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The Emerging Church has not emerged…

Tuesday, 4 October 2011  | Simon Rattray

Is it designated buildings for worship, an increase in attendees, or several church ‘plants’ over a given period? Is growth defined by a church’s budget or the employment of full-time staff? If you’re looking for these ‘evidences’ of growth in a missional church, you may not find them.

From where I stand, missionary churches (I prefer this term) have several clear characteristics. To begin with, they take the bare bones, pre-Constantinian New Testament way of doing church very literally, often adopting some of the Jewish/Eastern cultural expressions that go along with it. They make deliberate attempts to function more like a group of missionaries on a foreign mission field. In true missionary fashion, they learn the language or (in a western context) the lingo or jargon, and they try to submerge their ecclesiology into the particular sub-culture they are trying to reach. All of this takes time—sometimes years of icebreaking and relationship-building occurs before the first ‘official’ meeting (if you could call it that). I grew up among headhunters on the mission field in Indonesia. It is common for missionaries to spend years and years working among Muslims or Hindus without a single convert. This doesn’t necessarily mean that their methods are deficient. The New Testament frequently uses agricultural-type metaphors to describe the Kingdom of God. This is where the term ‘seeding the gospel’ comes from. Therefore, finding evidence of growth or ‘fruit’ in such settings can be tricky, especially if one evaluates things from a contemporary Church Growth mindset where economies of scale and pragmatism are often influencing factors.

I am not saying that all ‘Church Growth’ principles do not have merit and I am not suggesting that attractional (or established) churches do not have ministry beyond the monoculture.  I agree that some missional churches don’t seem to be making much progress, but the same could be said of some attractional churches. I know of many attractional churches that have had to lay off the pastor and close their doors. It’s tough out there. We are in a pagan era that is most likely more resistant to the gospel than the pre-Christian paganism of the first century.

I feel we need to better understand each other and dissolve this ‘us versus them’ mindset that is dividing some great people from both camps who love Jesus and are trying to grow saints and save sinners. I am not necessarily advocating for some kind of new ecumenism, but both the attractional and missional churches can greatly benefit from liaising together, and working toward ways where mission, discipleship and leadership are shared and celebrated.


Simon G. Rattray 


Simon is a consultant with the Jump Network – an agency committed to reviving the latent missionary impulse among God's people. www.thejumpnetwork.com.au


Neil Bull
October 6, 2011, 2:08PM
Wow referring to 'some' missional gatherings as a 'bunch of recalcitrant kids' is a touch inflamitory. I would like to think that Paul knew what he was talking about when he said that the body of Christ has many parts, maybe even a part for 'recalcitrant kids'.

The problem with modern culture is that we are looking for the 'next big thing' to drag us out of mediocrity. If something like the emerging chruch actually worked, we'd all probably jump on board, call it a revival and find a theological position to support our view and ultimately institutionalise it (yes we'd even institutionalise the emerging church if we could).

The institutionalised church, with its many floored doctrines (eg tithes) is broken, fair and simple. The real church however, the body of Christ, is magnificant and glorious in all is many and varied forms. Forget the 'camps' God will choose whom he chooses... no matter what institutional badge is worn!
Peter Richardson
October 17, 2011, 10:03PM
This may or may not not be central to the discussion, but how can you "do church"? If the church is, among other things "the body of christ", shouldn't we speak about "being (the) church" rather than "doing church"?

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