Why I’m not totally comfortable with emerging and emergent church (Brian McLaren)

Brian McLaren explains why he is not totally comfortable with emerging and emergent church.

Brian McLarenPeople often associate my name with the emerging church or emergent church. It's actually a term I'm not totally comfortable with because in my mind the last thing we need is to slice the pie up: 'We have all these different kinds of churches, and now we have emerging or emergent churches too.'

I actually look at it differently. Instead of thinking of a slice of the pie, I think of a tree. If you think of a cross-section of a tree, the outermost ring of the tree is the part of the tree that represents its current life in relation to today's weather conditions. So if you think of a big historic beautiful tree, maybe this part is the Catholic part of the tree, and this part is the Anglican part, and here's the Presbyterian part and the Pentecostal part. There are all these different parts of the tree.

But the whole tree in today's world is living in a time of great change. We don't even know how to describe it, so we stick the prefix 'post' on things. We say post-modern, post-colonial, post-enlightenment, post-Christendom. We use this word 'post' because we can tell it's changing, but we don't exactly have a handle on what the change is and means. But it's putting stress on the whole tree.

So a Catholic who's part of that outer ring in a certain sense has more in common with a Pentecostal on the outer ring than he might have with a Catholic who's dealing with the issues of the institution that are two or three rings in. So … I like to talk about the emergent conversation. It's a conversation among Christians in many sectors of the church about what it means to be faithful to Jesus Christ in this time of change.

The beautiful thing about a conversation is it's not a programme. We're not saying: 'Here's the way to do church. For £40 we'll give you the programme.' We're saying, 'No, let's get together. Let's talk. Let's experiment. Let's share our ideas. Let's look for fresh expressions and what it means to be followers of Christ, and let's learn from one another.'

Another thing I like about the idea of a conversation: it's not a monologue. More than ever before we need to get out of the idea of the big hero, or the big model in this or that place and everybody will imitate it. There's a place for that, but the kind of creativity we need now means we need to listen to our brothers and sisters from Africa, Asia, Latin America. In the west we need to listen to the folks who are working in poor neighbourhoods and rough communities and people with high unemployment rates and high poverty rates. What are they doing to live out the kingdom?

More than ever before we need to get out of the idea of the big hero, or the big model in this or that place

There won't be a 'one size fits all' answer in this, but what we will find then is the growing edge, the green edge of the life of the church. And that's not against what's happened before. It's being faithful to the tradition of the church. If we were to think of a cross-section of a tree, each of those rings represents the emerging church of our various eras and we're just continuing that tradition.

This blog is an extract from an exclusive interview Brian McLaren gave Fresh Expressions during a recent visit to the UK.