What then is involved in the idea and shared perspective of emerging churches? In 2005, Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, both of Fuller Seminary, presented their significant research on the emerging church movement in their book Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Rather than a prescriptive assertion for what they thought emerging churches should do or think, this book is a descriptive study of what numerous churches and leaders were already doing as emerging churches. As such, this volume is both a very helpful guide and reference for the core values of emerging church practice and theology.
In it, Gibbs and Bolger determined there were three main attributes of emerging churches, which were reflected in six further priorities. As the movement began to coalesce, other churches either adopted the shared values or began with these priorities as guides to community formation.
The list begins with a renewed perspective on the life and work of Jesus, going well beyond a limited emphasis of the cross and seeing the life and work of Christ as a model for his followers. As such, the whole Gospels become texts for our present life, with Jesus as savior and teacher. This perspective is often informed by the writings of Stanley Hauerwas and N.T. Wright, among others. The second primary value is a rejection of the traditional distinctions between sacred and secular.
There is, instead, an attempt to participate with God in all areas of life, not bound to supposedly sacred places or times, but rather seeing that the work of God is not limited to what are often artificial, constrained boundaries. Just as Jesus came into this world, and spent his ministry in a broad range of places, so too do the emerging churches see the mission of Christ in the church as going beyond typical religious expressions or property. Third, the emerging churches emphasize a holistic perspective on community. Those gathered together in and with Christ are called to a radical new expression of life that cannot be limited to set hours, places, or programs.
Following these core three, six more principles are priorities in the emerging church. There is an emphasis of welcoming the stranger, which means including those who are newcomers to the community or reaching out to the outsiders in society. This is hospitality broadly understood. Next, there is the ideal of serving with generosity, each person giving to the community the gifts and talents, whatever they might be, in an open way.
Coupled with this is a strong interest in all people participating in the life of the community, which may or may not be included in a decidedly de-emphasized weekly gathering. For emerging churches the weekly service is a small part of the holistic life as a community. Seeing the church as a community active throughout the week, throughout the day, in various places and ways allows for significant levels of participation, as participating in the church goes well beyond the narrow bounds formal ministry or church programs offer.
This then opens the door to the next emphasis, which is creating as created beings. Instead of being pigeonholed within a rigid structure and expression, those in the emerging churches are encouraged to explore their creativity in the use of their various gifts. Again, this may or may not be experienced in any given weekly gathering, but is more seen in understanding the broad range of spiritual gifts and missional tasks as being themselves endowed by the creative Spirit of God, who leads people into areas of creativity of all kinds, reaching out to others and edifying those already a part of the community in constantly renewing ways.
Because of this wide participation and creative exploration, the emerging churches tend to reject the idea of a single leader, giving his or her own vision to the community and fitting everyone within this vision. Rather, the vision of the Kingdom of God is understood to be wider than any one person, or even several. As such, the leadership of an emerging church community is broadened so as to include a wide range of voices and include each person as a respected contributor, to be listened to in the broad work of the community, and often more specifically having a trust in them as specific leaders in certain tasks. This does not mean anarchy, as there is generally a functional leadership that helps steer, shape, and teach. But this leadership is more about maintaining the context that others can be free within rather than dictating specific aspects of the regular routines.
As can be seen, there is a progression here. Beginning with an emphasis on Jesus leads into a life of participatory, holistic community in which each person becomes a valued part, each person becomes a vital contributor, and together in a shared unity, the diversity of the Spirit works in the lives of all those who are a part, and uses this community to reach out to neighbors in various ways.
This gathering together in a shared life opens up patterns of worship that are not either intent about doing the new for the sake of the new, nor holding onto older patterns of spirituality simply because they are traditional. Rather, in worship, in a broad spirituality, there is an interest in listening first to the Spirit who is working in the community, and then finding guidance from the chorus of saints who have provided insights and approaches throughout the world and throughout the centuries