern, snazzy, or organic worshiping communities are popping up everywhere…even in our lame arse denomination [I kid. I kid] This is the beauty of movement verses institution. Movements are like water it invades, transforms, and does not leave the area the same. Institutions, well they control, hold back, support, and bolster the water.
    I say let Tony and Doug think what they want. How relevant are they to anyone outside of a wealthy, western, white perspective? It seems to me that we all need to return to humble beginnings and be the church. My bet is that we are all full of crap and that crap makes us less able to love, serve, and be with our neighbors.

  7. I think the key here is that there isn’t an emerging church movement. There are emerging church movements. This is one reason I tend to use the word “emerging” vs. “emergent.” In my mind emergent is linked to a particular quasi-brand of the emerging church.

    One of the hallmarks of emerging church is church appropriate to specific contexts. We may be moving away from the denominationalism of the past, but denominations are still here and very formative to some – so it makes perfect sense that an emerging church movement can have its home and expression in the context of a denomination.

    Personally, while I am enriched by what some of the Emergent rock stars contribute to the conversations, I don’t see them as part of the same movement I feel I am a part of. And I find it pretty immaterial what they think of the PC(USA). If they were speaking from experience rather than from outside observation then I might care…a little.

  8. for what it’s worth…

    i’ve entered into the emerging conversation rather late, and i think that those who have shaped my understanding of all things emerging haven’t been old-guard emergent folks, which is quite refreshing as i think back on it. i don’t think that even they could have squashed the energy that i feel, and i don’t think that i could have (or even would have) been excluded.

    i buy the argument for emerging church movements, rather than one monolithic movement (monolithic doesn’t sound very pomo to me). and i do think contextualization is of utmost importance, though i don’t think emerging communities are popping up in every context (yet). that will continue to be a particular struggle for me as i enter into the conversation.

  9. always a good question to ask re: emerging. its hard to get defined by others who dont embrace the same things.

    and yes – lots and lots of emerging movements.

  10. As a young adult who also desires a change in the church, I see innovation needing to happen through denominations. Companies innovate and change the way they do things and the products or services they offer on a regular basis, yet they keep their mission and vision intact.

    Looking to the Book of Order there is continual emphasis on shared authority, and functioning on multiple levels of government. But we are not a top-down culture like companies, we are a bottom up culture. If we leave the denomination to be emergent, then we are working from the bottom up (but we can do everything our way and not listen to the advice of session). But the presbyterian church already is a bottom-up organization.

    Leadership happens in our small churches, but there is an expectation that people won’t change when often they will. What needs to change before people will is the culture of how we live out faith through our mission and vision. That happens through preaching, scripture, prayer, and loving a congregation as we lead them into a new way of living out the gospel.

    Go ahead, dare to tell me I am hopeful, or idealistic. The great thing about emerging church is not that they are doing things differently (so far there are not many radical emergents out there doing faith and worship stunts). For the most part they are like the rest of the denomination. BUT what the emerging leaders are doing are changing culture and ways of seeing the kingdom on earth through faith. They are culture makers, not culture takers.

  11. Great post. I also find myself leaning into the emergent conversation but remaining connected to my denomination and tradition; Nazarene.

    I have been encouraged by our denomination’s willingness to make space for us. Still Emergent Nazarenes seem to have relative safety and acceptance based more on their local surroundings than anything else. There are places within our denomination that would run us out in a second and others that have given us shelter.

    Like you, many of us prefer to stay within our traditions because we see the value of being connected to a larger community this brings. Who knows where this will go for any of us, but I think we have good reason to be hopeful with so many emergent denominational conversations springing up.



  12. I can’t help but think that our situation is a bit similar to the Reformation/Counter Reformation.

    Although I’m extremely irritated by Jones’ tack of denominational bashing (let the record show), we must admit that the last several years have brought to light some of the things we must be willing to look at.

    Thanks for the 95 thesis/dispatches, Tony “Luther” Jones. We’ll be on our way now.

  13. Just a late thought:

    The PC(USA) is a community. A flawed, large, bureaucratic community. But it is a community.

    Aren’t we supposed to be about community?

    I’m sorry if it isn’t Tony Jones’ community, but his is not mine, but I’ve got no beef with his.

  14. Yeah, you’re right. And all communities are flawed to a certain extent. And, I would argue, that they all have power structures of some kind.

    Re. the reformation/counter reformation… it does make sense that reform movements keep spawning more reform. I guess that’s why there are so many protestant denominations. I love the thought of a neoreformation. And there are many parallels… but… if that’s what this is, where are all the great writers? I think we’ll have to get a whole lot better and smarter if this is going to be something of historical significance.

  15. Carol, and a little child…she shall lead them? No matter what happens to “us” I am certain Gods love is dwelling in us and that failure will be painted with mad amounts of grace.

    Thanks be to God.

  16. Pingback: I dream of this “church’… «

  17. Oh, and I just realized that I didn’t weigh in on landon’s comment “we must admit that the last several years have brought to light some of the things we must be willing to look at.” You’re absolutely right.

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