Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Shaping of Things To Come

Type your way as fast as you can and order this book "The Shaping of Things To Come":

For a good synopsis, also go to this link

Whereas Neil Cole's wonderful book Organic Church is more of a personal testimony based on personal experiences (, "The Shaping of Things To Come' by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch is more sociological and theological. Good combination between the two. Throw in Bolger and Gibbs' Emerging Churches ( and you have a great trinity of books that point the way toward a major way the Church will be saved in the century(ies) ahead to do its own transformational work in the world. Maybe.

The great strength of these books is again the way they have the paradigm shifts and changes in medium necessary to incarnate God in emerging cultures. The "fuzzy blueprints or maps" for the present and future are right on target as well as anything you will find in these days. They even have the right theological touchstones to sustain the next Reformation already underway (by the way, if I haven't posted this link, check out They are just wrong to still be tied into an orthodox Medieval theological interpretation of those touchstones while railing rightly against the Christendom ecclesial leftovers from Medieval Times. Recapturing the spirit and framework of Jesus and his followers and Paul and his followers, and perhaps even a few of the non-canonical heterodox communities, from 30-100 C.E. in order to shape the shape of the church in the 21st Century also means taking seriously the diversities of theologies present in those years, and particularly the connection with today's progressive, liberal, generous, inclusive Christianity. But then that's why I am where I am on the Christian spectrum, and they are where they are, and that distance, God bless, helps us learn from one another, even if by fueling our passion to be God gardeners in our own way so our experience of God isn't lost.

I certainly hope other liberals will read this work and wake up and get busy because those on the other end of the spectrum from us are so far ahead that pretty soon, very soon, the metaphor of a Christian or religious spectrum will be meaningless.

I will post more out of and about this book soon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A request for progressive church links, news?

Hope you all who visit can send me links to stories about what, if anything, the churches in the general sphere of "religious left" or "religious center" are currently envisioning or doing when it comes to church planting.

I am hoping to moderate if not eliminate my current hypothesis that the religious left is trying to "take back religion" from the religious right by resorting to publishing books about how the religious right is so contrary to the message of Jesus; instead of trying to do so through church planting, which is one of the ways the religous right got to be so numerous. There is no shortage of these books right now and I will be posting from my recent diving into the most public of the books, and rarely if ever in these books is the role of church planting mentioned (and in fact only vaguely is the role of any kind of new community building mentioned). It's as if we are just going to convince the unchurched and dechurched that they should help progressive/liberal faith and churches because we have a better arguement, a truer arguement, and through such enlightenment all will be well.

I am building my essay on why liberals take this approach and what it costs us, but I sure hope I am missing something in the books and websites both institutional and bloggers. Where are the other progressive planting voices from the center/left here? I know they are out there. My hunch is you can find them through local church plant websites if you know where they are and are on the ground near them, but not through any visibility given to them through denominational websites, events, publications, etc. Maybe that is a mutually agreed upon strategy these days, helping both local church plant and the denomination to stay out of hot water with their own core, and differing, constituents.

A few more must-see links for planting

One of the most comprehensive church planting link to beat all links:


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Snakes on a Plane, Small Plate, and Churches

In my daily newspaper today, a couple of items jumped out at me with relevance to emergent organic church.

The first was an article about the phenom of the movie Snakes on a Plane (can't wait to see it, gore and all; I love Samuel L. Jackson films and agree with the reviewer who said he is shaping up to be the John Wayne of our times, in that you can always count on him to deliver his role). The article was about "High Concept." The one sentence way of getting across the essence and invitation to the movie, going for blunt rather than for nuance. How would we High Concept our faith, our faith communities? Maybe I will return with some movie-esque titles for progressive churches, and hope you will too. This is the very opposite of the putting up a sign heading into town that says something, for example, like "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." I think it is also different from putting up a sign that says "Jesus is Lord over this Town" and gives a church name and address. Both of those are low concepts or no concepts.

The other article was about the opening of a new "small plate portion" lounge restaurant, one of the "compi" dining experiences, cushions and all, borrowed from the Japanese, I gather, with a little influence of Spanish tapas thrown in, but not pigeon-holed to any one kind of food, rather a kind of dining experience. The anti-big portion, supersize, etc. Churches take note. (maybe I shouldn't use the phrase pigeon-holed in reference to a dining experience....).

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Worship & Emergent

Here is a followup I said I would post from Dan Kimball's The Emerging Church, specifically about contrasts around worship between the modern church, seeker-sensitive, and the emerging church, post-seeker-sensitive.

Modern will be listed first and then Emerging next:

1. Worship "services" in which preaching, music, programs, etc. are "served" to the attender; worship 'gatherings" which include preaching, music, etc.
2. Services designed to reach those who have had bad or boring experiences in a church; gatherings designed to include and translate to those who have no previous church experience
3. Services designed to be user-friendly and contemporary; gatherings designed to be experiential and spiritual-mystical.
4. A need to break the stereotype of what church is; a need to break the stereotype of who Christians are
5. Stained glass taken out and replaced with video screens; stained glass brought back in on video screens
6. Crosses and other symbols removed from meeting place to avoid looking too religious; crosses and other symbols brought back into meeting place to promote a sense of spiritual reverence.
7. Room arranged so individuals are able to see the stage from comfortable theater seating while worshipping; room arranged to focus on community, striving to feel more like a living room or coffeehouse while worshipping.
8. Lit up and cheery sanctuary valued; darkness valued as it displays a sense of spirituality
9. Focal point of the service is the sermon; focal point of the gathering is the holistic experience.
10. Preacher and worship leader lead the service; preacher and worship leader lead by participating in the gathering.
11. Use modern technology to communicate with contemporary flare; gathering seen as a place to experience the ancient, even mystical (and uses technology to do so)
12. Services designed to grow to accomodate the many people of the church; gatherings designed to grow to accomodate many people but seen as a time when the church which meets in smaller groups gathers together.

Be interesting to add a third segment to the above chart, for what Cole, Barna, others are pointing to in a kind of post-emergent or more organic and intentionally small and decentralized "church" would be different in focus on many places than what Kimball sketched out about the Emerging Church worship. Will have to work on that in the future or invite you to do so.

Course so many progressive churches are still settled in modern church approach (and some doing just fine of course) that getting them to move into emerging model is a big step, and one I wonder if it is worthwhile to take, or if they just shouldnt try to add on to what they have by starting new gatherings more in the organic revolutionary mode than the evolutionary emergent mode. In fact, wouldn't it be cool to see a church that has three manifestations of itself in its core and in multiple sites--modern, emergent, and organic. While blended worship probably has too many long term difficulties to be effective, maybe blended church itself would be different. Course why bother with that when you could just spin off new church plants for those niches.

Emergent/Organic & Puritan Concerns

I've been doing a lot of reading lately from various sources (including Mark Noll's America's God for history, especially on Puritanism; and Barbara Brown Taylor's book on Leaving Church), and thinking and praying, and one theme keeps bouncing back up as a kind of caveat to share on the post.

There seems to be a tendency to think we can "revolutionize" (see post below) the church into being the Kingdom. In other words, if we change church to meet changing culture we will change lives to such a degree that we will have created if not perfect, then problem and hassle-free communities of faithful people. I think the urge to do so drives much transformational and emergent/organic church passion. We are hoping to fix the problems of the past. We may be able to create encounters and gatherings and church that don't fall into the traps of modernity and the established church, but of course we will have our own to deal with, because we are finite humans seeking to respond to the Infinite.

I bring this up just because I know I can get carried away in my own passion and love of Emergent as an Idea, and to see it being incarnated even with good results. But there is the problem of trying to create communities of brother and sister emergents who will all have the same ideals and vision and mission we have, and so we keep refining and purifying our communities until we are looking at ourselves in the Mirror. The demonic or shadow side, if you will, of this latest Great Awakening.

I had a seminary professor in church history who used to start his semester by talking about how we were all, coming from so many different Protestant denominations, all Puritans. And I love my Puritan religious heritage (and I think from time to time I will blog some about the connections between colonial New England Puritan history and theology and emergent church of the 21st century, issues like the removal of understanding of a spiritual and secular space, the role and strength of covenant and its weaknesses, etc.) But that Puritan impulse to be among the elect and the saints in true church is one I wrestle with. On one hand, progressives especially have opened themselves up so much to being so inclusive and sensitive to all that might come knocking on our doors we tend to shy away from letting people right away experience tradition, and so we are always saying to visitors that they will experience something different another time, that we don't all use the same language, we have a space for where they are in their spiritual journey, translate, accomodate, apologetic. We never get around to disciple-making because we don't know what we are discipling them in. And in the evangelical "Win, Disciple, Send" approach, we never know when we have "won' them and to what so we are stuck in that phase; hence, the sending phase of church planting and other community forming around our vision is never realized. So, one of the focuses of emergent church as having a priority for focusing on personal relationships that go deeper into spiritual accountability makes sense. That Puritan side of me resonates, especially if that accountability includes how we are living Jesus's way of going beyond ourselves and our comfort zones. But on the other hand, the Puritan/emergent expression that seeks to keep the church pure (and conflict-free) by keeping it small and uniform is one that seems to be a recipe for disaster in the long run if it doesn't have some built-in way of critiquing itself and keeping from becoming a closed system, which is the opposite of the drive and passion of the emergents in the first place (which means it is where its weakness lies). In our conflicted world, I can see why emergent is resonating, and why so often it is the very small and the very large churches that grow because they are able to handle conflict constructively compared to the standard size American protestant church that seems constructed for perpetual destructive conflict.

No grand sweeping conclusions, just sharing concerns. Nothing novel here either I expect.

But Maybe we are just in the wormhole and on the other side instead of there being fundamentally 'three spaces" in people's lives like there used to be sociologically, as there used to just be three major television channels--family, work, church and/or civic association--there will be multiple spaces--family/fictive familyspace, workspace, spiritual group localspace, spiritual group national/globalspace, mission/service/political groupspace. When there were only three major spaces, more people had to be accomodated in that space, and so you structured your relationships to handle that growing degree of difference, and hence the old standing order based on a political approach, roberts rules of order, etc. But when you have more choices for your spaces, you can have a higher degree of commonality within those spaces. With more spaces and with changes in technology and worldview you can have more picking and choosing. This would be in keeping with the "Flat World' (see previous post based on Thomas Friedman's book) where every social grouping will be decentralized. People won't come together in churches and carryout the congregational polity practices of having healthy conflict by arriving at decisions by compromise and debate and the best of what we term political life (not even submitting to the usual way of arriving at consensus), losing a vote or position but still being a part of a people. Instead, the concept of church will be splintered and mean participating in a variety of groupspaces; spiritual and service and study will become a part of family and work space in ways not seen in the 19th and 20th centuries in America anyway, as well as the spiritual life still being nurtured in specific though varied groups.

Maybe we are in for a New and Improved Puritanism. Maybe we need to study colonial American history of the 1620-1750 era the same as we do the first three centuries in the Middle East and the rise of the early church. For you theological types who know the work of George Lindbeck and David Tracy or Kathryn Tanner, for example, how can we build more "post-liberal" communities (Lindbeck) that stress a common language and grammer (or how are these already emerging upon us inside and outside the church) and yet also build more "revisionist" encounters or communities where we open ourselves up in mutual transformation with the 'other" and the cultural edges (Tracy and Tanner)? I think we need both in the emergent/organic church. And maybe that's what progressives have to offer. Our natural home is in the revisionist theological world; so, paradoxically, if we create more internally post-liberal communities of our own through church planting we will be able to be a part of adding our revisionist influence to the wider external world.

Rambling over. A few links of related interest. Please add your own: mark noll an interview with david tracy blog on kathryn tanner theology by Lindbeck

response to Lindbeck at

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Are you a Revolutionary?

Best latest book I've gotten around to reading, last year's "Revolution" by religious researcher George Barna (a quick but very very important read).

1. Primary means of American spiritual experience and expression:
Year 2000...70% local church; 5% alternative faith-based community; 5% family; 20% media, arts, culture
Year 2025....30-35% local church; 30-35% alternative faith-based community; 5% family; 30-35% media, arts, culture.

2. Seven Trends shaping the spiritual landscape moving us toward this picture of 2025
1. changing of the guard from builders and boomers to busters and mosaics.
2. rise of a new view of life: postmodern emphases.
3. dismissing the irrelevant. boomers focused on excellence, busters and mosaics on relevance and authenticity.
4. impact of technology
5. leadership based on relationships.
6. Participation in Reality. hands-on theology.
7. Finding True Meaning through sacrifice and surrender

3. Seven Passions of Revolutionaries
1. Intimate Worship, every day, personal and with others
2. Faith based conversations.
3. Intentional spiritual growth
4. servanthood
5. resource investment (see number 7 above; revolutionaries shape lives of time, talent, and treasure around God, not focus on getting slowly up to tithing what is left over)
6. Spiritual Friendships. Focus on accountability partners
7. Family Faith. Making home the center of Church

4. Movement is from small c church as in local church to large C Church as in Church Universal or God's Kingdom, the larger and more important focus of being a disciple. (will post more on the challenge and opportunities for those with strong congregational basis and polity).

5. Spectrum of Revolutionaries
Some will remain working in and with churches; others will be in and out of churches; others, increasingly, will find ways to be with other disciples in the Church but not in the church.

This is a starter.
If you are visiting this blog from connection to me through the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, think of us and particularly our small groups as being alternative faith-based communities, and you will see much promise in what the future might hold for us if we commit to us, and where reaction and feedback might be coming from. More on this later, either here or elsewhere.

This book is another, like Neil Cole's Organic Church, which is a good glimpse into going beyond what is often thought of,sometimes narrowly and erroneously, as the Emergent Church. I think it is a part of it, but continuing its revolution.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Notes from the Emergent Church Workshop

Hi all. Back from vacation and church camp where I facilitated a workshop on the emergent church. Had a great time and great conversation. Was new to almost all the folks in the group. Here are notes from my handouts. I also supplemented with some of the good charts from Dan Kimball's book The Emergent Church and will post some of those in the future.

The basic arc of the workshop was to introduce the cultural changes that give rise to transformational and emergent church mission (that was done by focusing on Easum and Bandy and Schaller's works) and then move into the new thinking (Sweet, Slaughter, Morganthaler) and then applications in new ways focusing on evangelism in the emergent context (McLaren, Kimball, Cole).

Hope we can generate conversation here and questions and keep it going. Thanks to all who participated in the workshop who might be coming here to the blog for the first time.

SWUUSI Workshop: The New Evangelists of the Emergent Church

Introductions and Overview
Focus on Transformational Church Evangelists (Easum/Bandy and Lyle Schaller)
Question: What happened to Evangelism, and How can we make church better, healthier?

Focus on E.P.I.C. Evangelists (Leonard Sweet, Michael Slaughter, Sally Morganthaler)
Question: How can the church open up to culture to transform the church so it can transform the culture?

Focus on Evangelists of the Emergent Church (Brian McLaren and Dan Kimball)
Question: What is transient and permanent in Christianity, and how do our lives and churches reflect that?

Focus on Experimental Evangelists of the “Kin(g)dom” (Neil Cole, et al)
Question: What constitutes church anyway, and what does it have to do with what God calls us to do?


Welcome and Overview and Introductions

---What are the characteristics of the old school of Evangelism?
Model from Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan
“We” are different from “Them”. We have the Truth and God and they don’t. We go to where they are to take our Truth to them. We present it to them, the same way we present it to anyone. We take our culture and worship and language and publications to them. We sell it to them. We focus on numbers converted. We provide programs and services to them.
Think about the characteristics of Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and their contemporary heirs on television.
Think about ways our own UU efforts at evangelism mirror in our small way the characteristics of the old school Evangelism.

Definitions of Evangelical.

---A sampler of the many new evangelists. The small e in evangelist. They are growing more popular but still seen as the leaven within Evangelicalism.

What has been our exposure to them?

---Why care about the new evangelists?
Theodore Parker’s lens. (from his transient and permanent in christianity, about the necessity of the church changing as centuries bring new worlds)
They are helping us to see the new cultural environment.
As the new evangelist are presenting a more liberal, generous, welcoming, humble, practical, relational method so their approach to the core message is often changing, sometimes not, but becoming more open to what liberal theology has long trumpeted, and so their message is becoming more integrated with their method and this I believe is helping them to grow. Those who are entering the new American religious landscape from a more theologically liberal message perspective often seem bound by our methods (organization, worship, sense of mission) rooted in the 1500-1950 era.

I. Transformational Church Evangelists. Bill Easum/Tom Bandy and Lyle Schaller. Charting the map for the new evangelists.

Church to Unchurched Culture of Competition
Denominational to Independent Landscape
Print to Web Language
Modern to Postmodern Society
Controlling to Permission-Giving Response

Tuesday: Applying Lessons of Culture so Church Can Transform Culture.
Sweet, Slaughter, Morganthaler

Leonard Sweet: Postmodern Pilgrims

Immigrants and Natives
E for Experiential
P for Participative
I for Image-Driven
C for Community Connecting Consciousness

Michael Slaughter: UnLearning Church

Going beyond labels and models. Both conservative and liberal, etc. Paradox
God’s Kingdom is not best represented by franchises of McChurch. Transformational leaders demonstrate the Kingdom of God in unique ways in each different community.
The call to be highly personal. You have to think smaller to grow bigger.
Move from broadcasting to narrowcasting.
A Radical Christianity---shared life in Jesus more than issue-centered theology.
Safe Space to Ask Hard Questions
Radical Prayer is about Listening
A theology of sweat---outreach goes way beyond bringing somebody to church. Unlearners engage in human need. They do all they can, give all they can, and serve all they can until everyone gets to the table of God.
Unlearning Church Examples

Sally Morganthaler: Worship Evangelism To True Conversation

Seeing Worship as the Primary Priority of Being Church, and including Evangelism or reaching out to unchurched/unbelievers/seekers as integral to worship. Not a difference between two poles. Making the worship event the evangelical event. Megachurches not really growing number of Christians, just reflecting the movement of Christians from smaller to larger church. Problem is that seekers come into church through worship and encounter God’s transforming spirit there, but then stay there in worship-mode as consumer of that encounter. How to move past superficiality, spectator status, in worship as church. “We can’t give away what we don’t have.” Worship evangelism focuses on showing through witness the real relationships people have with God.

1. Focus on responding to God. 2. Don’t sacrifice authenticity for relevance. 3. Add worship don’t subtract. 4. Tap into wide repertoire of worship traditions. 5. Customize for the community you are in.

Wednesday: The Emergent Church/Conversation
Brian McLaren and Dan Kimball

Brian McLaren: A Generous Orthodoxy

Why I Am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, anabaptist/anglican, methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.

“A generous orthodoxy of the kind explored in this book, while never pitching its tent in the valley of relativism, nevertheless seeks to see members of other religions and non-religions not as enemies but as beloved neighbors, and whenever possible, as dialogue partners and even collaborators. It seeks to remove splinters from the eyes of other religions only after removing its own planks, a process that will take a lot of time and energy, postponing intense critical examination of other eyes perhaps beyond this week or even next.”

Would Jesus Be a Christian?...Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and others condemned. Jesus did not come to help some people be right while leaving everyone else to be wrong. Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion…Missional faith asserts that Jesus came to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to everyone, especially the poor. He came to seek and save the lost. He came on behalf of the sick. He came to save the world. His gospel, and therefore the Christian message, is Good News for the whole world.

(e)vangelism’s strength is passion leading to action; (E)vangelicals weakness is judgmentalism, a betrayal of evangelical faith.

Emergent—(based on ecological principles) embracing what has come before into something bigger. [God resembles the God of Process-Relational Theology, but with Jesus Christ central]

In The Secret Message of Jesus, McLaren challenges more directly the message of older Evangelicalism. Concentrates on Jesus’ radical kingdom message and calls the “church” to be “plotters of goodness.” Evangelism becomes 1. gathering for conversation. 2. Launching experiments. 3. Plotting Goodness.

Dan Kimball: Post Seeker-Sensitive or Vintage Christianity

Taking the criticisms of Christianity and Churchianity seriously. Redesigning Christian experiences.
The church is the people of God who gather with a sense of mission. Not a place where but a people who. “People come to church to have their needs met by others, volunteering only if they have any time to spare. As we create a culture in which people come to church, people generally are content to remain spectators.”

Thursday: Beyond Church Evangelism
Neil Cole: Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens

There is no split between sacred and secular space (Emerging Churches, Gibbs and Bolger)
Organic Church, Micro-Church, Multi-Site Church, House Church, Bar Church, Beach Church, Work Church, etc.

“A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.” …Transformation, though, not attendance is the barometer. Making unchurched churched is not the objective

Making Relationships
Moving from starting a church to creating church planting churches
You shouldn’t have to leave life to go to church. Not building a regional church but making Jesus available to a whole region.

“In our first year, we began ten new churches. In our second year, Church Multiplication Associates started 18 new churches. The next year we added 52 new starts. The momentum was beyond our expectations. In 2002, we averaged two churches a week being started and had 106 starts. The following year we saw around 200 starts in a singe year. We estimate that close to 400 churches were started in 2004 but counting the churches has become a daunting task. At the time of this writing, there have been close to 800 churches started in 32 states and 23 nations around the world in only six years.” (average 16 people each; simple format reproduces easily). Lower the bar of how church is done and raise bar of what it means to be a disciple. Organic church is simple so it is informal, relational, mobile.
Smallest group in the organic church is the Life Transformation Group, two or three people (non-coed) who meet weekly to challenge one another to live an authentic spiritual life.

Church Is…Living Organism (learn from farmers not CEOs). Not in buildings or mindset of buildings. More than one-hour service one day a week. Meant to be decentralized. Meant to be in and through everyone.

Where to go to form relationships? Middle class wealthy educated suburbs? Cole says you will have a hard time planting organic churches there. Good soil often found in the “fear factor zone” where you are afraid to go and be….Starting not in your own home but in the home of another

Multiplication doesn’t mean splitting up groups intentionally. It is natural byproduct of intimacy. Multiply healthy disciples, then leaders, then churches, and finally movements. Scripture instructs to make disciples who make disciples not to make churches.

DNA = (D)ivine Truth [RR: Jesus reflects God’s loving freedom]. (N)urturing relationships [RR: Go deep together]. (A)postolic mission. [RR: Go out in teams]

Become Epidemic [Leaven in Jesus’ parable].

Thanks for perservering through the long post. I will be picking up on bits and pieces from above and posting more specifically on them later, and hope you will do the same.