What is the Emerging Church?

Next week I am headed to New Mexico to an Emerging Church Conference hosted by the Center for Action and Contemplation.  I posted this fact on my facebook page and one of my friends asked “What is the emerging church?”  I have been following the emerging church conversation off and on for about seven years and I honestly still do not know how to answer that question.  It has come to mean a lot of things to a lot of people but I think the one consistent theme I have seen is a type of deconstruction of the Christian faith that is causing many to ask new questions.  It is a conversation that is asking, “What is the fundamental core of who we are as Christians?  When you strip all the non-essentials away, what is left?” At least that is what the conversation has been like for me.  As I said, it means a lot of things to a lot of people.  The cool thing is that no one owns this conversation and there is no “right” answer to this question.

In this search for the essence of what it means to be Christian in today’s postmodern culture, I have found my personal understanding of the Christian faith being echoed in the Missional Church Movement.  This movement has been shaped by the emerging church conversation but I believe it adds a very distinctive voice to the conversation.  Within the Missional Church movement you tend to find small gatherings of Christians seeking to live in an authentic way, not mega clusters of luke warm believers content to warm the pews.  Those dedicated to missional movement tend to be Christians who are committed to Christian growth and maturity, not simply for the sake of growing in understanding but because they believe that to truly follow Christ demands that they be in service to the poor and oppressed in our community.  Missional Churches take seriously Jesus words in Luke 4:18

  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
   He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
   to release the oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In the past several years, I have met a number of individuals who believe that to truly be a Christ follower, you must be willing to leave the comfort of your own community and follow Jesus into the margins of society.  Granted they are few and far between, but they are among the most fascinating, real, alive people I know.  The amazing thing is that when you are willing to follow Christ into places of darkness, you find that the Holy Spirit is there to meet you in mysterious ways.  You find that Christ truly does dwell more powerfully with the poor than with the rich and you discovery the mystery of Matthew 25:40; the very real tangible presence of Christ in the least.  I do not believe we are called to care for the poor solely for their sake but that we are called to care for the poor because in so doing we are transformed and we come to know Christ in a way that only the poor can reveal to us. 

 I believe until we are willing to do this, we will continue to fill our churches with bench warmers who see the church as just another consumer driven activity, jumping from church to church, seeking the best program, the best preaching, or the best youth ministry.  The role of the church is not “to meet our needs” but to prepare us, strengthen us, and equip us to be bearers of hope in a broken world.  It is in the very act of hope bearing that we find the hope that we seek. 

Shane Claiborne in his incredible book “Irresistible Revolution” writes “It looked like some time back we had stopped living Christianity and just started studying it.”  For some Christians the faith is all about biblical knowledge, for others it is about inner peace and healing, but for those who take seriously the call to be a blessing to the world, the core message of the faith is that God became flesh and lived among us and through the giving of the Holy Spirit we become Christ incarnate in this world.  We are to live our faith, not study it, worship it, or stand on it. The missional movement is a wake up call to all Christians who believe that the Christian faith is more than an hour on Sunday, it is more than giving of our tithes and offerings, it is more than bible studies, Sunday School classes and small groups; it is about making a very real tangible difference in the lives of people and in our community. 

It is about transforming the world that exists today in all its brokenness into the likeness of the kingdom to come.  For this reason Jesus taught us to pray “They kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”    Christ is alive redeeming the world, healing the brokenness, and comforting the afflicted through believers who by the power of the Holy Spirit follow after him and believe in Jesus words in John 14:12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  I pray some day, I will be counted among the faithful who had the courage to follow Jesus with my whole heart.

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