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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

description or prescription...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I was in Manchester yesterday at the North-West leg of the Blah tour with Ryan Bolger and Karen Ward. It was a good day - highlights included hearing (and seeing) something of the COTA story from Karen, having the opportunity to hear Ryan talk more about his and Eddie Gibbs' research for 'Emerging Churches', and (of course) the many engaging conversations had with people there!

One of the things that I started thinking about yesterday, in the light of the book, is how a definition founded on genuine observation of what is happening could so easily become an 'off-the-shelf' model that others try to follow, so missing the central point of contextualisation. The book, based on extensive research, describes the Emerging Church in terms of nine common practices...

"Emerging Churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities." (Gibbs & Bolger, Emerging Churches, SPCK, 2006, p45)

As I read the book (and listened to Ryan talk yesterday) I recognised so much of what Dream had become in that description (though there are some aspects that we don't exhibit so clearly too). However, neither Dream nor the many EC groups that Bolger and Gibbs researched set out with this 9-part plan as a model to emulate - they simply evolved (emerged!) into this identity. The important thing for all of them, which was heard time and time again in the stories contained in the book, was that they were seeking to build faith communities that were true to their context.

Bolger and Gibbs' work is invaluable in gaining an insight into what is coming into being under the banner 'Emerging Church', and the 9-point definition is a useful handle to understand the commonalities of EC groups. However, I do fear that what has been stated as observational analysis may be adopted by some as a blue-print and so become restricting and controlling of genuine emergence. If well-meaning initiatives simply set out to 'create' the 9 points of Gibbs and Bolger's analysis, they are likely to simply fall into the trap that the EC has been intent on avoiding - turning up and 'doing' church for a group of people according to a pre-determined model. All of this is not to undervalue the book - I'm glad it's been researched and written and have found it incredibly affirming. I just hope it's properly understood for what it is - analysis - and is not abused as a model to follow.

I'm looking forward to hooking up with Ryan and Karen and others again on Thursday for a 24 hour consultation - maybe this is something we could pick up there!

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:48 AM


Thought for the Week!

Reading 'A history of God' by Karen Armstrong alongside 'How (not) to speak of God'. Here's an interesting quote from Karen:
"Atheism has often been a transitional state: thus Jews, Christians and Muslims were all called 'atheists' by their pagan contemporaries because they had adopted a revolutionary notion of divinity and transcendence. Is modern atheism a similar denial of a 'God' which is no longer adequate to the problems of our time?" (1993, p.5)

Peter is alert to this: 'Yet the atheistic spirit within Christianity delves much deeper than this - for we disbelieve not only in other gods but also the God that we believe in.' (p.25, 'How (not) to...')

I'm just wondering whether the EC phenomenon is part of something bigger? Not so much whether in the process of describing or prescribing we run the risk of creating another denomination, or over-defining communities until there are none left that actually fit the model, but whether there are things going on that EC is only ever going to be a part of, not the whole? Perhaps we are being swept up in a much bigger tide than we yet suspect? I detect a profoundly prophetic ring in Karen's words and it makes me tremble!

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 1:03 PM  

"I'm just wondering whether the EC phenomenon is part of something bigger? ... Perhaps we are being swept up in a much bigger tide than we yet suspect?"

ABSOLUTELY Steve - thanks for this.

Lord spare us all from ever thinking that we are the answer, and keep us faithful in simply joining with you in your mission of love in the world.

commented by Blogger Malcolm Chamberlain, 1:36 PM  

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