Over the past year or so, it seems like about half a dozen or so churches popping up in the Indianapolis area under the umbrella of being “emergent” (however you choose to define the term; Lord knows I’ve tried before). The Dwelling Place is often called an emergent church (and I have no problem being labeled such), although we tend to refer to ourselves as a missional church (why? Because like any other “denomination”, the term “emergent” comes with a lot of baggage/doesn’t seem to mean anything to most people; whereas the word “missional” people can intuitively grasp).

There has been some great posts on the different models of emerging churches, but I’m much more of a pragmatist than theologian/philosopher. For me, in practice, churches that call themselves emergent tend to fall into one of three camps:

1. Too hip by half. These are what I call the “trappings” brand of churches. It was part of my lament from attending the 2004 Emergent Convention. I saw a lot of people over-emphasizing cosmetic changes and doing creative/“edgy” things almost for their own sake. A more cynical person would accuse them of attempting to re-create their college praise experience or venting their youth leader traumas. At any rate, they seem to be the equivalent to traditional/contemporary worship schisms where the only difference in the service was the brand of music (hymns vs. choruses) played.

2. Traditional looking. When all is said and done, I don’t think The Dwelling Place looks overtly much different than the kind of church I grew up with. Occasionally, candles and media clips are used, but for the most part, none of the boogeyman aspects people have attached to the word “emergent” could be seen there. (One friend of mine said that “I don’t know why you don’t just call yourself American Orthodox and be done with it.”)

3. The picnic set. Foregoing entire the idea of organized “church”, they’ve abandoned anything resembling a traditional model. You never know where you’ll find them (though a coffee shop is a pretty good guess. Emergent folks tend to love coffee and beer.)

So what makes them emergent? Maybe it can be described as an attitude, a matter of their posture. What I mean is that they are about conversation and questioning, meeting people where they are, and realizing that if we can’t be certain about anything, we can learn from anyone. This includes the consumeristic folks in need of the familiar, that is, they need the “look” of the kind of church they grew up in, even though they know they will be stretched out of that mindset (too often emergent folks have a chip on their shoulder against “churched” folk). In other words, there is room for all.

At the same time, they can’t neglect the business of church. Church isn’t always going to look the same. However, I do have a concern about the picnic types. I understand that spiritual times and conversations can be had with a gathering of friends watching an episode of Lost or getting together at a coffee house. The Holy Spirit is present (as the verse goes, where two or more are gathered), so I don’t want to sell Her short.

It’s just that in our hyper-individualistic reaction to the idea of church (and the need to be constantly entertained), we can’t forget the business of church. Spiritual formation. Discipleship. Communion. Being Transformational.

We are to become new creatures, a people of God. Corporate worship should neither be a pep rally nor a lecture hall, but a place for interacting with God, the Word, and the Table (Communion). It should shape who we are. Our individual inner journeys should lead to a heart change and from that heart change, we should be lead to an outward journey of loving other people – done in community.

Jesus already told us the church is a mess and that He’ll sort it out in the end. In the mean time, welcome the stranger and join with others. Continue God’s mission (because He’s already at work) of redeeming the world (the missional aspect of what we should be about). Whether we eat or go to parties, our lives are a mission, an incarnational ministry. And only through continual incarnation is the work of the church done.

I believe in God. I believe in the church.

Still, I always have to question any organization that will have me as a member.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.