ReEmergent Church?

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Long before it was Harry Potter’s ride to Hogwarts, Kings Cross Station was the site of a graveyard–whose residents were relocated by author Thomas Hardy to what is today called “The Hardy Tree,” in order to make room for the station.  The tree is slowly swallowing up the cluster of grave markers stored around it.

By Matt Horan

During my years in youth ministry and seminary, I watched the Emergent Church movement grow, and saw many of our students leave the UMC and go to nondenominational emergent churches instead.  I saw many good things happening in emergent churches, and was glad that students were feeling at home in a church.  Many times I envied them, wishing to go to churches less encumbered by bureaucracy, baggage, and “the way we’ve always done it” thinking.  Some fellow staff members from churches where I worked even left to work at emergent churches.

Going to seminary, however, reminded me of the value of the historic community of faith of which we’re all a part.  As I saw statistical trends about the demise of mainline denominations, I began to think of all that would be lost of all of the institutional memory that sometimes drives me crazy, but also has value.  I was glad that people found a church home in the emergent churches, but I also saw an erosion of commitment to the local church community based on worship style and preference—as if people were leaving to shop for their worship goods and services elsewhere.

The emergent church movement is of great benefit to the mainline denominations.  Tim Keel’s book, Intuitive Leadership, really helped me gain some clarity on what the emergent movement was.  I feel that it holds one end of an important tension, with the historic denominations holding the other.  The denominations pull us toward universally applicable theology, creeds, practices, etc.  Emergent churches allow the nature of the church to “emerge” locally, based on the context from which the church came.  The Celtic Way of Evangelism, which is also summarized on the blog, is a great read on letting local churches be local.  The denominations are Major League Baseball, everyone sings the national anthem and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  Emergent churches are the Red Sox, where they sing those, and toss in “Sweet Caroline” too.

I know sometimes we have differences in style, theology, or politics—but we’re not called to go to the most comfortable church where everyone is the same.  There’s value in staying, in having respectful dialogue so that we can work together to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the community.  Church schisms of the past have helped to correct our course—Methodism learned from losing the Salvation Army, the Wesleyan Church, the Free Methodists, and the AME church to schisms over various issues—and Methodism was awakened to the need to adjust, and is better for it.  Protestantism caused reform in Catholicism.  Schisms have been used by God to correct the church, and so I don’t lament the emergent church’s emergence.  But the mainline denominations should respond now with some soul searching discourse.

Many such conversations are taking place, and I wanted to create one more place for it to happen.  I was inspired by the book I just reviewed, Tribes, by Seth Godin.  Perhaps the church of the future will be more of a network of believers with fewer lines that clearly delineate us into groups.  Perhaps the future will look like something else entirely.  In the meantime, however, we should stick together in dialogue.  No conversation should be off limits that affects the souls of humankind, and no side of the issue vilified.  If anything, both sides should be celebrated for their courage to stay at the table and linger together.  I have hoped that the ReEmergent Church blog would be one such table, where friends can chat about what God might have in store for us down the road.