In our small group in Dunoon, Scotland, we have only fairly recently started using the term ’emerging church’ in a way that is not wrigglingly self conscious.
This was in part because although our group has many of the characteristics of what the EC supposedly represents, we have never agreed that this is the label or yardstick that we would use. It is only as other Christians have attacked us for being ’emerging’ that some of us have had a look at this label again, and thought- yes, that kind of fits.
But it is not as if the label is well defined anyway. The 2006 Gibbs and Bolger book ‘Emerging Churches‘ took a well researched swing at this, and I found it really helpful- but to be honest, I also had this feeling that if you look at a diverse movement of Christian activists and malcontents, and search for common strands- you then become responsible for creating a movement as much as defining one.
I wonder if there is also a kind of intellectual snobbery about not wanting to be defined. Many of us have escaped from solidity and predictability in the way we practice our collective faith, and the last thing we want to rush towards is another denomination.
Perhaps others felt the same way- the Methodists, or the Anabaptists- do you think in the beginning, with all the excitement and promise of something new, that they enjoyed the fluidity and freedom of lack of form and structure- and they enjoyed the lack of definition too?
I see that Andrew Jones, AKA http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com has started a survey asking whether we should ditch the label altogether. He is suggesting ‘Emerging missional church’ as a possible alternative- although this seems likely to raise lots of issues too. Andrew does a great job of putting some structure to these concepts here though. I am looking forward to hearing him speaking at Greenbelt festival in a couple of weeks…
Other so called EC leaders have already dropped the label too, like Rob Bell. Brian McLaren also appears to wish there was a better term. Someone put together some clips on youtube that gathered some of these thoughts.
This clip hints at some of the battle lines that are revealed when the EC label is invoked. I suspect that some of this heat alone might make leaders under fire want to find a better label.
I suppose ultimately, we will no longer be emerging- but emerged. And then we will submerge, to be replaced by another generation who emerge all over again. And God bless them as they challenge all of our cherished and no doubt concreted and inflexible doctrines and practices!
But as for me, I am not ready to get rid of the label yet. Apart from anything else- it gives us somewhere to navigate from.
And it might help us find fellow travelers of like hearts and minds to support and encourage, because Lord knows, we certainly need this.
Here in Scotland, some of us are in the early stages of trying to network more effectively- if you want to know more about this, then check out this earlier post