Tag Archives: emerging church

Nomad Interview


Back in the Spring I met up with Tim Nash to explore the whole emerging and fresh expressions of church initiative in the UK, and to explore more deeply my book the Becoming of G-d.  They have made a great podcast out of the discussions and included a book review, so do check this out here.


Research Appendices for my book Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church

Now that the moot website has been redeveloped, access to the transcribed interviews from the participative actions research I completed are no longer accessible.  I have decided therefore to publish them here for people to conduct further research or to reference them for essays or further study.

Initial Letter

NAOMIE Action Research Checklist

Initial Proposal

B1 Interview Transcript

Sanctus 1 Interview Transcript

Moot Community Interview Transcript

Church of the Apostles (COTA) Interview Transcript

MSN Final Group Interview Transcript

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!

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!

Participation & Mediation by Pete Ward – Book Review

It is not often I read a book that gets me excited but this new book by Pete Ward  really did in this book Participation & Mediation. In this great book Pete unpacks in well reasoned and analytical form the  journey he went on from Youth Worker to Practical Theologian.  This is the same  journey that many of us went on starting from different places, some from Youth Work others from involvement in mission initiatives evolving out of early emerging  and fresh expressions of church.  I began from involvement in alternative worship  with a passion to make these new forms of church accessible and contextual to those outside the  church.  Pete unpacks the journey that many of us have also made.  It starts from  where people are – from cultural analysis, missional and contextual theology, the  centrality of the Trinity and patristics, perichoresis through to pastoral and  practical theology.  I have never talked this through with Pete, but I am amazed  how in synergy his thinking is with my own experience and the experience I know  of others.  His book is a credible and authentic understanding of the place of pastoral and practical theology for those involved as practitioners in emerging and fresh expressions of church.  It is no coincidence that I completed an MA in Pastoral & Practical Theology as part of my ministerial education, from where I started from, becoming a Christian through an Alternative Worship Community in York.  I just wished this book was around 10 years ago – it would have made my life easier!

In many ways Pete’s book echoes, reflects and forms the bedrock of the process I follow in my explorations of Trinitarian Ecclesiology and Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church in my book ‘The becoming of G-d’.

So this book not only offers a really practical way for practitioners to engage with pastoral and practical theological reflection of what they are doing, it also offers a model and process to help practitioners work through doing complex mission in a complex culture.  Pete Ward’s book is a really helpful tool to assist Pioneers to build ecclesial communities out of contextual mission.  So I highly recommend this book to all those who are seeking to be lay and ordained Pioneer Ministers, Youth Workers and all those passionate about building emerging and fresh expressions of church.

What is fascinating, is that Pete’s analysis also has synergy with the central core process of Fresh Expressions which is drawn from Roland Allens and Vincent Donovan’s work.  See below:

So thanks Pete for such a great book. A must for all those seeking depth and reflection in what they are doing with emerging and fresh expressions of church.

What sort of Church will emerge to engage with the challenge of a post-Christian world?

On Sunday 15th March 2009, I joined a recorded discussion in Sydney exploring the above title on Australia’s ABC National Radio. In the discussions, the group explored the importance of Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church engagement with our increasingly post-christian post-secular culture. For a link to the radio show click here

Beyond Attraction – reflections on my time in Australia

Speaking Tour I have now had a bit of time to reflect on my experience of Australia, and of the Church here. I think the greatest challenge is going to be the letting go of an attractional model of church and mission. In the training days I have done here – people are somewhat resistant to let go of the strategy of ‘come to us’. This of course is based on a Christendom model of church, colluding with the separation of sacred and secular. It is interesting that this is the number one issue. The church must be able to re-imagine another way of relating to contemporary culture – much more incarnational – being IN culture but not OF culture. We must remember that the traditional church plant approach of taking some people from a church and planting them somewhere else, and then starting with worship, is an approach that recycles Christians and makes very little impact with de and un churched people. True mission is focused on those who are not members of any church.

I was really pleased that Diocese in Melbourne and Newcastle really understood this. So I hope this thinking will go deep in the DNA of these Diocese and a new form of the local church, to engage with it. I have talked a lot of the missiological approach of Vincent Donovan. We must start with incarnational projects that we hope will grow into community, that develop a fellowship that is mission centred, that then grows a contextual approach to discipleship which then finally develops contextual forms of worship, and that sacramental worship, is possibly the last thing to develop. This process, based on the work of Vincent Donovan, is crucial if we are going to form forms of church in a post-christendom and post-secular context. So below is a list I think of the essential focus for these new pioneering start up forms of projects which we hope will birth eventually, contextual and mature expressions of church:

1. Starting project needs to relate to a real collective local need – so time for listening is essential. This listening may require you to walk regularly around the suggested area of the project, get to know people, hear their stories, talk to people in bars and cafes. Time for proper listening is vital.
2. When starting a project – where it happens is important – consider creating a hub in the local community and not to using church buildings for the sake of ease. Remember that many who you are seeking to reach will be using the internet – so use the internet to help build connections with those you are not in relationship with.
3. Build a team of enthusiasts – a commitment to relationality is again crucial.
4. Develop the project so that it continues to meet the need and we hope develop some form of community.
5. As issues relating to spirituality and the Christian faith emerge (and they will), you will need to consider different ways of enabling learning through a variety of creative approaches, and you will also need to find a way of articulating the faith in the language of that context. A great tip at this stage is to ‘give on a needs basis’. No force feeding – exploring the faith in the context of people’s interests.
6. Once the project has become mission and community, you will need to explore worship. I do suggest that something around alternative worship is a good place to start, using an approach starting from where people are at or passionate about. Again this needs to develop at the pace of the community you have developed, and will in time, I am sure, develop the marks of the church.
7. When you get to 7 – then I suspect you will be facing the need to go back to 1 again as contexts develop.

For those that are interested, much of the challenge of the church in Australla relating to its increasingly post-church post-christian culture was the subject of an ABC National Radio broadcast I contributed to. To listen to it, click here

Phenomenology, Theology, Liberation & New Forms of Church

Liberationalist Poster

Liberationalist PosterJust before you think I have been smoking something rather illegal by pursuing such a grand title, I want to start by saying I have had a period of enforced isolation following an operation, so I have been reading and reflecting on a number of things. So I want to paint a picture that connects these big titles above, and No, I am now off the codeine pain relief, so I am now feeling more coherent.

Some in the whole Emerging & Fresh Expressions scene are quite anti-theologial, which has always troubled me, partly because it can then predispose people to make the same mistakes as some of those who have come before us in their thinking and praxis. It is always better to be informed, even if you fundamentally disagree… At the same time, I want to challenge some of the particularly academic theological institution, who look down on phenomenology and its related discipline of Pastoral Theology. Some see these two areas as weak cousins to their more illustrious and more academic relatives. I think this is fundamentally false and elitist and plainly wrong if this has any centredness around the life and activity of Jesus Christ which challenged such power related perspectives in his time.

So here goes … Phenomenology is an important perspective and discipline that has arisen out of philosophical thinking and in the social sciences, that now in a post-modern context, helps us to reframe and understand things drawing on human experience. “Phenomenology” comes from the Greek words phainómenon, meaning “that which appears,” and lógos, meaning “study.” Experience-led thinking was clearly very important to Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church. I encountered much of this in the research I did in my book “Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church”.

Theology – is important to an understanding of God – “Theology” meaning the study of God. In the Christian spiritual tradition, Theology & Phenomenology are intrinsically linked. Theology arises out of experience, but importantly out of communities in praxis not just on bright-spark charismatic individuals who work things out for themselves. Praxis here – is the idea of right action – about the discipline of exploring questions arising out of experience that connect to the humanities to then dialogue between these various insights (note dialogue is inherently about talking in community) to then work out what right action may be in response to the question. So this is a discipline in living, of right living (orthopraxis), not just of right thinking (orthodoxy) – which I argue has been a curse in the church which does a lot of thinking but not much action when and where it matters!! But, there is a danger in a cuture that sometimes feels being post-society, where no one ever seems to think about responsibility for others and everything is centred on individual rights. As Jonathan Clark has said in his book ‘the republic of heaven’:

If theology arises out of experience, is there any stopping point before we reach theologies that are constructed by each of us individually? If not, is there such a thing as the Church at all – what do we have in common? It’s a possible extreme case of what Catholics have always accused Protestants of – allowing the theology of private opinion to take precedence over the Church’s tradition.

He then goes on to say: Part of an answer to this criticism may rest in the concept of praxis … Liberation theologies therefore depend not on an individual experience but on that of a group, within the social and economic context in which it is placed. Theology happens, moreover, in the interaction of the community with its context: it’s not something restricted to books and lecture theatres. So when a group of oppressed people concretely refuse to accept their oppression, theology is happening. For those people, new truths about God are being enunciated as much through action as through their reflection [and thinking].

I think Jonathan Clark is spot on here. I want to argue that many emerging & fresh expressions of church are trying to seek forms of spiritual community with this phenomenological, communitarian, participation and liberationist focus, (where this liberationist focus is usually articulated in the form of economic, social and ecological justice) in the face of the force and perceived oppression of the global market, unrestrained forms of global capitalism, obscene forms of individualism, the return of a dominant class system and new forms of under classes, poverty and increased deprivation. This I think is particularly true at the moment in the global credit crunch, which was driven by capitalist greed. The language of liberation and justice is increasingly being used.

What worries me a little about some new post-church initiatives is that they are often very individualistic with a dominant monolithic ideology, which starts by saying everything that was before is wrong and now we have got it right, (I don’t believe any faith can be monolithic if it is centred on collective experience). Often, where there is a leader who is very charismatic, and a powerful arbiter. These initiatives have a lot of energy, but often have very little to do with community, praxis and liberation. The little books I have written, particularly the last, “the becoming of G-d” I hope is an articulation of what the Moot Community has been exploring for the last six years. I hope it is not about my thinking, more an articulation of the insights and thinking of a community founded on shared phenomenological activity and a theology arising out of experience of God. Contrary to the language coming from some, I don’t think we need ‘revival’ or a ‘continuation of the reformation’ or a new expression of church to ‘finish off the reformation that the church did not complete in modernity’. These somewhat hard and radical voices seek to build a contextual church, by seeking purity out of plurality of thought by the language of ‘opposition’ and ‘competition’. I think this thinking is bankrupt in our now post-Christendom context. We don’t need a continutation of reformed theology for postmodern times, we need to find an authentic expression of the Christian faith centred on liberation not competition.

So increasingly, the focus of new forms of church, (from my perspective), needs to be that they can be experienced as life giving, enabling, loving, caring and places of belonging and liberation. It is not about being ‘Cool’ or the next new ideology to consume, or about having the best technologically driven alternative worship. The world has had quite its fill of ‘Cool’ people and new ideologies that have not brought lasting change. We need forms of community that dream big dreams centred on the values of the Kingdom of God. I hope Moot grows into this type of profound places of humanity, where the Christian faith can be experienced as a liberating event that enables people to find their common humanity, in a world that is driven by power, competition and consumption. So liberation has to be a key focus to emerging & fresh expressions of church, if they are stand any chance of reflecting the values of the Kingdom of God Christ exposed through the ancient world, and which we are called to love and act on now.

So to conclude, rather than being anti-theological, I hope Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church increasingly seek to reframe theology to make it life giving, and that this will therefore need to draw on a Kingdom perspective, centred on liberation and experience, where we have a high view of seeking shared solutions and a communal phenomenology. Where we seek not to ‘win’ so that others ‘lose’ but as liberation theologies say, we seek to change the goal posts, to reframe things, to have no losers where all call share in the good things in life, where we have rights and responsibilities for all. If we hold this perspective, then our Society may look differently on the life and work of Christ, because after all, was this not what he was about?

New book: Ancient Faith Future Mission – fresh expressions of the sacramental traditions

I am really pleased that this new book that I helped to organise, has come together. Its content includes chapters by Rowan Williams, Abbot Stuart Burns, Brian McLaren, Karen Ward, Phyllis Tickle, Sue Wallace, Ian Adams and others on the whole area of developing sacramental emerging & fresh expressions of church. You can preorder it now from Amazon or Canterbury Press.

I am hoping this book will help people reimagine ways of exploring sacramentality in new ways of being church.  The book includes the address of Rowan Williams and the reflection of Abbot Stuart Burns at the recent Fresh Expressions of Church Pilgrimage to Coventry Cathedral on the 8th December 2008.  So this will be a good read, promise!

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