Where I Left Off

So, if the term “emergent” applies to churches in a non-Pickwickian sense, what might that term indicate?

[Warning: I bear no certification to talk about “emergent church” matters. I’m a certifiable theologian with interests in technology and church life — but I’m not the kind of guy who gives influential presentations at Soularize or writes popular essays at TheOoze. Consult official spokespeople for official insight.]

I wrote to Kyle about four possible manifestations of a spirit of “emergence” in an end-of-term email. I suggested to him that the emergent spirit shows itself in breadth and depth of congregational involvement in activities that observers might identify with the church; in lack-of-investment in leadership as power, and strong investment in leadership as voluntary commitment to heightened service and accountability; in worship that in which the congregation senses itself intelligibly involved (not the object of an indifferent display, but participants who understand and relish their roles — whatever those roles may be); and commitment to an understanding of theological truth that attends less vigorously to borders than to satisfactory ways of articulating the truth.

For starters.

Thus, for the first (“breadth and depth”), I’d argue that “participation” is a wan characterization for distinctive features of emergence in congregations . One can “participate” in pro forma ways that have no real relation to the mode of ecclesial vitality that’s worth bothering to identify as emergent. At any given Episcopal parish, plenty of people participate — but that doesn’t make St. Alphonso’s an emergent Episcopal parish. Congregations marked by a spirit of emergence would have a higher general degree of engagement in various community activities, and more diverse activities associated with congregational life (the poetry readings and gallery activities we hear about, along with more conventional outreach ministries). There might be less (internal) sense of particular behavior as a “church” activity, since it arises readily from the convergent interests and shared commitments of congregants; that would, of course, communicate powerfully the congregation’s sense of who it is and what it stands for, such that interested people might notice and join in.

In other words, I guess that an “emergent” congregation would be recognizable precisely to the extent that its common life doesn’t entail saying “Jesus” all the time — not because Jesus is unimportant to them, but because the congregation’s love for Jesus doesn’t come out explicitly at the bowling alley, or the informal [un]employment counseling get-together, or the bicycling group. That’s not a missed opportunity for evangelism; it’s exactly the kind of deep commitment that will speak for itself, over the long run, if people will stop chattering about Jesus long enough to allow space for a quieter voice.

7 comments / Add your comment below

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  2. Good thoughts and I will have to post mine over at my blog. It is a complicated question. That being said, Soularize’s presentations have always been open to everyone (and the last one didn’t have presentations) but I know of a couple conferences that I am not important enough to talk at either. You win some and you lose some.

  3. Not only are Soularize presentations fairly open, but we often publish new writers who submit articles to our Faith, Culture, and Ministry sections. Though a fair amount do get rejected, it is most often due to undeveloped topics, the piece is just another rant about how the established church sucks, or bad grammar (all the editors are volunteers, so unless you have an article topic we just can’t resist, bad grammar will get an article rejected quick, fast, and in a hurry). So if you avoid those mistakes above, you’ve got a great chance of being published.

  4. Oh, dear! Alan and Jordon, I was trying to differentiate places where people can go to hear from the Real Deal (as opposed to this site, where people can go to hear me talk arrant nonsense).

    So I repent. I didn’t mean to slander Soularize — I grabbed the name of the first emergent event-conference-thingy I could think of. I knew nothing whatever of how Soularize gets scheduled (I thought I recalled a story about a keynote presentation there, so I inferred that it involved invited speakers), and I invoked Soularize as the sort of place one would go to hear people who really know what they’re talking about, rather than Some Guy who has cursory [though sympathetic] contact with real emergent congregations talking through his hat.

    I meant that Soularize was the Real Deal, and I’m merely an academic Anglo-Catholic onlooker. Honest!

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