I have recently heard about a new movement called the 'Geneva Push' - a consortium of christian leaders seeking to shape a church planting culture through endorsing and resourcing leaders with a particular emphasis on complementarianism and exclusive male leadership. If you're interested, the extensive list of what they affirm, and the even longer list of what they don't believe can be found at http://thegenevapush.com/about/what_we_believe…
28 Feb 2013 Leave a Comment
The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church by Mary Gray-Reeves & Michael Perham
01 Dec 2011 Leave a Comment
(SPCK: London, 2011)
I crafted this book review for wider publication. If you’d like to use it in your context please feel free to contact me and I’ll email it to you as a document – it’s a great book to spread around institutional church contexts.
Since the world launched into this current era of unprecented, rapid cultural change a half century ago, there have been Christians willing to experiement with new cultural models in order to better express the ancient Christian faith in today’s world. Motivated both by their own need for integrity and a deep desire to share the transforming love of God with those around them, these Christians are recognisable as prophets, missionaries, visionaries and mystics – calling us to a deeper commitment to Christ and to each other as Christ’s beloved. In current world Christianity, some of these experiments are known collectively as the Emerging Church. In The Hospitality of God, two ‘ordinary’ Anglican Bishops – one from the UK, one from the US, record their learnings from a “pilgrimage of grace” visiting 14 Anglican Emerging communities in those two countries. The result is some very interesting theological reflection and some wonderfully inspiring stories about ‘worship for a missional church‘. They reflect on the use of Scripture, Prayer, Music, Image, Ritual and a Theology of worship.
Anglican Tradition has always tried to combine the ancient traditions of Christian faith with local, indigenous expressions of it. Our identity is primarily contained in a vernacular prayer book and a bible: lex orandi:lex credendi as theologians would say – the rule of prayer is the rule of belief. Understanding this particular dynamic is key to understanding why many in the Emerging Church movement are so comfortable in the Anglican tradition and see the freedom to grow something fresh and new out of it. Since our (not so) illustrious beginnings, Anglican liturgies have attempted to combine the ancient and ongoing Christian tradition with contemporary expressions of present and active faith, driven by the massive cultural upheavals of the 16th century. Bishops Gray-Reeves and Perham identify 2 cultural shifts in our time dominating the drive for liturgical renewal in the Emerging Church.
The first is a changed perception of how authority works: Christians living out of a Postmodern cultural framework have a flat, relational view of hierarchy and authority. The Bishops’ coined the helpful phrase “indigenous authority” to describe the process whereby liturgy is received and adapted within an egalitarian framework. The whole community is involved in the process of creating the liturgy and interpreting it’s meaning (applying the tradition) because the locus of authority lies somewhere in the intersection between Scripture and other traditionally recognised sources of authority: Tradition, Reason and Experience. Interestingly, this is an excellent illustration of Archbishop Rowan William’s theological method – the continuity of the tradition is found in the ongoing intersection of the person of Christ with real people’s lives: “We constantly return to imagine the life of Jesus in a way that will help us to understand how it sets up a continuous pattern of human living before God” (On Christian Theology, ch.2). Theology is first and foremost a conversation. So too is liturgy.
The second cultural change which the Emerging Church is striving to integrate with the ancient Christian faith is a radical inclusiveness in community. ‘Belonging comes before believing’ – and when it comes down to it, belonging even comes prior to expectations about behaving. Traditionally, Anglican spiritual formation has worked on a linear progression of the Christian person living their entire life under the banner of the Church, belonging was assumed! So whilst the Bishops argue that the belonging:behaving:believing order is revered in postmodern culture, I would argue that relationality has always come first but it is now necessarily a new connection. Nobody opens up their soul for a complete overhaul in unsafe company! How do we re-create community with those not yet in relationship with us in order to share the journey of Christian discipleship?
One way most Emerging Church communities express the invitation to belong is to have an Open Table policy for Communion, seeing it as a missional invitation, not just a sign and statement of Christian commitment. It makes sense missionally, but what does it say about the meaning of Communion? The words of the eucharist are full of doctrine of the highest order, yet it also stands as a non-literary image and action which, to the congregation, may communicate something very different to that which was first intended in our prayer books. Liturgical theologian Graham Hughes argues that the historicity of our liturgy means that its signs and symbols were created in a cultural framework not our own. That leaves the majority of worshippers with a ‘meaning gap’ that they must broach with something that makes sense to them, from whatever set of possible meanings are available to them in their own experience of God (Liturgical Theology, ch.7). In our fragmented culture, it is safer to assume that worshippers will not close this gap in uniformally and worship leaders must now always grapple with this complexity.
In the final chapter of this stimulating book, Bishops Gray-Reeves and Perham identify 6 elements of Emerging Church worship which pose interesting learning opportunities for traditional worship:
- Emerging Churches welcome those who have painfully felt excluded by mainstream Traditional Churches.
- “If the invitation to the alter is about not having too much concern about who is qualified to come, what is happening to the long, almost unchallenged tradition of the church that the Eucharist is for the baptized?”
- The planning and preparing for worship is as important as the event itself.
- Emerging Churches often include a time of ‘Open Space’ where there is freedom for individuals to direct their own engagement, acknowledging the individual journey at the same time as travelling together.
- Postmoderns are comfortable with multiple, simulateous stimuli hence there is a return to liturgical complexity.
- ‘New monastisticism’ reasserts the importance of a spiritual rhythm of life and everday missional living.
A final encouragement:
“The greatest gift is not to copy [the Emergent church's] every idea, as if it would translate into the different circumstances of our worship week by week, but to recover their sense of confidence in what we have been given and its potential to draw us and others more effectively into the experience of the love and beauty and holiness of God. Such confidence will make us more creative and more adventurous in our worship and will allow the grace of God to be experienced both in the traditional things we shall do better and in the new things that we shall do well. And if and when that happens, for all that the emergent churches are few and small and may remain so, we shall want to honour them for the part they will have played in our renewal.”
29 Aug 2011 1 Comment
(Nadia Bolz-Weber, Greenbelt Festival, Monday 29th August 2011)
Preaching in the emergent/emerging context is complicated. I am skeptical about the sermon format and cynical about the role of the monologue preacher, which is difficult given that I am frequently called upon to preach! Today I listened to a postmodern preacher whose sermon was gripping and authenticity undeniable and it helped me to understand something. If you are interested you can actually read the sermon I heard on her blog sarcasticlutheran.
Nadia used this session to walk us through a week of preparation for a sunday sermon and then preached the result, before allowing us time to reflect on her process and ask questions. Her preparation sounded a lot like what I have evolved into, with musing about the bible text travelling with her in and out the demands of the week. What struck me was the amount of communal discernment involved in both the interaction with the text and the application of the meaning of the text to the lives of the community. By travelling consciously with the text through-out the week in pastoral relationships, chatting with friends (Christians and not; Preachers and not), swimming (running for Nadia), washing dishes, and all things beside, the text internalises and integrates deep into our selves. The Spirit prods and pokes us, dismantling the relevant parts of our ego so that we live the meaning of the text not just intellectually understand it.
A great idea which I’d not heard of was the Lutheran practice of gathering together early in the week with a small group of other Lutheran Pastors to read the text for the coming Sunday and share first thoughts. Obviously, you can’t do this if you’re not following the lectionary and I’m going to add this idea to my personal list of reasons for doing so! A text reads differently when read in the company of others out loud: what a great idea to include that same context in the preparation! Nadia also interacted with friends who were preachers, but more importantly, her process included ideas and contributions from others who are not preachers. If she posts a question on facebook she gets ideas and reflections from scores of friends and strangers; if she’s meeting with parishioners she’ll ask them their thoughts; as she’s reading The News she’ll wonder about the connections. Her whole lifestyle as a Preacher is oriented towards listening not just to the text, but to what the world and her community might say about the text and the God who is met there.
When Nadia gets up to monologue for 10 minutes on a Sunday morning it’s not her introverted reflections as the authoritative expert telling the congregation what to believe. It is the wordsmith’s shaping of the community’s discernment about living life with God in the particularity of their shared context. There is nothing authoritarian about it: the characteristic emerging approach of dispersed authority and wholistic knowledge is unmistakable. Which led me to today’s minor epiphany…
It’s not the monologue form that is problematic in the emerging context, it is the life of the inherited church pastor/preacher. Our critique of the inherited church model needs to be much more cutting than simply ‘substitute the sermon for group discussion’. The preacher needs to get out of his study and into the streets. Lose the arrogant assumption that he has the answers because he reads books and has letters after his name and start listening with our hearts, bodies, souls and senses to the Spirit speaking in the everyday. We need to release our pastor/preachers from privileges of their position which might maintain an illusion of superiority and lock us into unrepentant individualism. We need to insist that our preachers listen more and talk less – not on Sunday, but every day of the week.
10 Jul 2011 Leave a Comment
(Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2006)
I felt inspired to do a quick post on Exiles because it is a handy book for those interested in missional oriented ministry. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth getting your hands on a copy because it is kind of like a text book for Missional Christianity and can be highly recommended as book to pass on to young leaders, discussion groups or even form the basis of an engaging sermon series. It’s easy to read, theologically intelligent and covers the important issues of missional church and living in contemporary culture. Best of all, it’s written by an Aussie!
I’ve used the book this year in my liminality essay, because Mike writes really well about Victor Turner’s concept of communitas (the genuine, spontaneous community possible in transitory moments). I also put his ‘third places’ discussion into a worksheet format, which I have just put up on the reddress writing page. A ‘third place’ is not work, not home, but a third place for the community to gather. Useful concept for thinking through site issues.
Here’s the table of contents:
Part I: Exiles
1. Self-Imposed Exile – The Memory: God Will Rescue the Exiled People
2. Jesus the Exile – The Memory: Jesus was a Radical and a Subversive
3. Following Jesus into Exile – The Memory: Jesus Is Our Standard and Example
Part II: Dangerous promises
4. Exiled from a Hyper-Real World – The Promise: We Will Be Authentic
5. The Exile’s Espirit de Corps – The Promise: We Will Serve a Cause Greater Than Ourselves
6. Fashioning Collectives of Exiles – The Promise: We Will Create Missional Community
7. Exiles at the Table – The Promise: We Will Be Generous and Practice Hospitality
8. Working for the Host Empire – The Promise: We Will Work Righteously
Part III: Dangerous criticism
9. Restless with Injustice – The Critique: You Have Been an Unjust Empire
10. Exiles and the Earth – The Critique: You Have Not Cared for God’s Creation
11. Comforting the Oppressed – The Critique: You Have Not Protected God’s Children
Part IV: Dangerous songs
12. Exiles at the Alter – The Song: To God Be the Glory
13. The Songs of the Revolution – The Song: Jesus Ain’t My Boyfriend
02 Apr 2011 Leave a Comment
I stumbled across this excellent article recently – it’s the best introduction to the emerging church movement that I’ve read. (If you don’t have journal access I found a copy here.)
To my mind there are three key characteristics which are important to understand in the emerging church movement. They are all challenges posed by ‘postmodernism’ and the nature of the response varies between individuals and communities, hence the great variety in the movement. But that’s why Scott Bader-Saye’s article is so helpful – this is the emerging church. It is evolving, improvising as best it can to a world which is shifting beneath our feet.
The emerging church movement is responding to:
- philosophical shifts about the nature of knowledge and truth – how do we have humility around human limitations of knowing and still say something meaningful about God?
- the cultural shifts brought on by the digital age – multi-media, fast-paced, fragmented communication, globalised markets, etc.
- the demise of the Institutional Church – a desire to recover the missional heart of the church. Discipleship which is good news not only for ourselves.
31 Mar 2011 2 Comments
(Seabury Books: New York, 2010)
“Curation” has become a popular word of late (not just in relation to worship) to describe a certain form of collaborative and enabling leadership and management. It is a metaphor from the art world, where the curator of exhibitions has the role of presenting work in an engaging and meaningful way for it’s audience. I like the Wiki description:
Curation is generally the selection of, care for and presentation of the objects entered into a collection, whether that collection is physical (such as items in a museum) or digital (such as entries in Wikipedia). The emphasis of curation may vary among:
- The selection process — such as the use of expertise or expert advice to decide what items or content should be added to a collection or archive.
- The caretaking process — controlling the decay of historical object (such as census records) or biological specimens (such as insects or flowers).
- Presentation — determining how objects or records are displayed, including what metadata will be displayed along with them.
Jonny’s book is a series of interviews with exciting artists and christians, largely from the alternative worship movement, who have been involved in creating interactive sacred art in public and church settings. Sometimes these events are clearly identified as worship, sometimes they are just open invitations to interact with a sacred story. My favourite project described in the book is the Advent Beach Boxes – 25 privately owned beach boxes (yes, real ones) coordinated to open one each day with an art installation about advent in each one. Thousands of people came to walk along the beach and engage with something of the christmas story through those boxes!
I am really intrigued by the curating conversation, and have myself made the shifts to this style of leading worship intuitively. The shifts are not a surface change of style, they are foundational assumptions about the nature of human knowing and interaction with God. My confidence in the Trinity revealing Godself have remained solid, whilst my confidence in humanity as interpreter of that truth has plummeted! The themes which stood out for me in this book, reading great story after great story, were:
- the power of collaboration – great ideas plus a hard working team get an event up and running, but then the interaction and contribution of all who are present add to the power of the experience, especially when this event is worship.
- the power of art – most of the bible presents truth in story, all of the bible presents truth in the context of relationships. Art can reconnect us with the creative elements of revelation as it recaptures something of the dynamic of our ‘oral tradition’ (i.e. words prior to the printing press).
- humility – to ‘curate’ worship as opposed to ‘lead’ worship (or ‘preach’ the sermon) is able to be more open ended, question oriented, unimposing of one’s own perspective.
18 Mar 2011 Leave a Comment
(in The Expository Times journal, 2006, Vol. 117, No. 7, Pp. 277-281)
Peter Neilson is an elder of the Fresh Expressions movement in the Church of Scotland. This is an interesting little article obviously motivated to equip Christians for ministry in and beyond the Church. He explores the question of why “many people find Christendom patterns of spirituality no longer sustain them” from developmental, historical, cultural and pastoral-missional perspectives.
For me, development ‘stages of faith’ don’t really hold enough explanatory power to account for such a widespread shift in spirituality, no matter how good your process model is. (Neilson draws on John Drane, Hagberg & Guelich and David Lyall.) However, it is helpful to realise that historical and cultural shifts do draw people into a ‘critical’ and ‘postcritical’ or ‘integrative’ stage of faith development more quickly than they might otherwise have arrived. Neilson sums this up when he says, “the concern to be engaged with the outer landscape of the culture affects the inner landscape of our spirituality.” So, “ministers engaging with the missionary challenges of our culture speak of the experience of an inner deconstruction in order to be reassembled for the task in hand.” Absolutely!
Neilson references Alan Roxburgh’s models of leadership in a period of liminality, Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead’s model of subjective meaning systems and the biblical testimony of homesickness from Jeremiah 29, as resources for this kind of ministry and mission. However, it’s the reference to Henri Nouwen that most resonated with me:
“the Christian leader must be able to be an interpreter of the inner landscape and be the ‘first to enter the promised but dangerous land, the first to tell those who are afraid what he [sic] has seen, heard and touched’. People seek wisdom not information.”
07 Mar 2011 Leave a Comment
p.ost – blog by Andrew Perriman
Came across this blog this week (thanks to Angus). This guys writes well and thinks creatively. I really appreciated this post on the new perspective – haven’t decided what I think about it yet though!
28 Feb 2011 Leave a Comment
in Tom Frame & Geoffrey Treloar (eds) Agendas for Australian Anglicanism: Essays in Honour of Bruce Kaye (ATF Press; Adelaide, 2006)
“He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” – Bonhoeffer
Bonhoeffer’s wisdom, recorded from the prison cell where he was sent for speaking this very message to the church in Nazi Germany, is so incredibly relevant to the institutional church in an era of transition. As the cultural ground shifts beneath our feet, will we hold on to our notions of the way church is ‘meant to be’ or open ourselves to a new work of the Spirit? Equally challenging, will we create an idealised image of ‘postmodern church’ or open ourselves up to the full-on demands of Jesus.
Scott argues that an openness to church beyond ourselves, once intuitive within historical Anglicanism, is being ruthlessly undermined by expressive, consumer individualism. That is, as uncritical captives of our culture, western christians are unwittingly committing the sin which Bonhoeffer speaks of. When we expect church to suit ourselves (or any group whom we can name); when we expect ‘worship services’ to always be spiritually uplifting and fulfilling; when we expect the faith community to be the perfect friends/parents/lovers/soul mates we yearn for; we are in danger of loving our dream of community rather than the Christian community itself. This warning is particularly important for those of us wanting to defend ‘fresh expressions’ or ‘emerging church’, etc.
American sociologist Robert Bellah has identified the consequence of individuals focusing primarily on themselves – it creates a need for personal intimacy beyond what the community can sustain and distorts its very purpose. Hence, Scott writes:
“The natural human version of religion is thus exposed as equivalent to magic, seeking to enlist sacred power to our own ends – our wellbeing, our happiness, and our sense of purpose in life. Bonhoeffer, however, and before him Karl Barth, saw the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the critique of this typical human religiosity. God goes to human beings, embracing their cause in jesus Christ, doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves by religious let alone secular means. God places the divine cause in our hands, calling on us to take-up and further that cause. This is ‘the road less travelled’along which Bonhoeffer’s poem leads us to a God who shares the threatened condition of human existence and supports us in it, not to give us a quiet and untroubled life, but empowering us to live by faith. And this faith is about discipleship – not standing-off from God in attitudes of private satisfaction, but caught up in God’s purposes as disciples of Christ…
“All this represents today’s religion of expressive individualism in characteristic guises. It is impatient with the actual Christian community, seeking either to restrain its uncomfortable demands for discipleship, in one manifestation, or else transform it into a purer, more ideological version of itself, though correspondingly culturally attuned in its relentlessly personal focus, according to its other manifestation.”
So how to respond? Scott suggests there are two pathways.
1. A spirit of despair in which our options are fleeing – fawning – fighting.
Fleeing is self-explanatory – just stop going to church!
Fawning and fighting are much more complex responses and I think Scott convincingly argues they are in a co-dependent relationship. Both are actions taken within institutional church. Some fight the institution under the guise of revival, but really are committing the Bonhoeffer sin of striving for an ideal made in their own image. It is a fight because the outcome is too tightly held, it’s protagonists too enmeshed in it’s success or failure, too committed to a particular defined agenda. Others hold too tightly to the institutional forms they inherited with a conservative conscience and a love for a particular form over and above a love for God.
2. A spirit of hope necessitates trust in God rather than any human endeavour.
Citing the Orthodox Theologian John Zizioulas as his inspiration, Scott remembers that Christ in-stitutes and the Spirit con-stitutes the Church. When in Canberra I gathered for prayer on several mornings with a group of parishioners where I was staying. In the presence of lifelong pray-ers, it struck me that all theologians ever do is give coherent explanations for the experience of living with the Spirit.
What I think is striking in this wisdom, is that allegiances in the twenty-first century ‘church wars’ are not drawn along established party lines. Indeed, it is easy to identify both Emerging Church Christians and Institutional Church Christians (of conservative, catholic, liberal and charismatic varieties) swimming in the spirit of hope and drowning in the spirit of despair. Frequently, it feels really lonely in the river of hope – how can I foster relationships with other hope-ers? How should I conduct my relationships with despair-ers? How do I protect my hope? These are challenges I am hopefully prepared to embrace.
16 Feb 2011 Leave a Comment
(ATF Press; South Australia, 2008)
It was really wonderful to read Aussie examples of emerging church, having read so much from the UK and US of late! This is also just a great introductory book on emerging church and I would happily hand it to anyone in Australia wanting to think about our life of response to Jesus.
The depth in the book comes from the partnership between a young practitioner from Australia (Brent) and an experienced mentor from the UK (Ray). In a trip to the UK in 2004, Brent was inspired by the riches of Celtic Spirituality and saw the potential for it as a resource for the Australian church. I really value Brent’s reflections on indigenous spirituality and Aussie culture which he offers with disarming clarity. Ray was instrumental in establishing The Community of Aiden and Hilda which draws strongly on Celtic heritage and in 2005 Brent invited Ray to visit Australia. Chapter 1 records his impressions and insights on Australian spirituality as an outside observer.
Some gems from Emerging Downunder:
First, Ray’s reflections on Australia include:
- the impact of imported models of church
- rising tide of spirituality (a la David Tacey)
- the idea of re-imagining Christianity as a large tree in need of pruning resonated with Australian audiences – there are three main branches on this tree
- the emerging church will embrace the shadow and seek healing of the past
- the emerging church will learn from aboriginal spirituality
- “Each year Australia edges an inch nearer the eastern nations. The distance is minute, but could it be a divine parable: is it time for the Anzac nations to integrate the best of Western with the best of Eastern spirituality? Could its church become like a tree that is both truly indigenous and truly universal, and whose leaves are for the healing of both Western and Eastern nations?” (p.16)
Second, a thoughtful chapter on what is needed within the Emerging Churches of Australia:
- listening and journeying
- a daily rhythm of prayer, work and re-creation
- human and healing
- relationship and soul friends
- people friendly
- earth friendly
- creative arts
- unity and justice
- strong leadership
Third, a great reflective chapter on New Monasticism:
- the possibilities within existing church structures
- ‘villages of God’ based on a celtic model