More Emerging death reports

January 1, 2010

emergent / emerging church

Every few months for the last year or so, various conversations come along regarding the death or non-death of the emerging church, whether in its broadest forms or in specific ones like Emergent Village. The most recent is this one started by Andrew Jones, and continued by Tony Jones, Danielle Shroyer, and various other folks.

I responded to one of the similar conversations earlier this year, and because this one is quite a bit different I want to respond to it as well. I do want to note, first of all, that Andrew is one of the folks I have admired the most for the longest, as a pioneer in both the underground/alternative church1, and in the broader emerging church. His voice, and his life, is powerful and essential.

Andrew has stated that he wasn’t, in fact, announcing the death of the movement but rather its transition into a much more mainstream role, perhaps akin to that of Sanctuary International, which used to plant churches for underground folks but now is in more of an advisory role, or perhaps just as part of the broader church world.

In spite of his statement, though, the title of his post is Emerging Church Movement (1989 – 2009)?. He is certainly a smart enough man to know that, in Western culture at least, two dates separated by a dash refer to a lifetime, ended by a death. We all may be incorrectly interpreting his words as a statement of the death of the emerging church, but he has certainly framed his words for us to interpret them that way by using that kind of title.

Moving along. Tony’s post reflects upon the nature of being a radical movement, and what happens to radical movements as time passes and as mantles of leadership pass. He also reminds us that, at least in the context of Emergent Village, the controversy has not subsided (Andrew’s voice has always looked at a broader scope of the emerging church, which I greatly appreciate). The money quote from Tony, I think, is this:

If anything — and I think that TSK may agree with me on this — the question that looms over the ECM is whether it will become domesticated as the first generation of leadership passes the mantle to the second. But, the truth is, the answer to that lies not with me or TSK, but with you. Yes, you.

This is, I think, more important for folks who will be in that second generation of leadership, whoever they are. So far, I can only perceive that from a distance, but again in the context of Emergent Village it seems to be going well, as the organization moves further into decentralization and local mission. I know many of the folks who will take the mantle of leadership, as Tony says, and they are fantastic people.

The response from Danielle Shroyer is a poignant, powerful one. It compares the revolution that Andrew says is over to a marriage when the honeymoon is over, in that we move deeper, though at times it seems we just move into banality. She says, “But no revolution stays in its honeymoon period forever. At some point, you have to come home and start the hard work of actually making a life together, and you have to do it out of the banality of everyday things like grocery lists and flu season and tax day.”

This is a beautiful thing. I’ve said before that one day, what we know as the emerging church movement will no longer be a way for folks to reach the forefront of what God is doing in the world. I still strongly hold to that belief, but I still believe we have not reached that point. The various emerging church networks that I know about, and the various streams and splinters into which things have moved, from the alternative to the new monastic to the Emergent to any number of other things may or may not still seem radical and dangerous, depending on where one lives and the folks one deals with on a regular basis.

I’ll admit that the thought makes the underground part of me a bit sad. But it happens. It happened with underground subcultures, and will happen again with something else. But regardless of that, I believe that these movements are and remain brilliant places for people to build lives that seek to be on the edge of the mission of God. Lives that seek to love God and love others – the poor, the outcast, the abandoned places of empire – really are radical things that are being deeply built in these movements today.

And that’s beautiful. That’s where I want to be.

  1. Andrew was working with punks and hippies in the Haight/Ashbury district of San Francisco, and continued in other places, long before Emergent Village began. This side of him, through the Underground Railroad, was how I became acquainted with him in 2002, leading in many ways to my introduction to the broader emerging church in 2003. []