So, what is Emerging Church?
This is what people often ask me, and despite loads of "conversation" I still am unable to give what I consider to be a good answer. I know what I mean when I use the term, but that is certainly not a universal conception. The emerging churches that I have encountered have, to a great extent, been comprised of urban, post-modern, progressive young adults who are missionally minded, committed to community and spiritual practice while figuring out what it means to be followers of Christ in the messy, ambiguous world in which they find themselves. These communities vary greatly in "worship style"- from old-timey country to jazz, from techno-liturgica to rock and roll so it's surprising to me when those outside of the emerging church think it's about a worship style (this is due in large part, I would guess, to Zondervan Publishing Dan Kimball's books which are everywhere, these books are not without merit, but certainly not representative of the EC that I am familiar with)
What I often find is that people will take the missional and contextual piece of the EC and say, well, isn't my traditional rural ministry of mostly 70 year olds "emerging" because we are missional and contextual? Well, not really. This is not to say that you're not engaged in amazing and creative ministry, but to me, it doesn't line up culturally with the EC. But no one wants to say this. We all want to say "sure, you're emerging too, everyone is emerging...now let's hold hands and sing a song", but how accurate is that if almost all of the communities who are seen as emerging are young urban and post-modern? If the movement started out in this urban, postmodern cultural context, then do we use the same term for ministries outside of that cultural context, who are also missional? Now, I know this isn't the most profound thing to be thinking about, but I just find it weird. If the Spanish speaking Latino ministries are missional and contextual, then can I call my postmodern emerging church a Latino ministry because we are missional and contextual?
Am I just trying to be an elitest asshole?
Don't get me wrong, I think all of the church should be missional and contextual. I suspect that the way in which the emerging church will, in the end, influence the broader church is in this post-Christendom reorientation toward mission and context...which would be an amazing contribution.
For myself, all I can do is swear that I will not use the words "missional" and "contextual" again for a long, long time....I've clearly used my quota.