Emerging Churches Presentation part II

The second part of my presentation on Emerging Churches:

Living as Community

With the emphasis on “identifying with Jesus” and “transforming secular space,”  the third key practice is “living as community.”  Gibbs and Bolger write that emerging churches “recognize that they have moved from the physical proximity of Jesus to his presence in the midst of their community by his Holy Spirit. The risen Christ now works by his Spirit, who operates through the community as well as beyond it, in the furtherance of his purposes in the wider world.”[1]

This emphasis on community means that, in practice, people are put as priorities over structures, programs, or other forms of church activity. Rather than having a set approach to ecclesial life, expecting people to fit into it, there is an awareness that it is the people themselves who are the key participants with Jesus, and as such the chief bearers of the work of the Holy Spirit.  In this, then, we can see a more radical expression of a communion ecclesiology from below.

The Spirit who is already at work in people before they gather, works in each person to participate uniquely in the kingdom of God, with the gatherings being an attempt at recognizing, celebrating and inviting a more thorough expression of what the Spirit is already doing.[2] The various gatherings are given meaning by the people who participate, the people are themselves the means of grace to each other, and give meaning to the various elements, liturgies, and other aspects of ecclesial gathering.

This means of grace is not due to some over-realized anthropology but rather reflects the understanding that the Spirit is the primary missionary of God, drawing people to Christ, with the grace of the Spirit flowing through the various creative, edifying, communal, holistic spiritual gifts which reflect the broad range of human life lived together in this world.

This is seen as being more than a weekly reality, insisting on a broad participation together throughout the week in various ways, offering a distinctive way of living life together. “Emerging churches,” Gibbs and Bolger write, “meet as a community to support their lives outside the community. For those outside, it is often the distinctive life of the community in their midst that communicates the Gospel.”[3]

As mentioned it is these three core values, which Gibbs and Bolger note all emerging churches exhibit, that bring out the other six values. In this relatively short presentation, it would take too much time to discuss these other six, though it is worth noting them briefly. They are: “welcoming the stranger”, “serving with generosity”, “participating as producers”, “creating as created beings”, “leading as a body”, and “merging ancient and contemporary spiritualities.”

Overview of what is an emerging church

With these nine attributes in mind it is possible to suggest that the emerging churches are interested in a holistic reformation of ecclesial life that takes seriously the work of the Spirit both within the Christian community and within the broader society.

There is a radical embrace of both unity and diversity, expressed in particular and practical ways that reflect the specific participants and their specific location. The idea of community is emptied of solely rhetorical or spiritualized meaning and given broadly recognizable expressed meaning through various activities.

In this community, the people who gather are understood as the body of Christ who are to be properly recognized for their own worth as bearers of the Holy Spirit.[4] The real presence of Jesus is experienced in the living out of the calling of the kingdom in the power of the Spirit through the often sacrificial, liberating activities of men and women who commit to Christ in their commitment with and for each other and this world.

[1] Gibbs and Bolger, 90

[2] Gibbs and Bolger, 96.

[3] Gibbs and Bolger, 109.

[4] While pneumatology, to be sure, is not intentionally emphasized in emerging church theology, I have elsewhere argued that the nine practices of the emerging church are themselves very pneumatological in origin, especially in light of contemporary expressions of pneumatology.  See Patrick Oden, “An Emerging Pneumatology: Jürgen Moltmann and the Emerging Church in Conversation,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 18, no. 2 (2009)

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