The revolution will not be televised


At a conference I was helping to lead recently, a really nice and interesting person asked me, “Why are you a part of presbymergent? I read your blog, and I just don’t get the connection.” He was confused, because I am a pastor at a traditional, progressive, mainline congregation, and he sees the emerging movement as neo-Evangelical.

There are a lot of ways that I answer this question (it’s a questions I get a lot). The main one is that Karen Sloan asked me to be a part of it, and it would be pretty ridiculous of me to write about encouraging young leaders in the church, and then say that I would not be a part of a group of (mostly) young leaders in the church. Plus, other people started calling me “emerging.” It wasn’t really a namebadge that I picked out for myself.

Since the initial ask, though, I have grown very fond of this creative, eclectic, quirky community. We argue and pray together. We dream of what the church could be. We have a lot of warts–gigantic egos (mine included), evangelical baggage, and too many collars. We’re extremely weak on social justice, ethnic diversity, and the number of men far exceeds the number of women.

Some people have joined the conversation through the Emergent Village, and others are like me, we don’t resonate a whole lot with EV, we disagree with many things that the EV leadership has to say, but we’re still excited about what the church might become. We have three main goals for this year: (1) set up cohorts where conversations can take place and connections can be made, (2) set up spaces for events to take place and creative energy to be stimulated, and (3) encourage and raise funds for new churches (or communities).

After explaining all of this, my new friend responded, “So… if you change the name, I’d love to be a part of it.”

I am following these emerging conversations, which are pretty interesting. In the comments of the initial blog post, one of the responders says …

it’s like a group of kids who just got finished playing kickball for 7-8 years straight. and now a new group of kids from another school just showed up and want to play again and act like kickball is their idea and their game. and a bunch of media conglomerates show up and slap logos on the kickballs. and they bring in announcers. set up all of their bleachers and stuff on our home turf. and try and start a game of kickball with us.

it just seems laughable.

I did laugh pretty hard at the comment, but after I stopped giggling, I had to admit that this is the most annoying part of the emerging church movement. Or…can you call something a movement when they look with disdain on people who join? What’s that called? A stopment?

There is the hope for revolution, but then there’s a pernicious elitism that questions people who join the conversation later, or who might be a part of a denomination, or those who fall under that most amorphous and damning category–the people who “just don’t get it.”

How long can the hyphen-mergent hang in there, while we’re being constantly criticized for our loyalty to our denominations and our ordinations? How can a movement be a part of a 500-year reformation, when they look with disdain at those who join the conversation after ten?

So, will presbymergents change their name? Maybe. But it probably won’t occur because of the “-mergent” part. It would be to change the “presby-” part, since a couple of our important leaders have had to defect to other denominations because of the pernicious ordination hazing that can occur in certain areas of our country. (But, then if we changed the name, then we would have to change the logo, and that would be a serious headache.)

Either way would be okay, since I’m not sure that it’s about the name. It’s more about the interesting people and conversations that have arisen, and the relationships that have formed. We might not cause a revolution, we may not overturn the whole course of Christianity, but we’ll keep working in our own small corners, and we’ll keep dreaming about what could be.

24 thoughts on “The revolution will not be televised

  1. If it’s any help/comfort, Emergent Village has no copyright on the term “emergent” or “emergence.” So to call the group “Presbymergent” really only implies a connection to the emergence Christianity as it is given expression within the Presbyterian church/PCUSA denomination, etc.

    If you expanded the “Presby” part, as you suggest, then you’d become a multi-denominational network, right? which would actually you make you more like Emergent Village.

    My advice (not that you asked for it, but here goes 😉 if anyone gives Presbymergent a hard time for being affiliated with Emergent Village, just point them to a good resource on emergence theory. That’s the bigger thing we’re all a part of really anyway — the emergence of God’s kingdom.

  2. You could say that they are unmoved. I still say what I have said many times before: a movement by its very definition is moving. Reclining conversation is fine, but actionable things make a movement go. Eating, running, joking, crying, feeding, smiling, telling, forgiving and moving all indicate action as verbs.

  3. And then there are those of us who see this as part of a two millennia long process of reforming The Church. The RCC has only just recently been invited to the table and a lot of us are pretty cheesed to find out we’ve been invited to a funeral, not a passover.

    The thing that attracted me to all this was that someone said it wasn’t about having to all agree with what was right and what was wrong. That it was about finally getting beyond that and focusing on something more important. It is infuriating to be so excited about something this important and to discover over and over that for too many people involved, it is still about who’s right, and who’s wrong. That if Bob over there says something I don’t like, I’m expected to revoke my interest in emerging, and bow out.

    Of -course- the evangelicals are critical of people who stay inside denominations! That’s true whether you’re talking about emergence or not! If that’s all it is going to take to drive mainliners out of the discussion, what possible hope is there to include the RCC? What possible hope is there for anything meaningful to come out of it?

    Are we really still this fragile?

  4. Carol, it could be me, but I’m just not hearing from folks looking down on those trying to join up with EV after only ten years in (apart from the commenter you quote, who admits that he is being petty and selfish). Indeed, the recent efforts at re-focusing and re-energizing EV have been initiated by people precisely because they want to offer EV to newcomers, and the folks who have supported this renewal effort have been even more motivated toward these ends.

  5. Pingback: Disappointed with Emergent?

  6. Carol,
    First let me say my favorite part of my day all day was giggling on that phone line for all the world to hear (oh… and asking the least academic question of the bunch).

    My thing about emergent is that when I was first introduced to it, it was by a student at my seminary who had already cooped it and it’s hopefulness and it’s components into a mega-church-programatic-staff-driven model and so that didn’t give me much hope. Later I heard more about it, and read some and realized that what I had been introduced to was not what it was “supposed” to be. That said, I think I’m more interested in organic church for the emphasis it puts on context and allowing what has existed to to exist with what is to become. So, maybe that kickball game doesn’t get new players, and new sponsors, but it’s like toddlers and the concept of complimentary play: they sit side by side and play alongside one another but each with their own toys.

    So, positively I like what you said here:

    (1) set up cohorts where conversations can take place and connections can be made, (2) set up spaces for events to take place and creative energy to be stimulated, and (3) encourage and raise funds for new churches (or communities).

    I think those are very hopeful and hopefilled avenues. This all said, back in the day, when I was a socialist we used to say that the revolution would be televised because the TV crew would be radicalized. There are no barriers to where this might go 😀

    P.S. Suddenly met cute guy on match, we’re in convo, going well, oddly… he’s a Lutheran! Also I have info about a Tikkun writing contest for 25 and under if you’re interested in details.

  7. Sara,

    That makes a lot of sense. That would be annoying. My parent have gone to mega-churches, that is, they attend until they implode, and then they follow the pastor to the next thing he creates. They told me recently that the new church is an emerging church. I’ve never been there… but…

    When I read the comment, I just thought, “Wait. Who is he talking about? Is he talking about us? The hyphen-mergents?”


    That’s great to hear. There can be a (as my friend, Ryan, describes it) “punker than thou” attitude sometimes… but I’m glad that EVs looking outward. I talk to people all the time who don’t feel cool enough, young enough, ______ enough to be a part of it.

    I wonder if it’s a breakdown in the model of friendship, communities, or tribes. You know, a person can only have so many friends. A relationship like that promises that someone will be left out. Even when there’s a hope to be generative.

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  9. I fired off another set of comments today that your betrothed might find interesting… 🙂

    This is about a segment of the religious population that no longer feels quite at home with the places in which they grew up being religious. So maybe this is the time not to bite off more than we can chew, but to accept reality, and then to find a salient socio-political function beyond the creation of these various religious enclaves of spiritual comfort once they have been established. If these functions are not to heal the sick as a first order, then the religious enclave of comfort should disband for this is the mission that Jesus would have us do before we do anything else.

  10. It’s all a little surreal to me. When I started seminary, “emergent” wasn’t yet a buzz-word (my wife, who was in an inner-city church ministry for 8 years, often says she was “emergent” before anyone knew what that was), and in fact Karen Sloan was at Fuller at about the same time I was (I think she started a little later, but while she graduated and moved on to bigger and better things, I’m still sorting things out). Now barely more than a decade later, it’s apparently suffering some growing pains.

    I wouldn’t count the movement out just yet. Any movement has to re-commit to (or perhaps re-define) its core principles as it grows beyond the original people who made it work, and invariably changes and refines as part of that process. I’m sure that many good things will continue to come as a result of the work that emerging folks (and their descendants?) are doing.

  11. You asking me? I though it was obvious that we were talking about the emerging movement. Or are you trying to say that “movement” isn’t a good word to talk about emerging things, which is really a rather different discussion.

  12. Carol, I just want to second what Mike Stavlund said. Most Emergents I know are very concerned about newcomers and are eager to make space for y’all and help you along the path we’ve been on. That’s been one of my driving passions these past five years or so, for instance. Don’t let Josh’s comment phase you. He just seems to be pretty negative on a lot of stuff lately, and he doesn’t speak for the rest of us.

  13. I don’t see the world changing…it’s just another theological phase/trend that will be replaced by post-emergents…there’s nothing new under the sun

  14. Stushie,

    I can’t speak for the emergent idea of change, but sociologically and politically the world is a vastly different place where multiple socio-political and economic frames interact and overlap that simply did not do so before in the way they are now. One crucial example is that West versus East is a lost global comparison. Now it is North versus South for many many reasons and religion is certainly one of them. The “world” of local influence may seem as if it has not changed much for many Americans, but even in my little town of Duncansville, PA we are dealing with increased pockets of drug activity, increased illegal immigrants, and a severe issue with unemployment directly attributable to what has happened in the post-industrial (a very practical and measurable term by the way) economy. These are enormous changes and the church needs to understand its place in the midst of it. What is the church here to do, with whom, who is going to do it, and how will we know if we have done it? Nothing can be taken for granted anymore since we seem to be working with flawed assumptions of how the world works and how the church fits into that picture. To me, at least, this is the core of what is “emerging” if you will. A dialogue that is trying to re-imagine what our new socio-cultural assumptions are and what the right theological voice is to make change happen in people’s lives where they are with the revelation of the Gospel in their midst. I call the dialogue “meta-denominational” since it does away with assumed church structures in order to imagine new ones that make sense with the changes in the world that are as evident as gravity.

  15. Pingback: Perspective on Emergent | jonathan stegall: creative tension

  16. Carol, I think this is a fantastic post, and want to be another person to welcome you from a different angle. It’s great to see comments like Mike’s – and I can affirm that most Emergents are really interested in welcoming newer voices, voices from other areas, etc.

    I’ve been around for a while, though I came in through the punk and goth and metal churches/movements, but I generally feel very welcomed within these conversations, and as though people feel I have unique and valuable things to offer. You do as well, as I’m sure you know, but it never hurts to hear it a few times. Thanks for writing this.

  17. Pingback: So, You’re Disappointed with Emergent… - The New Christians

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