Whatever it is, the emerging church is turning heads
June 15, 2005
A UMC.org Feature
By Amy Green*
Ask anyone to define the “emerging church,” and they'll likely hesitate.
luck,” jokes the Rev. Jay Voorhees of Antioch United Methodist Church
in Nashville, Tenn., who describes his congregation as an “emerging
grassroots initiative that is not associated with any particular church
denomination, the emerging church is a concept that’s hard to define
and full of paradox.
example, it is rooted in evangelism but – in a rare crossing of today's
cultural divide – is steeped in social justice values often associated
with liberalism. It welcomes innovation in worship but also holds to
traditional Christian beliefs. To a growing number of young Christians,
this ambiguity is the allure to what some call a movement but others
call a “conversation.” Either way, the emerging church has set out to
transform churchgoing from the inside out by questioning some of its
most basic traditions.
|A Web-only image
Rev. Jay Voorhees, pastor of Antioch United Methodist Church in
Nashville, Tenn., describes the 300-member congregation he shepherds as
an 'emerging church.'
Leaders say the
emerging church – so named because it is still emerging and evolving –
is the beginning of a transition to a new era of churchgoing. They say
churches have not kept up with the evolution of art and culture from a
modern era of empirical analysis to a postmodern era of questioning and
searching. The reason? They blame, in part, the church’s reluctance to
question the sacred. The emerging church, they say, welcomes questions.
It seeks to make church more relevant in today's culture and ultimately
help Christians live and worship authentically.
the emerging church is, it’s grabbing attention. In only a few years,
the dialogue has spread across the Web through chat rooms and “blogs,”
spawned a variety of books and resources and pushed congregations and
denominations to rethink their traditions and curricula. The United
Methodist Publishing House in March authorized spending $62,000 to
research the emerging church as the publisher searches for new markets.
An “emerging church” conference in May drew 650 religious leaders,
pastors and Christians to Nashville for four days of discussion and
emerging church is gaining ground because Christians have a deep desire
for a stripped-down, more authentic time of worship, says Brian
McLaren, leader of the loose network known as the Emergent Village. A
theologian and author of the 2001 book A New Kind of Christian, McLaren
was named in February by Time magazine as one of the nation's 25 most
A UMC.org photo
Musicians lead worship at the Emergent Convention in May 2005 in Nashville, Tenn.
“It feels like the
church community in our society today is about a lot of things, but it
feels like we're too often far away from the essential message of Jesus,
of compassion for yourself and your fellow neighbor,” McLaren said in
an interview with UMC.org.
emerging church is led especially by young adults who relish its
non-institutional nature and innovative worship but hold to traditional
Christian beliefs. At the conference in Nashville, the dress was casual,
worship services included harps and a masseuse worked the hallway with
other vendors. The discussion included “Preaching Without Sounding
Preachy” and “The Sacred Way: Ancient Spirituality for Life, Ministry
and the Church.”
emerging church evangelists are serious about winning new followers by
adapting church for a new era. Innovative worship such as praise
services alone won't do, they say. Christians are searching for real
change, something deeper, something more contemplative.
see it as ... a thirst for a genuine relationship with God,” says
Lillian Smith of the United Methodist Division on Ministries with Young
People. “Young people want to be in a community where they can ask
questions, ... where they can wrestle with the angel themselves.”
|A UMC.org photo
Brian McLaren is considered a founding leader of the 'emerging church.'
conference bookstore, 23-year-old Matt Wilson, a youth and associate
pastor of the 200-member Cedars Church of Christ in Wilmington, Del.,
talked of how “emergent” ideas have changed his view of evangelism. It's
no longer about just saving people, he says, but about getting to know
them, listening to them and learning from their divergent views. His
church is considering an “emergent” service that would be more casual
the emerging church merely a fad? McLaren describes it as a
“conversation”; he says it’s too early to call it movement. But Voorhees
sees something more.
think those of us who are deeply involved in this conversation really
understand this is how we are authentically following Christ ... and
then really deconstructing how much of that really came out of Scripture
and how much was really based on the assumptions of modern society,” he
says. “We would understand the story of faith is an ongoing story.”
*Green is a freelance journalist in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feature was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.