Category Archives: Culture

So what is happening with the emerging church in the UK in 2010?

I have been reflecting for a while on how things are progressing with this question, and now feel able to articulate something, but want to start by telling the story as I see if from the late 1980s. Some will know that I became a Christian through an early alternative worship come emerging church community in York.

Looking back, I can see that many people like me were searching for a deep spirituality in the late 1980s, and for some younger churched people, the gap between church and the sensibilities of a post-modern culture had set the scene for two streams for experimentation.

The first stream was very ideas driven, drawing in the humanities and especially philosophy. People were not happy with the prevailing theology of many churches, so philosophy became an opportunity to critique the language of church which was predominately modernist and foundationalist. Understandably, this stream was thinking driven, where this was focused on a post-foundationalist ideology, using a strongly philosophical narrative. The groups and communities that grew out of this stream were focused on deconstruction, seeking to explore the area of spirituality and alternative worship. Many of these groups burnt themselves out after a while, but their contribution to opening up the spiritual landscape and possibilities, were enormous. These included the Late Late Service in Glasgow, Holy Joes, Parallel Universe, Live on Planet Earth, Thursdays, NOS, Abundant and others.

The second stream was driven less by philosophical ideas, but the desire for community and a more creative and artistic response to post-modernism. Again, many of these groups would self-define themselves as alternative worship communities. Many of these have continued into the present, groups such as Visions, Grace, the Epicentre Network, Foundations and Gracelands.

There were in these early days, a few groups that straddled these two streams, Vaux being a very good example, but most I would say, straddled these two streams.

Somewhere around 1993, the term emerging church became more apparent. This being because some in these two streams were increasingly happy to use the word church. This was not however a consensus decision. Some of these communities had expanded what they were doing to cover worship and community, and some, were now exploring the need for mission to an emerging new social group, never churched post-secular spiritual seekers. So initially the two streams expanded to three streams, and many groups called themselves emerging churches whose worship was alternative worship. It is I think fair to say, that largely most of this new emerging church grouping came from the second stream, because most in the first stream perceived themselves as post-church and some post-Christian.

So where are we now? Well I think I want to say that there are three streams still. Groups such as the Garden in Brighton and Ikon in Belfast are good examples that the first stream has continued. Vaux I would argue has moved firmly into this first stream. Judging by their pull at the annual Greenbelt Festival, these groups still have a big role to play with the dechurched.

The second stream I would argue is now predominately emerging church, and now many of these also see themselves as fresh expressions of church, but at the radical end of fresh expressions, many of which are still very committed to alternative worship at least as part of their expression of worship, mission and community. This second stream has also diversified in focus, in response to local contextual needs. So some have become more focused on catholic and sacramental resources for worship and mission, groups such as Contemplative Fire and Visions are good examples. Others such as Moot and Safe Space see themselves as New Monastic Communities with a commitment to reframe the ancient into the contemporary, drawing heavily on the contemplative traditions. Others are seeking to be café church communities, where such public space becomes the loci of relational mission. So this second stream has expanded a lot since 2003, and has become the largest element of those who would call themselves ‘emerging and fresh expressions’ of church. Increasingly, this group are interested in the ‘un or never churched’ as much as the dechurched.

With the advent of fresh expressions in England and now increasingly in Scotland, I want to argue for a third stream. This grouping is reacting less to post-modernism, and more to the consequences and impact of post-modernism on contemporary culture - the highly consumptive and technological culture that has emerged. There are numbers of experimental and missional communities within CMS, Church of England, Methodist Church, United Reform and Baptist denominations. So fresh expressions of church, where there are unique communities, have not been on the same journey as those of a more alternative worship/emerging church DNA, however, their contribution is increasingly significant. This stream are predominantly focused on the ‘un or never’ churched, and may operate as a community attached to a traditional model of church.

So reflecting on all of this, the emerging church is still alive and kicking, helped I am sure by the emergence of fresh expressions of church. It will be interesting to see how things progress next, in a culture under pressure, and a Church increasingly resistant to fresh expressions of church let alone the emerging church. We shall see where the Spirit of God leads next!

USA Edition: Ancient Faith Future Mission – fresh expressions of church in the sacramental traditions

Really pleased to say that the first book of the Series Ancient Faith Future Mission is now on Sale in a North American version in the USA. This includes the original authors Rowan Williams, Stephen Cottrell, Ian Adams, Sue Wallace, Karen Ward, Brian McLaren Richard Giles, Carl Turner, Phyllis Tickle, Paige Blair, Michael Volland, Philip Roderick and Tessa Holland, Karen Ward, Simon Rundell and Abbot Stuart Burns. But additionally includes chapters by Thomas Brackett, Stephanie Spellers, Christopher Ashley, Marie Harkey and Kirsten Wesselhoeft.

To order this in the USA & Canada please click here

Three Miles North of Molkom

I am pleased to say that I have now submitted my first draft to Paraclete Press for my draft book “The New Monastics: Building Ecclesial communities out of contextual mission in the third millennium. I have also submitted a chapter in the Book Andrew Walker leads with Continuum about Spirituality in the City.

Somewhat Ironically, both these chapters resonate with the film I have just watched with my friend David, ‘The Miles North of Molkom’, which is a docu-film expressing the stories and lives of a number of spiritual seekers, at a summer festival in Sweden. It was an amusing, sad and moving account of people attempting to make sense of their lives in our painful overly-individualistic and consumptive world.  This resonated with some work I did today, for the Diocese of Rochester where I supported Graham Cray of Fresh Expressions, where the Suffrogen Bishop talked of “Politics being defeated by Shopping”.  Too true.  So I commend the film if you doubt that our culture is spiritually seeking.

Interesting post by Mark Lindores

Image Recently I spoke at the Resource training course weekend representing the Moot Community, where we explored mission to a post secular culture of spiritual seeking and new monasticism as a particular model. Mark kindly bought my book I think to follow up what I talked about.

He has now written a couple of blogs concerning my book “The Becoming of G-d” exploring what I looked at last year. To see what he has written click here

I am currently attending a residential training course on preparation for incumbency through the DIocese of London. It is an excellent course, and I found it interesting how the concept of managing chaos and complexity returns to the themes of a fluid understanding of life, and some of the elements of a Trinitarian Ecclesiology which was so elemental in the book “The Becoming of G-d”. So very interesting how our learning takes us similar cycles revisiting things as life and vocation changes.

Mystery is as important as knowledge

A new friend I have made recently by the name of Tim, noticed that I love the American TV programme Alias. He also intuitively made the connection between my sense of the need of Christians to abide more by a disposition of openness to the Spirit and therefore mystery, with my love of the programme, (sounds crazy but I think it is right).  He pointed me to a podcast of JJ Abrams, the Director of Alias, on the whole subject of mystery.  So please see a really interesting podcast on mystery below.

New Books in Preparation – New Monasticism & Spirituality in the City

Well its now a new year, and I am now well on the way to completing the manuscript for my next book exploring New Monasticism, which I am writing for Paraclete to be submitted by the end of February 2010.

Writing  this book has really helped me think quite deeply about this important model of church, and I have enjoyed interviewing a number of people including a Benedictine Abbot, a Franciscan Friar and a number of new monastics including Shane Claiborne, Mark Berry, Ian Adams and others.

I have also written a chapter in a book exploring spirituality in the city, which is a multi-authored book which I think is being published by Continuum.  In this chapter I explore the increasing phenomena  of post secular spiritual tourism, and in particularly that evidenced by the many flower shrines you see where people have died.  It names something very important symbolically. So I hope that contribution assists people to explore the subject.

I am also pleased to let people know, that I am involved in three other books. All three are all multi-authored books in the Ancient Faith Future Mission series published with Canterbury Press.  These will cover Fresh Expressions and New Monasticism, the Kingdom of God and Small Missional Communities.

So I seem to have become involved in a number writing projects!

Jesus, Trinity, Mission & Inclusion in John 4:1-42

Last Wednesday, Jon Oliver, (author and training Ordinand for Pioneer Ministry on placement with Moot) led our Quest Evening, designed to explore biblical texts and open them up as Stanley Hauerwas says to ‘an interpretative community’.  Well we looked at John 4:1-42 and the Samaritan Woman at the well.

This text is always challenging and beautiful.  It expresses the mission of God to blur boundaries of the sacred in the secular, challenging cultural taboos, and gives us a palpable foretaste of the Kingdom of God.

I love it that God seeks out the excluded and the lost, those that are hated within their own cultures.  Why it gives me a hope that someone like me can be acceptable to God with all my faults, insecurities and complexities.  But this time there was more.  The Woman, was exposed to the reality of the Trinity. Christ is present as the Redeemer. Then in verse 23, But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.  Beautifully Jesus finishes off the Samaritans question about the Messiah as coming with the words ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you’.

So in this encounter, the Woman experiences Jesus as the Redeemer, empowered by the Holy Spirit, in the worship of the Father.  It doesn’t get more Trinitarian than that, with a woman he was not supposed to speak to, and with a people the Jews despises as unclean.  So what does Jesus do – he goes into mission mode, loving them into understanding, and then stays with them for two days – something a Jew was banned from doing.  I love it.  This is the radicalness of Christ and the New Testament.  A radical love that seeks to restore all things into restored relationships.  This is the context of real mission, and it inspires me to keep going when I feel so inadequate and crap so much of the time, in a dysfunctional church and a broken world.  It is the hope of this Jesus that keeps me alive, in this Missio Dei of the Holy Trinity, and the love of the God Human Jesus, that my life has meaning and purpose.  Without this God, I don’t know where I would be….

Attractional v Missional Models of Church

Attractional Model of Church

I have now finished two out of the three lectures I am giving at Carey Baptist College in Auckland.  Today I explored the socio-cultural forces behind neo-spirituality driven by information technology and consumerism, and then explored a Trinitarian Ecclesiology as a basis of Christian Spirituality to engage with a context of neo-mysticism.  Finally, we looked at issues around leadership as all the denominations face the challenge of reframing from a Christendom to a post-Christendom context.

It was a good day, I forcused on the need to let go of an attractional model of church born of Christendom as incompatible with a post-christendom context of neo-mysticism, and the importance of a missional relational model of Christian Community.  Matt Stone has written a great blog on this, so check that out.  So my use of New Monasticism is a form of missional model, where the communities Rhythm of life lies at the heart of the community.  So offer the model below of a more new monastic missional model.

My reflections on the training morning with Baptist Pastors, is just how entrenched the attractional model is.  There is still a desire to form sexy forms of worship to get people in, but as I said then, this just recycles Christians rather than makes an impact with unchurched people.  It is hard to conceive of the missional model if you are operating within a model of attraction within a worldview of Christendom. My hope is that the training will play a small part to enable people to shift their worldviews to be able to see the need for an incarnational and missional model of church.

So I think the world church has much to learn from the likes of Missioners such as Vincent J Donovan of an Incarnational model of church, that seeks to use a methodology using a synthetic or transcendent contextual theological model.  A good day, but we so need need to help people get beyond an attractional model of mission.

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