|Emerging church seeks to get back to church?s roots|
Participants at the "emergingumc" conference share ideas on ways
to make The United Methodist Church more relevant and authentic in
UMNS photos by Linda Green.
By Linda Green*
Oct. 11, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
Young adults, seminarians and pastors with a heart for the Gospel are
thinking and talking about new ways to "do church" by transforming
churchgoing from the inside out.
More than 50 people gathered in Nashville Oct. 4-6 for an
"emergingumc" conference on getting back to the roots of church and its
mission. The event was sponsored by the United Methodist Board of
The emerging church is a nondenominational grassroots movement that
intertwines evangelism and social justice to make the church more
relevant to today's culture and to make worship and Christian life
authentic, experiential and connected.
Known officially as the emerging missional church, the concept is about
turning the church from a place of ritual worship to one of reclaiming
mission as the foundation, said the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director
of worship resources for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
The Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards
"The core is not to get people to come to Sunday morning worship. The
core is to get disciples of Jesus to be on mission wherever they are
and however they can do that," he said.
What is it?
An emerging church is not necessarily a new church start. A lot of
"emerging" is taking place within existing congregations of all sizes
and denominations and is especially being led by young adults. They
relish a non-institutional approach to church and innovative worship but
hold to traditional Christian beliefs. They also reconstruct and
deconstruct those beliefs to accommodate and "do church" in postmodern
culture. They create community.
According to United Methodists in the movement, the emerging church
seeks to transform churchgoing from the inside out through questioning
basic traditions. It is a movement about theology but is ambiguous and
anti-programmatic. Conversations about an emergingumc, alternative ways
of "doing church" and community building are occurring at http://emergingumc.blogspot.com.
"Emerging church is a community of faith that is striving to be
authentic to the Gospel and the culture," said the Rev. Jack
Terrell-Wilkes, an ordained deacon in the Oklahoma Annual (regional)
Within a congregation might be two or three people passionate about
discipleship and reaching people. Those individuals would create
ministries from their passion and also begin to live their passion.
"Church then happens," said conference attendees during focused
discussions. "It is about getting back to the roots of Christianity."
"The emerging church has a heart for the poor, the last, the least
and the lost," said the Rev. James Walker, the United Methodist
co-leader of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh. The church
provides opportunity to experience church in new and unconventional
ways, including drama, he said.
“Emerging church is a community of faith
that is striving to be authentic to the Gospel and the culture. … It is
about getting back to the roots of Christianity.”
–The Rev. Jack Terrill-Wilkes
Conference presenters affirmed the belief that disciples of Jesus Christ are sent to be Christ's body in the world.
"Christianity is not just about a set of beliefs and propositions
that we believe. It is about our lives and about how we live,"
People studying Jesus' Great Commission often emphasize the command
to "go make disciples" as the way mission is done. However, Burton
Edwards says the emphasis should be on making disciples as you go.
"Wherever you are, figure out what making disciples looks like there and
do that there."
Making disciples for Jesus has to grow out of and be incarnate in each place, he said.
"Just as God became flesh among us, God's kingdom as it is working
throughout the world takes on different forms. Our role is to figure
what those are so that the good news of God's kingdom can be made known
in those places," he said, adding that the look of those places will
vary from place to place.
Characteristics of the emerging missional church are a revived
mission or mandate; theological conversations that focus on the kingdom
of God and the way of Jesus rather than denominational or ecclesial
distinctiveness; spiritual formation using both personal and communal
traditions and practices that "deeply" form disciples of Jesus; and
worship that is experiential and connected to traditions of the
United Methodist roots
United Methodist followers say the concept harkens back to Methodism
founder John Wesley, who in 18th-century England had a strong sense that
the established Church of England was wonderful at worship and terrible
at making disciples. It was wonderful at creating structures so that
people could have the potential to make disciples but was terrible at
delivering on that promise.
Seminarian Katie Dawson and the Rev. Jack Terrell-Wilkes chat during a break. More than 50 people attended the conference.
"What Wesley did was create systems that could make disciples
alongside the Church of England and keep them in a symbiotic
relationship so that the strength of the movement and the strength of
the Church of England could both be leveraged for the better good," said
Katie Dawson, a seminary student at Vanderbilt Divinity School and
intern at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, attended the
gathering to become familiar with the emerging church and postmodern
ideas as she works toward ordained ministry in the Iowa Annual
"Anytime the culture changes, the church changes in response," she
said. "The church is a part of the world. It is not separate, above or
better. It is a part of God's creation as well and we need to be aware
of that to continue to be in ministry with people … in the city and in
the rural areas."
While the emerging church has no concrete definition, Dawson suggests
staying attentive to whatever local church you are in, learning its
struggles and hopes and where its ambiguities lie, and then developing
practices and theology that provide hope. "Emerging church is about
connecting people with the reality of their lives," she said.
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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