How do you spell the word emerging?
“To rise out of; to come forth; to come into view; to come out as a result of difficulty.” No. Those phrases are not ramblings of a frazzled man who finally has gone off the deep end. And, although it is a fairly accurate description of what happened to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers a few weeks ago – I am not trying to describe the events of the recent Show-Me floods.
“To rise out of; to come forth; to come into view; to come out as a result of difficulty.” Some of you may actually recognize those phrases as some of the phrases found in Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus when you look up the word “emerging.”
For a while now, evangelical Christians and Christian churches have been trying to “get a handle on” – to figure out – just what is this thing called the “emerging church.” Personally, I have been asking for a definition of the emerging church. I have talked with people who are convinced that emerging churches are the only churches actually reaching people today. Others are not even willing to describe emerging churches as churches at all. Yet, people on both sides of that aisle have, up to now, not been able to define just what it is.
More than once, I have been asked, “What are you going to do about the emerging church?” In the last few weeks, I have attended seminars and workshops and I have spoken personally with some who claim to understand the emerging church. Still, with every “emerging” characteristic I learn, I seem to become more and more confused. You may be having the same problem. So, let me define, for the benefit of Missouri Baptists, just what I am looking for in a Missouri Baptist “emerging” church.
ENERGETIC – Since emerging church pastors are typically young, they are also generally energetic. But I am not looking for physical energy. I want to see spiritual energy in those who plant churches and those who lead existing churches. Spiritual energy keeps you going when physical energy has run out. I am in a different Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) church nearly every Sunday. Often, I am in two different MBC churches on one Sunday. Normally I am the preacher for that day. But I have been involved in many different types of worship services. I have participated in some contemporary worship services…even some almost “rock and roll” worship services. My personal preference is a blended worship service. I have been a part of some “laid back,” extemporaneous worship services in which I have sometimes found myself wondering, “What’s coming next?” I am usually pleased to find out. Most often I have the privilege to participate in what most of us would characterize as a traditional worship service. I enjoy all kinds of worship services as long as there is energetic worship taking place. In the MBC, we want to plant churches with a zest for energetic worship.
MISSIONARY – Missional is the word most often used by those who consider themselves to be a part of the emerging church movement. I like that word. But a better word, I think, is the word missionary. What is the difference? Well, it may be that missional churches are missionary in their world – the area where they live, or the people group they are targeting – while missionary churches are churches that are missional concerning all the world. MBC church plants are churches and MBC church planters are young church leaders who have a vision and a plan to reach the entire world for Christ!
ENGAGING – Emerging churches are churches that define themselves as churches involved in engaging the culture. They remind other churches of the words of Paul who said that he would become “…all things to all people so that I may by all means save some.” And certainly MBC church planters have a great passion for reaching the lost. In fact, I have yet to meet a church planter of any “stripe” who does not already possess a great zeal to reach his “Jerusalem.” And certainly I want to encourage those who want to reach their friends, neighbors and co-workers for Christ. Still, in MBC church plants we will always remember that engaging the culture does not mean accommodating the culture. The MBC is committed to planting churches that engage and confront the culture without endorsing or condoning the culture.
RADICAL – Certainly there are those among us who view the emerging church movement as radical. The truth is every church ought to be radical. Webster’s first definition of radical is “…favoring extreme change.” Brothers and sisters, that is precisely what happened to you when you became a Christian. There was an extreme change that took place in your heart and life. To use the title of an old Carman song, every Christian is “Radically Saved.” And every church plant, contemporary churches, cowboy churches, house churches, traditional churches, small and large churches, city churches and rural churches – every Missouri Baptist church ought to be radically sold out to Jesus and committed to radically spreading the Gospel.
GOING – We have already noted that emerging churches are committed to reaching their Jerusalem. Typically, they are good at that. They are often effective in their neighborhoods. But what about the rest of Acts 1:8? How do they do at reaching “Judea and Samaria, even the ends of the earth?” Not as well, frankly. And our Lord has commanded that we, as Missouri Baptists “go into all the world” with the Gospel. We do that through the Cooperative Program. The MBC is committed to planting churches that understand and are passionate about reaching the world through the Cooperative Program.
INTEGRATED – Those who identify themselves as the emerging church have been quick to reprimand traditional churches for erecting stumbling blocks that, they say, turn away young people in our postmodern society. And truly there are some things that become stumbling blocks at the door of the church. Worship style can be that to non-churched people. The terms of Christianity are a foreign language to lost people. Even traditional church attire can be a stumbling block to non-Christian people. And certainly, MBC church plants must be churches that remove unnecessary stumbling blocks. But as we remove unnecessary stumbling blocks, we will be very careful never to remove the one, biblical stumbling block – our Lord, Jesus Christ. Even as we integrate new ideas, we will continue to preach the old and true Gospel of Christ crucified and risen from the dead!
NORMAL – The fact is every church ought to be an emerging church. That means Energetic, Missionary, Engaging, Radical, Going, Integrated, Normal and Genuine. I like what Ron Barker used to say – “the church has been emerging ever since Jesus rose from the dead.” Amen!
GENUINE – I just want us to be real. Really Energetic. Really Missionary. Really Engaging. Really Radical. Really Going. Really Integrated. Really Normal. And, really Genuine!
In the MBC, we are not planting churches just because it is the cool thing to do. And we are not starting new churches because of some perceived faults in our existing churches. The fact is our existing churches also are emerging, and there are problems in both old and new churches.
Are we planting emerging churches in the Missouri Baptist Convention? Using my definition of emerging, yes we are. Missouri Baptists, you can be assured that your Cooperative Program dollars are being used to plant churches and to build up existing churches that are energetically worshipping Jesus Christ, missionary in nature, engaging the culture, radically committed to reaching the lost, going into all the world with the Gospel, integrating the Gospel into the lives of real people, being normal churches – because reaching and discipling people is normal for any church, and they are genuine.
And, after all, isn’t that what all of us are looking for in a church?