Emerging Churches within Denominational Structures

December 10, 2008
Short Description: 

The Theology News & Notes of Fuller Seminary (Fall Editon) deals with the subject of Emerging Churches within Denominational Structures. The topic is introduced by Eddie Gibbs. One major area of 'church' missed is that of rural ministry. This entry is to attempt to bring this oversight - to bring the rural voice - into the conversation.

 Emerging Churches within Denominational Structures
Fuller Theological Seminary: Theology News and Notes, Fall 2008

The theme of the Federation of Alberta Gas Coops annual Convention in Edmonton (December 1-4) was Rejuvenate the System! People, Projects, Community. During the convention one delegate leaned over to me, knowing I was involved in theology, and asked if I could tell him the difference between ‘emerging’ and ‘emergent’ churches. We decided there was much confusion surrounding the term!

It came as a surprise therefore when upon arriving back home there was in my mailbox the Fall edition of Fuller Theological Seminary’s Theology News & Notes: Emerging Churches within Denominational Structures introduced by one of my past D. Min. mentors Eddie Gibbs. Eddie Gibbs hit the mark when he writes: 

 “Every new development in the life of the Church triggers responses from different theological positions or cultural and personal dispositions. With the emerging church, however, responses can be even more diverse and intense because the label is applied to such a wide range of fresh expressions of church – whether or not they identify with the term.”

Gibbs continued to indicate that the emerging church is “more of a matrix of networks attracting a range of like-minded travelers” recognizing that “Western societies are moving beyond the context of Christendom which has prevailed for sixteen hundred years.” 

And so as I read through the articles I made note of key expressions that impacted me in my rural situation. I quote from what I read:
  • these communities value participation – seeking to lead from the back and from the margins rather than from the front
  • transition into being missional (is) painful
  • We’re desperate
  • They left their gatherings to involve themselves in community transformation
  • We were entertaining people as a substitute for leading them into the presence of God
  • Now we have less control but the people are accountable to transform their community
  • What does it profit a man if he builds a great church but loses community
  • Into a conversation in the neighborhood, about the neighborhood and its future.
  • But these are small marginal movements, and some find it impossible to foster this new life of God’s Spirit in the context of the established church
  • What’s more I have changed. I am less anxious about “changing the church” and more attentive to the workings of God’s Spirit among us
  • Adventism will be grassroots, relational, and highly networked
  • Missional movements will continue to crop up from the margins, infusing new life into a sometimes arid ecclesial landscape
  • These communities with their new monastic ethos – living the Christian tradition within a modern context – were deeply inspiring 
  • Operating much like a neighborhood abbey
  • Committed to the inner city
  • Local expressions of the Christian Community Development
  • I became more alert of what they said in the light of what they did
  • I serve a community that is tired of church. They are looking for less definitions of the gospel and seeking more demonstrations of the gospel. 
  • They are looking for an authentic faith … [see book by Pine and Gilmore Authenticity ]
  • Life on the Vine Christian Community  [See book by Philip Kenneson, Life on the Vine]
  • Community, Transformation and Mission 
  • We longed to join with people on a relational journey to be Christ in the world
  • Instead we sought to make hospitality to strangers central to our community – [see book by Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition]
  • We preached mission as a commitment to a way of life
  • There are definitely challenges working within any denominational structure
  • Emergers: we are the culture
  • My bubble burst because I thought my “superiors” would have a kingdom perspective but instead they had a survivalist one
  • Preaching against the work of Satan alone is not going to do it for us. Living life as a Christian in the workplace or addressing hunger or domestic violence will.

According to Gibbs, “the church finds itself increasingly marginalized and no longer a pillar of society” and that “in response to cultural shifts of seismic proportions, emerging churches re-imaginethemselves, seeking to be a missional presence. It is this conviction that lies at the heart of the emerging church conversation." [1]  

 I became involved in GOCN with an article titled Ministry at the Margins (September/December 2002 http://www.gocn.org/files/1434-newsletter.pdf#page=1) where I challenged GOCN to take seriously the rural context as an overlooked “marginal” place of ministry. In the Fuller Theology and News that is the basis for this blog entry, there is no mention of any ‘emerging rural church’. But of course there are. 


In the book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations from The Center for Theology and Land, co-sponsored by Wartburg Theological Seminary and the University of Dubuque Seminary, the question is asked: “Is there hope for congregations in rural settings? Are there rural congregations in rural America discovering hope and vitality?   The good news is that there are!" [2] In this book you can read of 26 Lutheran churches where, quote: “God’s Spirit is breathing new vitality into rural congregations.”  


In November 2004 I made a presentation to the Annual Convention of the American Society for Church Growth titled The Emerging Rural Church. My presentation followed that of Rick Warren.  Although now dated I would be more than willing to forward a copy to anyone asking. 


1. In the world of local municipal politics and community development rather than the term ‘re-imagine’ Imagine or envision is being used.  This might well be of little consequence but I would encourage you to visit the websites of Imagine Calgary http://www.imaginecalgary.ca/index.php or enVision Montpelier http://www.montpelier-vt.org/planning/envision/index.cfm


2. David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung, Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2001, 15.