Talking About “The Great Emergence”
For the last three days I’ve been out in Raleigh, North Carolina with a very diverse group of wonderful people to talk about the future of the church. Many were well-known authors, speakers and leaders such as Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Phyllis Tickle and Phil Clayton. But many were simply ministers who were “doing church” in rather non-traditional ways to reach people who would otherwise never “go to church.” We came from very different backgrounds, represented many different traditions and held significantly different theologies, but we all shared the conviction that we are at the beginning stages of a new sort of reformation of the church – what Phyllis Tickle calls “the great emergence.” While old ecclesial structures will undoubtedly continue for decades if not centuries, we are all convinced that the vibrant church of the future is going to look increasingly different than the church of the past. Our task was to have a conversation (for 12 hours a day for three days straight!) about what this future church might look like and about how Jesus-followers who are waking up to this “great emergence” can work together to support and advance this new thing that God is doing.
For an introvert like me, spending this much intense time talking to people was taxing. I need to “retreat into my cave” (as my wife puts it) for a few days! At the same time, this was a very fun and exhilarating time. I came away from this conversation with a renewed sense of confidence about the future church. I also came away with a deeper appreciation for the breadth and diversity of the body of Christ. In particular, there were a number of leaders from mainline churches and institutions present at this meeting, and I was so encouraged to hear them share how this “great emergence” is already impacting their tribes. In fact, as they shared, I realized I needed to repent of an “evangelical” judgment I didn’t even know I had. I had pretty much written off mainline denominations as little more than relics of a form of Christianity that is dying a not-so-slow death. Hearing about the new things God is doing in and through (and often “on the edges”) of these denominations reminded me that no part of the body can say to another, “I have no need of you” (1 Cor 12:21).
I’m so thankful I was invited in on this conversation and look forward to working with all members of the body of Christ to support, advance and give shape to this new “great emergence.” (By the way, Phyllis Tickle has a new book by this title that I’m told is very, very good.)
Stay awake to his presence!