An Emerging Glossary
by Jay Gamelin
See also The Emerging Church: Reclaiming the Awe and Wonder of Faith by Jay Gamelin
It is important to be clear about what is meant by emerging. Frequently, emerging is understood as a title for a particular idea, a singular vision, or a particular group of people engaging in ministry in a particular way. This is often where the word emergent is used. Understanding emerging not as a noun but as an adjective may be more helpful and accurate. Emerging does not refer to a program, title, singular idea, or unique perspective. It is simply a description of a new generation of leaders who have grown up in the postmodern era. They come with a very different idea of the church, the world, Christ, and the message that has grown out of their cultural expression and experience than that of the previous generations.
This is why here I do not discuss the emerging church using a capital E: "Emerging church." I simply use an adjective — the church that is "emerging." As Generations X, Y, and postmillennial leaders in Western Europe, Australia, and the United States begin to lead churches in this context, this generation brings a general philosophy to their definition of church, one that grows out of their context.
Acts 2:42-47 provides a description of the church at its simplest: gathering, learning, teaching, eating, praying, singing, sharing, and proclaiming. Postmodern, emerging leaders perceive that the church in the West has compromised these simple spiritual goals. The perception is that people have attended church not because of the hope of encountering Christ through a dedicated community of believers but because it has been expected of them in a "Christian" society. In an increasingly post-Christian society, church attendance is no longer a necessary social norm. Further, some may claim Christ and describe themselves as Christ-followers rather than Christians, due to the perception that churches do not serve spiritual goals but rather social ones (whether this is true or untrue) and due to a concern that Christian in the West denotes social class and upbringing more than a spiritual follower. This perception of church as a social rather than spiritual establishment has lent an air of skepticism around the word church. Groups are trending toward calling themselves communities as opposed to churches. This shift points to the gathering of a group of people committed to one another in their growth in faith and support in life, rather than a singular institution that people are expected to attend to be accepted. To call yourself a community means a more relational approach to life together rather than an institutional one.
In the middle of the Acts 2 text noted above is the simple phrase, "sincere hearts" (v. 46). This sincerity is a key factor to the emerging church. Perhaps the most important word to the emerging church is the word authentic. Authenticity is something that cannot be defined, only sensed. It means a church that requires a gut check, a church that seems real and true to the people present, a church active both in the present kingdom and the restoration of the world as well as concerned with our future life in Christ. Because authenticity cannot be programmed it is perhaps the most difficult hurdle for people to overcome. More than a style of music, authenticity is the heart with which worship is approached. It is more than candles and couches, icons and stained glass or projection screens; authenticity is an earnestness and honesty of the people who have gathered. It involves sensing the driving purpose of any of these into a deeper spiritual experience to see with "awe" the "wonders" God is presently doing (Acts 2:43).
Authenticity does not mean perfection, it just points to intent. Authenticity can be seen in a church that knows it is sinner and saint, slave and free. This definition is more than style, it also involves substance, and this cannot be controlled. A generation sensitive to commercials knows when a church is expressing the gospel narrative and when they are trying to sell you something to get you in the door. They know the difference between gimmick and God. Authenticity is not a program but a change in heart. It is not a style but a focus on reclaiming the awe and wonder of faith.
Jay Gamelin is campus pastor of Jacob's Porch, an ELCA ministry at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
This article appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Lutheran Partners Online.