Monday, July 04, 2005

reflections on "creating church in the emerging culture"

On Saturday I was at the Custard Factory in Birmingham for the Re:source conference. I found the conference to be encouraging, inspiring, challenging. It got me thinking about the work I'm doing in Millhouses at the moment, and where stuff could go in the future.

The large part of the day was spent listening to a guy called Andrew Jones, aka TallSkinnyKiwi.

He started off by reflecting on how the Kingdom of God is like yeast (Matthew 13:33). As yeast is worked throughout the dough the yeast cells divide, yet it's impact is what makes the bread rise and grow. This cell division is so small, microscopic, invisible to the human eye. For us, as members of God's church, must not our actions also be almost secret and meek rather than proud and showy, just as Jesus warns against in Matthew 16:6 - also talking about yeast.

He also talked about Luke 8, when Jesus was on His way to Jairus' house. Jesus was stopped by an 'unclean' woman on the way there. Yet Jesus stopped, and spent time with this woman, her faith having healed her. Who are we called to work with? The cool, important people, or the inclean, those that nobody else will even touch?

We then moved on to look at Luke 10, from which I noted down a number of things that grabbed me.

We are told to enter other people's houses, rather than us dragging them into ours. What does this say about the way we do mission, and the way we do church???

God HAS prepared a harvest. The harvest IS out there. We must learn to find where God's favour is.

The 72 were told to go out, eat, drink, heal etc etc. THEN tell people about the Kingdom of God. Is this the way we do it? Or are we often in a hurry to get all the 'God stuff' in right at the beginning. People need to experience the Kingdom of God before we start banging on about it verbally.

We must ask God - the Lord of the Harvest - to send out workers. But these workers might not include us.

In the afternoon we started off by looking at a bit of emergence theory. Now I have to be honest, this is an area about which I knew very little. But it was actually quite interesting (though probably simplified somewhat).

In Proverbs 6:6-8 we are told to go and look at the ants, and it is with ants that this emergence theory was explanined.

Ants don't have a leader or a queen ant or anything like that, but they still manage to accomplish a whole lot. Some characteristics of both ant colonies, and this whole emergence thing are:
1. low-level chaos leads to high-level sophistication without orders being given.
2. everyone communicates with everyone.
3. simple structures.

Interesting stuff, especially when you reflect on the way churches often operate.

We then looked a bit at the role of 'new media' within the emerging church/culture context. There has been/is happening, something of a renaissance where everybody is now writing (this is happening virtually, online, eg blogging). We are co-creators, co-producers. Questions were raised on this issue - what about those people who can't use computers/don't have access to computers etc. In answer to the use of new media in a church context, the answer seemed to be that this new media should be used to augment the existing relationships, rather than play an central part. On reflection, I now wonder what the increasing use of new media in culture/society at large will mean for those who don't have access to it, or don't know how to use it. Will people just be left behind??? What does the church/the emerging church have to say about this?

The point was made, and I appreciated this, that people's attention span is not necessarily getting shorter, rather they are becoming used to a broad spectrum of media happening simultaneously. For example, (and this might not be the best example)channel surfing is not about a short attention span, rather it is about comparing the different channels simultaneously, making decisions about what we want to watch.

A definition of ministry was presented that seems so simple, but is really quite profound:
1. giving gifts
2. telling stories
3. throwing parties
4. making friends

Questions were raised about how success is measured in the emerging church context. Does the emerging church itself need to set out such indicators?

With the increased use of new media and all that, it is easy to think that the emerging church is quite a 'cool' thing, but the point was made that it is not just being 'cool' for the sake of it, rather, this new technology allows us to read the emerging culture. Culture itself is relational, interactive, connecting. These are the characteristics which need to shape our churches.

You can find more about the stuff that was said on this day here and here


andrew jones said...


wow - thanks so much for writing this down. people are asking me what i taught and so i think i will be naughty and just put a link to your post. hope you dont mind.

see you again some time?

Randy said...

thanks for the notes Phil. I appreciate that you took the time to post much of what Andrew talked about...

It's also good to remind the speaker of what he talked about :) I'll also be posting a link.


danny2 said...

i will say that one way technology is cool is that i'm in ohio (usa) hearing from a guy in the u.k. who attending teaching by another guy in the u.k.

five years ago, never would have connected!

Boltono said...

I would like to add point 5 to the above list which is:- Moving in the heavenly places together.
If we are not truly growing into new creations in Christ we are just repeating all the old religious stuff in a new guise under a different cultural aspect or time and it's merely arty-farty diversion stuff.
And I speak as an artist!

Ash Zook (Atlanta, GA, USA) said...

Thanks for those concise but clear notes from our down-under brother. God continues to teach us what it really means to be His church. I'm thankful that He has also given us the desire to continue learning.

marksbog said...

Thank you Phil Goodnotes (sorry). Nice point about the haves and have nots in regard to computers and internet access. You hear about this divide in business and education but not so much in the church. But this brings to mind two aspects I heard of recently where one church was proposing to put in a computer lab for home schoolers to use as a low cost alternative to building a school. And another church where they put in computers for vocational training so people could develop computer skills for the workplace.

St. Valdez said...

"Questions were raised about how success is measured in the emerging church context. Does the emerging church itself need to set out such indicators?"

I think too often we try to measure our "success." A measurement of success sound a lot like a "modern" thing. The modern mentality and all. The desire to measure things and put them into catagories is also a modern mentality, not post-modern or emerging.

I still think we should evaluate what we're doing for effectivenss or efficiency, but being successful or not should be strictly based on doing what God has asked us to do. Often times, I think true success looks like failure if you look at it in the modern context. But through God's eyes obedience or faithfulness, I think, look more like success.

Phil Goodacre said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

St.Valdez - interesting thoughts on how we 'measure success'. It's something I've been giving some thought to in relation to my own youth work. In my work I try and focus on building relationships, with young people, their families etc. But measuring how successful I am being is kinda tricky.

I probably agree with you that we should be looking at evaluation as against measuring success. I know I've been influenced by a number of writers/thinkers who discuss praxis models - Laurie Green's Let's Do Theology, Liberation theologians such as Gutierrez and the Boff brothers.

You talk about efficiency, and I apologise if what I say sounds a bit picky, but is a drive to be efficient in our ministry a bit 'modern' as well? - I'm thinking about stuff John Drane talks about in his 'McDonaldization of the Church'. When people talk about efficiency alarm bells start ringing in my head - bums on seats on a Sunday morning, how many kids have been 'saved' etc.

Just some thoughts - interested to hear what anyone else has to say.....

St. Valdez said...

I could see how efficiency in certain areas would be modern.

One definition for efficient: 1. (of a person) working in a well organized and competent way

I think in someways (at least in the U.S.) the church doesn't think about efficiency. In response to the definition - I think the church is very organized, but not very competent when it comes to dealing with the culture around us. And that's what has to be different in the emerging church.