When I founded Next-Wave I was a burnt out and discouraged failed pastor. I read Willard’s Divine Conspiracy and wondered if I had ever been a follower of Jesus. I had recently closed a normal church and was involved in the beginnings of a ministry to skateboarders. The name of Next-Wave was inspired by a leadership lecture by John Wimber. John was talking about the life-cycle of movements. He was drawing these wave-like symbols on a whiteboard depicting the rise and then crest of a movement. He was talking about the stages of a birth, life and death of a movement. You know, something like: Man…Movement…Machine…Monument…Memorial.
John’s audience were leaders in the Vineyard movement. John had been working on his leadership transition for a while but thought it was important the leaders of the movement know that, without constant renewal, movements die. Wimber’s encouragement in that message, pointing at the crest of the wave, “When you get here. Take the Best and Go.”
The cover story in this month’s issue of Next-Wave is entitled: The Decline of the Emerging Church (?). In the weeks leading up to its publication there are stirrings that the title of the story might be more than descriptive.
My discouragement 11 years ago was born out of my perceived judgment that the institutional church had failed to bring the message of Jesus to my generation, the baby boomers. I was not only angry, I was sad. I didn’t believe that it was the will of God that so many of his children should never hear about his unfailing love. I blamed the older generation for clinging to their traditions. I blamed them for protecting their institutions. I blamed them for hanging onto positional leadership at the expense of forward momentum.
Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge that God had birthed a number of movements that did multiply and minister to the baby boomers, the Calvary Chapels and the Vineyards among them. However, to me, it just wasn’t enough. Having experienced the failures of my church fathers, I realized that it was highly likely that MY generation would make the same mistakes. I was pretty convinced that this was happening all around me and that another generation, the people I thought of as Gen-X, were missing out on the life that following Jesus promises.
When I approached future church planter, Rogier Bos, about starting Next-Wave I wanted an “e-zine” that would speak to these issues. About six months into the project Next-Wave launched in January 1999 and it was full of articles about postmodernism. I hadn’t even heard of postmodernism! The words “emerging” and “church” had not yet been juxtaposed. Emergent had not been founded. That came later along with terms like ancient-future worship, neo-monastic communities, transformational, incarnational and missional.
I had been discouraged because I thought that nobody was doing anything to reach the rising generations based on my observation of the movement I was involved in and the readily observable institutional and mainline denominations. Imagine my surprise a few months after the birth of Next-Wave to discover that God’s Spirit was at work all over the world birthing new expressions of his kingdom! Along came Emergent and their cohorts, Acts 29 was planting churches to beat the band, Mosaic pastor Erin McManus was energizinging artistic expression, McLaren’s writings and others like Neil Cole were organically going about the business of doing what has always been done by those who are inspired by the Holy Spirit, they were following Jesus and building his church.
One of my favorite writers in this realm has been Andrew Jones, a practicing missionary who has traveled the world with his family encouraging and nurturing what God is doing. There has been some controversy in the past few weeks as Andrew wrote an article entitled: Emerging Church Movement (1989-2009)?
This prompted a response by Tony Jones: Lonnie Frisbee and the Non-Demise of the Emerging Church. I’ll have to admit that I was really irritated by Tony’s treatment of Lonnie Frisbee, the Calvary Chapels and the Vineyard based on the documentary film. I knew Lonnie Frisbee in the last years of his life. I knew him to be a follower of Christ. One in a long line of wounded people who have been mightily used by God. Jones’ application of Weber’s conclusion is in its best light, misplaced. Lonnie was not the leader of either the Calvary Chapel or the Vineyards. He was a catalyst, to be sure.
I think a fairer observation would be an application of Weber’s conclusion to the current transition taking place in the leadership of Emergent. A group that first appoints a National Coordinator and then dissolves that office in a matter of years is more than likely experiencing a transition of leadership.
Next-Wave has always endeavored to be inclusive of viewpoints. It has been our intent to be a reflection of what God is doing to bring his good news to those who have not yet heard it outside of the efforts of the established and institutional church. Over the years we have included articles about all of the flavors of the banquet that God has been preparing. It is interesting that so many cling to terms and language and work so hard to revise our language as a means to changing our thinking.
As for myself, I thought of Next-Wave as the “journal of the emerging church” for a number of years. (At least since “Emerging Church” became a term of widespread use.) I still think it is a useful term if it is not identified with a particular theological mindset. Emerging simply means that which is coming into existence. Unfortunately, “emerging church” now has its own set of Samsonite luggage to carry, much like evangelical church, the fundamental church, the pentecostal church and the charismatics.
Here is my prayer for the second decade of Next-Wave: “Father, may we be faithful to your call on our lives, to love you will all of our hearts and to love others and one another, as we love ourselves. Out of that love, Father, I pray that we may be winsome messengers of the good news of your grace and mercy for humanity. Empower us with your spirit, in the name of your son, Jesus, let it be.”
Via Brother Maynard:
Join us on a blog tour of Tony Jones’s new book, The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community beginning the first Monday of Advent, November 30:
November 30: An introduction with Tony Jones
December 8: Special Question – Is this text – The Didache – really so important? Why? Do we know that it was important to the earliest communities of Christians? with Jonathan Brink at Missio Dei
December 9: Special Question – Does the Didache teach or advise anything that substantively differs from what was decided at the earliest ecumenical church councils (such as Nicaea) with Dwight Friesen
December 10: Special Question – Why is the Didache relevant, in particular today? Is it more relevant today than it was, say 100 years ago? Why? with Bob Hyatt
Starting Dec. 1st purchase 3+ copies of this book at a 40% discount. This special offer ends on December 11th, with the close of the blog tour!
Todd Hunter’s recent interview with Christianity Today, entitled Accidental Anglican, has stirred up a bit of conversation on the interwebs! I hadn’t read the interview before I saw Keith Gile’s response on Facebook. I was a little surprised that Keith, who by the way is a great fan of Todd’s, was as upset about a couple of comments that Todd made in the interview:
“When you left the Vineyard leadership, you connected to the early emerging church movement. What did you learn?
I linked to the emergent thing because I loved these young Christians who were trying to figure out church and what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this new era. We coached church planters all over the world who were trying to create communities of faith that made sense to their postmodern, post-Christendom friends.
Now you can’t broad-brush the emergent movement. But I saw two big problems in the emergent world.
First, the emergents are so sensitive to issues of community, relationship, egalitarianism, and being non-utilitarian in their relationships, that evangelism has simply become a synonym for manipulation—a foul ball, relationally. If you and I were work colleagues and I built a relationship in which I could influence your journey toward Christ, that would be considered wrong in these circles. I cannot be friends with you if I intend to lead you to Christ.
Second, after 10 or 12 years of the emerging church, you have to ask where anything has been built. Evangelism has been so muted and the normal building of structures and processes hasn’t moved forward because there’s no positive, godly imagination for doing either evangelism or leadership. Such things are by definition utilitarian, and so they were made especially difficult.”
You really need to read Keith’s entire post to get a complete grasp of his exception to Todd’s observations. However, let me try and reduce them to just a couple of sentences. One, Giles’ agrees with the premise that friendship for the sake of evangelism is manipulation. Two, Giles’ disagrees with the need for leadership as merely a precursor for the continued preservation of the clergy-laity division. And Three, Buildings and Processes should not be the end product of our kingdom activities.
Let me interject my standard confession: I am a baby boomer (like Todd Hunter). I am also a lawyer and a former real estate developer, so I tend to think in a linear process. This is probably why Todd’s comments did not spark the same reaction in me that they did in Keith Giles. You see, if I have one complaint with the emerging church it is that it seems that in reaction to the excesses of standard evangelical evangelism, there doesn’t seem to be much evangelism happening. The other observation that I would make is that the emerging church conversation hasn’t produced sustainable networks of communities of faith.
I know for sure that Todd wasn’t talking about building cathedrals, but like a typical baby boomer, he expects there to be some kind of leadership emerging. It’s true, it could be that so much of what is happening is grass roots and below the radar that the outlines can’t be discerned.
Thinking about this I saw two disconnects. One was generational, the disconnect between baby boomers and the emerging generations in terms of style and approach. The other was in the area of spiritual gifts. Todd Hunter is an evangelist, with a large dose of the apostolic. He is at the root of a great deal of church planting that happened in the Vineyard. If the Vineyard movement in the US is healthiest in the Midwest, then Todd Hunter is at the core of it. For years he has been on a mission to reach young people through church planting. It is not surprising that given the opportunity and the resources to plant 200 churches to do just that, that he would jump at it, vestments and all. While the emerging church conversation has certainly has emphasized the prophetic, teaching and pastoral gifts, the apostolic and the evangelistic have been the overlooked gifts.
In any case, I extend my blessing toward the accidental Anglican, Bishop Todd Hunter, as he continues his journey responding to God’s calling on his life. And I also look forward to what God will do with the emerging church conversation in the years to come.
If I want to keep my finger on the pulse of “trends to watch” in the emerging church, all I need to do is check in on Andrew Jones blog, or his twitter feed. He’s posted an insightful review of an Emerging Church panel discussion at the Christian Book Expo.
How does he keep up on all of this stuff whilst travelling through Europe with his family in a converted truck-RV? I wish I knew!
Andrew twitters about permaculture, and I have to go to wikipedia to get a definition:
Permaculture is an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in the natural ecologies. It was first developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and their associates during the 1970s in a series of publications. The word permaculture is a portmanteau of permanent agriculture, as well as permanent culture.
OooooooKaaaaay…but why is this important? What are the implications?
From the wikipedia article:
Modern permaculture is a system design tool. It is a way of:
- looking at a whole system or problem;
- observing how the parts relate;
- planning to mend sick systems by applying ideas learnt from long-term sustainable working systems;
- seeing connections between key parts.
I was only half-kidding last week when I talked with Next-Wave editor, Scott Bane, about this month’s tenth anniversary issue of Next-Wave. The cover story for the issue is a Ten Year Retrospective on the Emerging Church by Stephen Shields. If you have read Stephen’s writing in the past, you know that he is an excellent journalist, fair and comprehensive with the material he is covering. His articles is based on interviews with several people who have been writing and speaking about the emerging church for nearly all of the ten years that Next-Wave has been publishing.
Anyway, I remember saying something like this to Scott: “Maybe this should be the last issue of Next-Wave. It’s been ten years, and maybe it is time to call it a day.” In reading some of the comments on the internet about Stephen’s article I ran across some who wondered if there would be a ten-year retrospective on the “missional” church one of these days?
I must confess. To me, “emerging,” and “missional,” when applied to church all seem like the same thing. You see we started out writing about postmodern, then emerging became a word of choice. It wasn’t long before there were other words showing up, like missional, transformational and incarnational. Every once in a while more ancient terms like monastic or liturgical would sneak in.
For me, the whole Next-Wave enterprise has been about evangelizing rising generations. It has not been about deconstruction, or relativism. These were terms I knew nothing about when I first talked to Rogier Bos about starting Next-Wave. At the time I was talking about something called Gen-X, you know the folks who are now mostly heading rapidly into their 40s?
A little anecdote about the term missional. When I first began hearing the term used by practitioners (that is, people who were assembling groups of people into churches), I made the mistake of asking, “What is missional?” After about 5 paragraphs of explanation, I still don’t think I understood what he was talking about. (Sorry it wasn’t a woman that I was asking, but you can be darn sure that I am aware that there are plenty of women out there who could give me a better explanation today.) I asked “What is the mission?” Another 5 paragraphs.
I am trying to get simpler in my old age. I use the terms emerging, missional, and sometimes emergent, to try and communicate something. But what I am really talking about, in every context, is all about “following Jesus.” Learning how to do this in my own life and learning how to help others, including my children and grandchildren, seems pretty important to me.
My main mentor used to describe himself as a “fat man trying to get to heaven.” He also used to say “I want to grow up before I grow old.” I might modify his sentiments slightly, but it is still all about following Jesus isn’t it?
I should probably start holding seminars on "What is the Emerging Church?" I could categorize and compare the various "expressions" of the emerging church. I could describe the major areas of non-orthodox exploration. I could point out the leading practitioners, theologians and gadflies. Do you think I could charge $129 per person for a full day? Would more than one participant sign up?
Is the emerging church a fad? What does it mean? As a pastor, what should I be doing about it? Is D.A. Carson right? What about Chuck Smith, Sr.? Is the emerging church a sign of the end? Is it a forerunner of last days apostacy? Has Slice sliced it correctly? Has Pyro burnt it appropriately? Is Mark Driscoll the poster child for the EC, or is Spencer Burke?
Recently I attended a national pastors gathering of one of the movements that came out of the Jesus Movement revival of the 70s. At this stage the gathering looked a lot like me, a bunch of middle-aged guys in Hawaiian shirts and bermuda shorts and sandals (at least those of us from California). In a panel discussion on the first day, the national director was insistent that he had the "correct" numbers on the number of movement pastors age 35 and under and it was 30 (out of 500, wink, wink), not 20, he would have you know, by Golly. He went on to say that he just didn’t want others to say that we are irrelevant. (He must not be a regular subscriber to Relevant Magazine!).
On the third day of the conference a young (35 yrs. of age) pastor spoke on the emerging church. His definition? The emerging church is "Churches that are trying to reach young people." He then started his categorizing and comparing and I had to get up and leave! You see he was trying to make sense of something that defies categorization and comparison. And he was trying to speak to an audience of pastors who want to know if the EC is a passing fad, or how they should react when a beret-wearing, goatee-sporting, graduate student approaches him and asks him if he is "missional."
Let me address some of these, uh, burning issues: The emerging church is not an "it." It is not Emergent or Allelon, or Forge, Catalyst or ReImagine! It is not neo-monastic, or universalist, for that matter. It is not a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing, granola-crunching, Yoga-practicing midwest urban folks. It is not a "church within a church," gen-x service, candles and worship installations, liturgy practicing, hours prayers. It is not daily blogging with cool names and ipod loaded teaching. It is not a fad, anymore than Methodism, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Catholicism, Lutheranism, uh, you get the idea, were passing fads. It is no more a fad than the Calvary Chapels or the Vineyards. It has no more apostacy than the rest of the apostacy that passes for Christianity today. And by the way, it is not Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet, Spencer Burke, uh, did I leave anyone out, uh, yes, of course I did!
And yet, it is all of the above and so much more. It is what God is raising up to reach the rising culture and the rising generations.
Pastors, if you think you are prepared to deal with today’s cultural atmosphere, go watch the currently playing film, Juno. Then ask yourself this question: What is my congregation doing to make Jesus real to the Junos in our community?
I love to see what God is doing. I especially like to meet young leaders who are innovative as they are pioneering new works for God. I got to spend a little bit of time with one of those kinds of folks yesterday. His name is David Trotter. He is the lead pastor (and founding pastor) of Revolution Church in Long Beach.
David co-founded The Ooze with Spencer Burke. He is doing some really interesting stuff. Including a discipleship "course" based on his book, I Will. His mission is to start a movement of revolutionaries. Wow! When my wife and I were going through a difficult season a few years ago we enjoyed attending David’s church. Revolution is coming up on its fifth anniversary this year.
I have been enjoying reading Seth Godin lately. The Purple Cow, Red Fez, Meatball Sundae-making marketing guru and author is frequently profound. In a recent lengthy article he wrote about the death of the "music business."
If you are part of a denominational leadership, or church planting movement, there is something profound lurking in the Godin observations about the music business. He makes ten big points that are clearly applicable to any sort of "business."
Here is the basic premise I have extrapolated: It is quite possible that in a digital age, the way we have done church (even in the "contemporary" expression) is "over." If this is true then we can expect more of the same of what we have seen over the last twenty years, declining participation, declining attendance, declining contributions (per capita), and declining involvement of younger people. If you see the common thread, it is the word "declining."
Nobody is giving seminars on "How to open a Drive-in Theater." Seminars on "How to start a Church," should take into consideration that there may not be a need for another "contemporary" church service for ‘authentic, real people’ to come and get free coffee and donuts, free wireless, listen and maybe sing along with some "contemporary" praise and worship songs, fill out a connect card and listen to a fill-in the blank topical sermon. If this is true, then what is the new thing look like?