Emergent Church: A Beautiful Stirring (May-Aug 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Mike Cope
May – August, 2004

This semester I’ve been co-teaching a Bible class at Abilene Christian University with Randy Harris. What’s unique about this class of eighty-five is that all the students are ministry majors. These are the young men and women who might some day be ministering right in the midst of our churches.

But, more and more often we’re hearing these students talk about working with churches that sound very different. They don’t share the dream many had a decade or two ago of building megachurches with large buildings, large budgets, and large ministry staffs. Their language is more about the kingdom of God, about being missional in all of life, about church planting, about “becoming all things to reach all people.”

Their dreams sound much more like what’s been called the “emerging church” movement. For the most part the leaders in this grassroots movement are younger Christians who are passionate about the gospel and who are tired of the consumerism of much of the megachurch movement. They don’t want to build buildings; they want to plant churches. They don’t want to pray for health and wealth; they want to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Want to know more about the “emerging church”? You might want to start with Dan Kimball’s The Emerging Church. Mike Yaconelli’s Stories of Emergence and Robert Webber’s The Younger Evangelicals will inspire you. And don’t miss out on their guru, Brian McLaren. Start with A New Kind of Christian and The Story We Find Ourselves In. Then maybe move on to McLaren’s More Ready Than You Realize—a great book on “evangelism as dance in the postmodern matrix.” Click Here for More Emergent Culture/Church Resources

As you read and observe, some themes will start to surface—themes that will likely resonate with many of our readers.

First, they tend to focus on beauty — in art, in nature, in humanity. So much of our lives is lived in sound bites and clip art. We find ourselves stuck in a world of pixels and printed pages. But these (mostly) young Christ-followers are reminding us that “he shines in all that’s fair.” They are drawn to Christian art—whether it’s the best of the classics or the Easter drawings of a second grade class. They have noticed the great beauty that God placed in creation and reclaimed the truth that God’s fingerprints are found in all of his handiwork. (No wonder they tend to see environmental concerns as a part of discipleship!)

Second, their focus is on “the kingdom of God” rather than just on atonement. There is an emphasis on the life of Jesus (as well as on his death) and on God’s larger purposes in Christ (as hinted at in Genesis 1-2). They have recognized that Jesus came to reveal a way of life that is contrary to the ways of this world. Is it surprising to us that the early church was called The Way instead of just The Forgiven?

Third, having had enough of the Western World’s emphasis on individualism, they are pointing back to community, insisting that we enter one another’s lives toward healing and holiness. They know from studying scripture and from experience that we are called to connect deeply with one another as friends, guides, encouragers, and mentors.

A fourth focus is on mission and witness. Instead of planting churches that have a missions committee, they want to plant churches that are missional to the very core.

Going hand-in-glove with that is a fifth emphasis: on justice — living right with the poor, with other nations, and with the environment.

And a sixth focus is on simplicity. One of the leaders said a better name than “emerging church” might be “the organic church.” Back to healthier living. Back to simpler living. They have asked whether followers of Jesus ought to spend a life racking up debt just to drive the newest SUV or live in a huge suburban house.

To be honest, part of me feels threatened by the questions my 19-year-old students are asking. After all, I preach for a big church with a big building and a big budget. But another part of me feels fully alive. Something deep inside stirs.

What we’re asking at our church right now is: How can a long-established church (celebrating our 75th anniversary this year) continue to let God’s Spirit shape us into a mission outpost for the kingdom of God? How can we resist the consumer forces all around us?

Well, jump into the issue and see what begins stirring with you. We’re all tired of “doing church,” aren’t we? We’re tired of spending endless months talking about picayunish points so that someone isn’t offended. We’re tired of building buildings instead of planting churches. We’re tired of catering to the consumer demands of spoiled church floaters. The mission of God is calling us!

Emergent Resources PDFNew Wineskins

Mike Cope

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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