Archive for the ‘Emerging Church’ Category

Join us for a week exploring Celtic spirituality

June 11, 2010

On September 20-24 we will be leading a course on Celtic Spirituality as part of Fuller Seminary’s DMin program.  Based on the island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland, we will have sessions on Lindisfarne history, spirituality, as well as hands-on workshop on Celtic art, worship, reflection on mission issues, and sharing stories.   In addition to sessions led by us, we have recruited some significant speakers who live and work on Lindisfarne itself. 

As well as those who are formally enrolled in Fuller’s DMin program, we can also accommodate others as ‘audits’ (which roughly speaking means you have the experience without doing the work – and pay a lot less for the privilege!).  For details, see   And to enrol (or enquire more), email Julia at

Emerging Politics

May 12, 2010

This blog has been deliberately silent during the UK election campaign, and now the dust is starting to settle and we have a coalition government for the first time in living memory, it is fascinating to see the responses not only of the wider public but of those Christians who like to make pronouncements about such things.  Can ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ ever live and work together in harmony?  Many Christians seem to regard this as completely impossible – maybe because the very words themselves echo so closely the battle lines that have marred the churches for so long.  For at least the last hundred years – maybe more – ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ have been at each other’s throats about theology and church practice, and their strident disagreements have arguably contributed to the disillusion of many people with the church itself. 

We have often been asked which side of this theological debate we are on, but the reality is that we haven’t a clue – and what’s more, we don’t care.  The terminology itself is well past its sell-by date, and the notion that life can be so simple as to be categorized like this is naive in the extreme.  It might have worked fifty years ago, but no longer.  One of the characteristics of post-modernity is that everything is in flux, and the old certainties (and enmities) of the past no longer make sense.  The rise of the emerging church is only one manifestation of that, and is a key reason why some people dislike it so much, because it is (on the old paradigm) eclectic and illogical.  Viewed from this angle, the coalition of ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ in government looks like a version of the same thing – emerging government, perhaps?  Just like the emerging church, it will be loved and hated in equal measure.  Those who still prefer the old certainties and tribal identities will be especially cynical.  Which should mean that no emergent Christians will be among them, but you never know.  Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Search for an authentic church

March 4, 2010

Jim and Casper go to Church is the title of a fascinating little book that came our way recently.  Written by two friends, Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, the book documents their visits to churches of all shapes and sizes in their US homeland.  Nothing surprising in that, you may think, except that Jim is a fervent Christian and Casper is an atheist.  They agreed to suspend their preconceptions and to engage in honest dialogue about their experiences.  Their trip included megachurches such as Saddleback and Willow Creek, as well as more ordinary traditional congregations and some emerging ones (Mars Hill, among others).  Amazingly, they managed to keep their bargain, and the book is one of the most honest dialogues you could imagine.  They both learn something along the way, but the most interesting thing is Casper’s take on what he experiences.  At Saddleback he tries to roll the stone back from the door of the replica of Jesus’ tomb, only to discover it’s locked – and wrly expresses the hope that they will unlock it in time for Easter (yes, they really do have a life-size replica of Calvary perched on top of an artificial tomb).  At Mars Hill, he finds himself somewhat repelled by Mark Driscoll’s aggressive style and is puzzled as to why ‘he likes to talk about sex a lot … at least once every minute’ (p102) when he could be talking about Jesus.  And at those two and all the others they visit, he wonders why there is so much emphasis on self-improvement when his reading of the Gospels suggests that disciples are supposed to care for other people, not themselves – summed up in his big unanswered questions addressed to Jim, ‘Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?’  Jim, for his part, is challenged because all the things that churches do to make themselves more attractive to outsiders actually turn Casper off – not just the kitschy environment at Saddleback, but the drumkits, noisy music and worship leaders that seem to be everywhere.

By way of a contrast, this online volume came through our computers this week.  The brainchild of Australian Jay Jeffries, it is billed as a Bible for spiritual searchers, and is gradually being released on the website in installments.  We both contributed to it, so we have a stake in seeing how it goes – but we can’t help wondering what Casper would make of it.  Because there are a lot more like him than there are Jims in this world.

Jim and Casper go to Church is written by Jim Henderson & Matt Casper, and published by BarnaBooks: ISBN 978-1-4143-1331-2

Angry Christians

February 10, 2010

We’ve just come across this new blog, dedicated to telling us what’s wrong with emerging church and Fresh Expressions, complete with extensive sections naming and shaming the ringleaders.  If you’re one of them you’ll probably want to check it out to see if what they’re saying about you is true.  Lucky for the church mice, we don’t get a mention, which either means that we’re too insignificant to bother with or so totally heretical that they wouldn’t know where to start.  The only question we have is what makes these people so angry?  Which bits of the gospel do they not get?  Who do they imagine might be attracted to a faith that seems to consist of putting other people right?  Or maybe there is an alternative version of the fruits of the Spirit or the Sermon on the Mount which includes acrimony and aggression as hallmarks of discipleship?

A feigy good read

September 12, 2009

It’s not often (well, hardly ever) that a book is so good that we read it through from cover to cover in one sitting – but that’s what happened with this one.  The story of how Michael Volland, with help from one or two others, brought feig to birth as a fresh expression of church in partnership with Gloucester cathedral.  The combination of a personal story really well told with reflections on how and why certain things happened is a winner.  So thanks to Michael for giving us the book.  One to be cherished – and full of wisdom, humour, and spiritual insights.

Apostolic and episcopal

August 17, 2009

An interesting statement of intention from the new bishop of Shrewsbury here about local clergy needing to be more episcopal, and bishops needing to be more apostolic.  Of course, there will always be the McDonaldized systems to struggle with, but we’ll not be the only ones watching to see if he manages to put it into practice.

Mission Shaped Ministry

June 19, 2009

This week saw the end of a long process to launch the Mission Shaped Ministry course in Scotland.  The course itself emerged out of the Fresh Expressions initiative of the Church of England and Methodists to encourage new forms of church – and it’s been successful way beyond anyone’s wildest dreams in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Scotland has had to wait a bit longer, but in September-October this year there will be a six-week taster (Mission Shaped Intro) in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and then starting in January 2010 the entire course will be presented in Glasgow and Inverness.  The church mice will be involved in Inverness, along with Duncan Macpheron, minister of Hilton Church, while the Glasgow course will be led by Alan McWilliam and David Currie.

Full details of all this later.  In the meantime, to sign up for the six week  Mission Shaped Intro in Edinburgh, email; and in Glasgow  It’s free!

How fresh are ‘Fresh Expressions’?

June 10, 2009

One of the books we’re reading just now is this one, on Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition.  As its title suggests, and as Brian McLaren comments in a typical sound-bite, ‘the road to the future goes through the past’.

We’ll comment on the book and its contents once we’ve finished reading it, and had a chance to talk about it.  But the question of whether fresh expressions of church are really as fresh as we all think came to our attention with the recent death of the Revd Bill Shergold.  He’s not typically hailed as one of the heroes of either fresh expressions or emerging church, and quite likely most readers of this blog will be wondering who exactly he was and why we should be bothered to mark his passing.  After all, he was 89 when he died last month.  And he trained as a priest at Mirfield, a high church college if ever there was one.  And his most significant ministry was at the Eton Mission in London, with close connections with the posh school that gave it its name.  So you might think he would be about the last person to have pioneered anything remotely missional, let alone truly creative.  And you’d be wrong.  He was the founder of the 59 Club, a bikers community, which he started when he realized that here was a way of connecting faith with what at the time (the 1950s) was a growing recreational trend among young men in particular.  To read the story of how and why he did this, in his own words, go here.  He clearly thought he was just doing what came naturally, given his calling as a parish priest, and his efforts were not blessed with all the trendy terminology that seems an essential part of the emerging, emergent, fresh expressions scene today.  Which we all probably need to be reminded of: that there have always been mavericks and pioneers who saw missional openings in unlikely places and who stepped outside of the box in order to see where God might be at work.  Bill Shergold was one of them.  And at a time when Christians were far less tolerant of the non-traditional than they are today.  But then, he did, as a newspaper headline of the time says, wear ‘leathers under his cassock’ – which, obviously, means that he wore a cassock over his leathers.  When so many are preferring to dispose of cassocks and other bits of tradition, we might have something to learn from him.

What makes a church?

May 22, 2009

We started talking about this in response to a question asked by Cid Latty, founder of CafeChurch network.   If you’re not familiar with this, then go here to see Cid’s vision and passion for a cafe church on every high street in the UK.  

But it’s a question that comes up more and more as Fresh Expressions of church multiply.   So what is the minimum number of things that need to happen for a gathering to become a church?   It’s astonishing how quickly new expressions of church resort to default mode rather than thinking through some of these bigger questions.   Moving into new territory can be unsettling for pioneers, just as the thought of change can have the same paralysing effect on long established groups.  As we look around, it seems that a fair number of things that are claimed to be essential to being church are more to do with  mechanisms of control than with spiritual purpose.   But the heart of the question is surely something to do with following Jesus, which maybe implies that we should start with practice rather than with structures.  Of course, we may find we raise more questions than answers, but Jesus himself was always asking questions because that is how we grow into maturity.

A key question would be, ‘How can we encourage one another to follow Jesus today?’   If what we hear is to be believed, then what goes on at present in some churches is not helping people to follow Jesus better, which rather implies that just adopting the practices of these same churches is not going to be a good way forward.  So what might some core values be?  Prayer is obviously central — and not just for people who might think they are Christians.  Almost certainly, those who are reached through things like a cafe church will be quite keen to find out how prayer can resource them.   Then there’s sacrament.  Sharing bread and wine is obviously significant – but a key question here is how to create a space where people can encounter God in that meal.  Most traditions are more concerned about control again, focusing on questions about who can have the bread and wine, not to mention more trivial matters such as the shape of the bread (or the cup), or how the wine was produced.   made of?   It was John Wesley who regarded eucharist as a ‘converting ordinance’, which suggests we sit more lightly to our concerns and see how God embraces those who choose to partake.  

There’s the Bible as well of course – but we said more than enough about that in a previous blog.  Just to add here that once we find creative ways to use it for today the chances are that we’ll end up using it a whole lot more than some churches do now.

And in case you’re tempted to dismiss all this as church mice ramblings, a lot of it was sparked of by Steven Croft’s new book: Jesus’ People: What the church should do next – a newly published work that is both eminently sensible and eminently readable.  Which, among other things, obviously means that we agree with it!

Is anything worthwhile emerging?

May 18, 2009

We spent the weekend with a stimulating house guest, Kevin Ward from Knox College in Dunedin, New Zealand.  Like us, Kevin has an interest in emerging church, and in his inaugural lecture asked the question whether some of the emerging movements could really qualify as being ‘church’.  To find his answers to that question, go here.  So no prizes for guessing what the conversation has been about for the past 48 hours.  It was the sort of conversation that is more about comparing notes than anything else, because the three of us are pretty much on the same page on all this, which could probably be described as being encouraging of emerging church, combined with big questions about some of the groups that think they are ’emerging’ – and the underlying question ”what are they emerging from?’  Too many such groups are still emerging from dissatisfaction and anger with traditional church, which inevitably clouds the agenda and turns something that could have missional potential into what easily becomes a forum for grumbling about past hurts (real or imaginary), and an over-concern with individual’s own agendas and opinions.  Of course, there will always need to be a space for people with issues – but that is a therapy space, not a missional space!  Which is the crucial difference between ‘real’ emerging church, and those who are only playing at it and adopting the terminology because it seems to be trendy.  The only sort of emergence that is authentic is that which comes from a spiritual encounter with gospel, culture, and the values of the Kingdom.  Once that engagement is lost, then however worthy other concerns might be, they are going to struggle to be regarded as authentically church (or even Christian) in any deeply rooted way.  We were also reminded again of the importance of being theologically grounded in any reflection on what church might be for the 21st century. 

That’s not the first time we’ve said all that, of course.  But thanks to Kevin’s visit and conversations we have seen a few new angles on it.  And, of course, had our insights (or prejudices, according to some) affirmed.  But then, isn’t that what friends are for?


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