Defining the indefinable

So this dude facebooked me today with the following message:

Hi Sarah, 
I was hoping to find out more about what the term Emergent Church means. I’ve done some Internet research, but have, so far, been unable to clearly grasp this concept. I checked out the blogger and facebook emergent church cohort, and I thought I’d message you to ask if you could provide any clearer idea as to what it is.

You can see how I was led down this path in my blog (and the comments from that post):

Any info you might have would be helpful.


Of course, this is a daunting task, but I decided to at least try my hand at it.  I was, of course, flattered that a stranger found me and asked me…. so here is my response.  Let me know what you think:

thanks for the message- i read your blog and suggested a couple churches. 

In terms of defining emergent, that is a good question. There are a lot of different definitions out there I think, mostly because the movement has resisted being defined so strongly (I will say that the individual you commented on your seeming to be interested in an emergent church was pushing it a bit… everything you stated you wanted in a church could be found in a traditional church.) 

Generally speaking, however, emergent is organized around the idea that theology and worship are a conversation–between us and God, and within a community. It recognizes that philosophically we live in a postmodern world, meaning that absolute truth claims are viewed with suspicion, the general outlook is in the direction of a global worldview, etc. HOwever, emergent resists postmodern in so far as it upholds the absolute claim that is the Christian story. 

Emergent churches tend to be oriented towards pushing the edges of worship, incorporating experiential elements such as prayer stations, lectio divina, and the recovery of ancient church traditions such as labyrinth walking. This is not true of every emergent chruch, however. Emergent churches tend to be, but are not always, intentional not denominational, more interested in connecting people despite backgrounds, open to incorporating elements of other traditions, etc. There is an emergent service at the Cathedral, for example, called the CRossing which uses Jazz music in its worship and incorporates reflection space into the sermon, where the worshipping body responds to the message.

I hope that some of this helps. You are certainly welcome to visit the emergent cohort (we meet once a month in Cambridge) if you would like to learn more. Good luck in your search for a church home and congratulations on your engagement.




UPDATE:  If you would like to see how the person I wrote this to responded, check out his blog and what he had to say.  I must say, it is really neat to see conversation develop, and this sort of thing is what makes blogging exciting for me.

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