Charting the Emerging Church
February 25, 2008, 8:55 am
Filed under: blogging, Christendom, emerging church

So, there’s this chart floating around the blogosphere, developed by a guy I’ve never heard of, categorizing people into “orthodox” and not and “emerging” vs. “emergent,” blah blah blah.  I’ve not really looked carefully at either the chart, or the thought process behind it.  I doubt it’s helpful – even at first glance, it’s quite linear and are-you-inside-or-outside-our-lines kind of stuff.  If someone wants to make a chart to help clarify things, that’s fine I suppose – all this stuff gets confusing in a hurry.

The most helpful analysis I’ve seen on it is Andrew Jones (Duh!  Not a big surprise that he’s got the skinny).  What caught me in his breakdown, though, was the following:

. . . young emerging church people who have given up well paid careers or their salaried positions at more conventional churches to embrace a harder, starker, lonelier journey with Christ that translates to a lower standard of living. No house, no car and no gold watch when they retire. And no retirement. And not because it was cool or trendy, but because serving Christ on the margins in the way Jesus described was closer to what they perceived as orthodoxy than pulling in a hefty salary by a giving a polished oration on a big stage every Sunday and asking the new converts to foot the bill. Sure, they expect to have critics make fun at their expense but they also need a few Barnabases to salute them and tell them they are doing a good job and remind them that their sacrifice is will be remembered on the last day.

It’s not often that I step back and think about those days, before I embarked on this wacky ride.  I left my stable church staff position about five years ago now, and I still make 10% less money than I did back then . . . and compared to A LOT of “emerging” folks I know, I’m doing pretty well.  I’m thinking about sitting in a room of 13-15 church planters back in May 2002, and hearing Spencer Burke talk about people “leaving the ministry in order to do ministry.”

I can’t speak for anyone but me, really, but for all the critics that rail against the lack of supposed unorthodox theology in the emerging church, I think of people who couldn’t stomach the comfortable positions of power that the church of Christendom has produced, and they chose to opt out (what’s so blasted orthodox about that?).  But more important than what’s being opted out of, is what’s being opted into . . . a fresh, experimental, incarnational way forward.  I also think of the critics’ defensiveness, and grieve because they’re not really listening to what’s being said – not that they have to agree, mind you, but at least try to be teachable.  Granted, there are a lot of emerging people that go through what I call the angryyoungman phase – and it’s easy to see why that generates a defensive response, but just remember that a lack of listening got Jesus pretty fired up, too.

I don’t mean for any of this to set emerging people up as martyrs, really.  There are plenty of boneheads.  If I’ve made life choices out of my convictions, it’s not heroic, not anything worthy of recognition or honor, not anything that others ought to necessarily emulate.  But for some of us, it may be prophetic.  It may be a voice saying, “Look, I’m as screwed up as anyone, but I can’t just do the same old thing any more.  The Kingdom of God is too important to not try something here!”

I can’t really say why all this is coming out of me on a Monday morning.  But I can say this – I wouldn’t go back if I could.  I wouldn’t take the money to play the same game the same way.  I wouldn’t take the security or the comfort.

Peace of Christ . . . to all of us.


8 Comments so far
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That’s a great quote. And what’s to say that Monday can’t be an inspiring day to write? Although this is coming from a guy who has Mondays free at the present time, you have to take that with a grain of salt 🙂

Comment by Michael

While there are quite a good many things my Emergent friends and I might not agree upon, my hope is that we might be able to reason together. There is the temptation to think we’re somehow better because we’ve given up insert-good-thing-here “for Jesus” and then lean back and smile smugly because we’re “suffering” due our own self-induced troubles. And so what might otherwise be a good deed becomes nothing more than a selfish source of pride.

Do not forget that the worker is worthy of his wages. While we ought not take advantage of this and draw extravagant salaries from the Gospel, do not for a moment believe the lie that it is inherently evil to be successful. Is not God the fount from whom all blessings flow? God justly condemns ill-gotten riches many times over in His Word, but are we being the inverse of Job’s wife and proposing that we will accept bad from God but not good?

So whether the Lord gives or the Lord takes away, we ought enjoy what God has given, praise God for it, be content with our lot, and be responsible stewards of those things which He has entrusted to us. That means not just our money, but, if God grants them to us, our wives and our children as well our flocks. If your wife and children are neglected and poorly cared for because of your insistence on living a “margin” ascetic lifestyle, that is your pride doing such a thing and nothing more. You have your reward now (smug satisfaction), and God will hold you accountable for the way you rejected the blessings which He offered to you.

While it might sound good to the 20-something trust fund kid with little real-life experience to neglect responsible saving, I believe firmly that it is, in fact, a sin to do so if God has blessed us with honestly acquired wealth.

Comment by Bill


Thanks for the comment.

I would suggest that you may well be making some assumptions that don’t line up with reality.

First, I don’t equate “Emergent” with “emerging,” so please be careful to define your terms.

Second, I intended no smugness at all – there are many who have made much bigger sacrifices than I have, as I mentioned. I don’t think they’re smug about it, either. I will re-read my post, though, and check myself for smug intentions.

Third, I think you’ve made some pretty patriarchal assumptions regarding stewardship, as well as an assumption that God would never direct someone to make family sacrifices on his behalf – don’t think for a minute that you can get away with that from a scriptural standpoint.

Fourth, you seem to have assumed from what I wrote that I believe that nobody should receive income from doing ministry work . . . for the record, I don’t believe that. In fact, I currently draw a paycheck myself for a ministry position.

Fifth, I would encourage all of us to examine your phrase, “honestly acquired wealth.” What does that mean in a global perspective? I don’t want to play a blame game, or a guilt game, but what often looks like “honestly acquired” Western wealth, has come as a result of an indirect exploitation of the poor in the developing world. I own my own complicity in this, and have begun making adjustments in my lifestyle to improve . . . I’ve got a long way to go.

Comment by steve lewis


The line between “emerging” and “Emergent” is often blurred given the deliberately nebulous nature of the latter, and some might say also of the former.

I never said that you were smug. If that was implied, I apologize. I merely meant to imply that some men are motivated to do “good” deeds out of their own selfish pride.

As men, we are commanded certain and specific things by God concerning our families. We are commended to specific roles within the Church and within the home. For instance we are commanded to love our wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.

I do not believe that obedience to God’s calling and proper spiritual and physical care for one’s family are mutually exclusive terms. In fact, I think they are one in the same. If God has called you to be married, then He has also called you to be a good husband in the likeness of Christ who sacrificed His life for His bride, the Church. If God grants you children, then God has called you to be a good father to them in the likeness of God our heavenly Father.

Families indeed do make sacrifices for Christ, but such sacrifices ought not to be done with reckless abandon, without counting the cost. Jesus Himself directed everyone who might seek after Him to count the cost of becoming His true disciple. If the motivation for sacrifice is the denial of self and the glorification of Jesus Christ and His Word, then I have no words of discouragement for such a course.

I do not assume that you believe no one should receive income from the Gospel. Again, if that was implied or taken from my words, I apologize. I simply wanted to know that we have a common understanding that it is not only permissible, but wholly acceptable and good that one might earn his living from the work of the Gospel, in order that he might be free from worldly concerns in order to rightly devote himself to study and prayer before he comes before the congregation to teach.

Honestly acquired means I did an honest day’s work and got paid an honest day’s wages. The responsibility is on the wage earner and the man who owns or oversees the business to see that his workers are paid fair wages. Geopoliticoeconomics (if that’s not a word, I just made it up) have little bearing on whether or not my wages are earned honestly.

Do not condemn a man for being successful when he does business ethically and submits his labors as unto the Lord. Rather condemn the business of a man who does not pay his workers fair wages or otherwise exploits the poor. There is nothing inherently evil about wealth. It is the idolatry of its pursuit above all else which is evil and keeps a man from humility before Christ. While it may be true that what may appear to be honestly acquired wealth is not so, this does not mean that we can take an irrational leap and say that all who have wealth are swindlers and harsh slavemasters. Recall that many in the Bible were prospered because they were obedient to God. Job is but one such example. He was rich before God allowed him to be destroyed, and after his testing, God blessed him with double that which he had before.

Comment by Bill


i love your passion and heart for the way of jesus. great soul searching. i hope we will all ask the difficult questions before we fall back into old patterns.

i have seen the chart and i am amazed at how limited their view of “orthodoxy” is. the kingdom is very diverse and has a beautiful expression in many languages, traditions, theologies and actions.

right now i think we should be about finding ways to work together rather than defend our “rights” and limited ways of perceiving god and the church. today is filled with opportunity to serve and learn, whether anyone notices (or we get paid) or not…

thanks for your words of encouragement,

Comment by spencer burke

I’ve gotta ask this: Have you gone to the source and read all of Pattons contextualizing on the topic of his charts? He’s been getting a ton of flack for it, but I’ve found most people really haven’t taken the time to read his 5 posts surrounding the charts.

I don’t agree with him theologically, but I will say this for him- he’s more open to conversation than most of the evangelical “camp.” I say this from a perspective of someone who fully identifies himself as an emergent (yes- with a T). I’d implore you, if you have not yet done so, to read through his posts.
Patton also has put up a few links on his site from different blog reactions to his emergen-t/ing series, I’d say go check some of those guys out.

Like Spencer said- lets work with them/him.
Let’s dialog with him- he’s quite open to it.

Comment by Matt Scott

Hey Matt,

Like I mentioned in the post, I HAVE NOT taken the time to read the posts or the source material. Quite frankly, I saw the insane amount of commenting that had been done, and my eyes glazed over before I even got started. I’m certain that you’re right about giving this guy a shot – like I said, I understand the desire to try to make sense of all this. Thanks for the encouragement. I definitely don’t intend any ill will toward Patton, and like you, I’ve noticed that he’s pretty open.

Comment by steve lewis

Sorry! I must have missed that in your post (oops!). Then again- I’d encourage you (when you have a massive block of time on your hands) to read through the posts and comments. You’ll see some close-mindedness, but for the most part people there are willing to converse.

Oh, and don’t mind Bill. He’s been blog-stalking me since I opened up my blog to a conversation on evolution. He’s not quite interested in dialog, but you can give it a shot anyways.

Comment by Matt Scott

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