A New Digital Era?

Still sitting at the Sydney airport…oh hum…Nice café/bar though – Bar Roma.
Steve Hinks (ACOM Principal) has given me permission to share some of his future book about … well the church I guess.
Some of his thoughts were shared yesterday at the ACOM staff mini-conference. His thoughts focus on the nature of this current debate on what we have been calling the missional church (for want of a better term!).
Let me clarify before beginning, that I met with Mark from Whitford Church recently and he made the comment that he lead what he believed to be an ‘emerging missional church’ – not entirely attractional, but not completely incarnational. Now by many definitions he’s dead write. I guess it all depends on what you are comparing it to! Whitford has ‘emerged’ from an old model of ‘doing church’, it is what we call ‘contemporary’ and when it comes to evangelism and ‘mission’ it’s streets ahead in structured missions programmes and ‘teaching on reaching’ etc than many churches I know. I don’t disagree with Mark in this at all. But at the same time, I think Mark would agree with me that Whitford is not a ‘home church’ or 100% ‘incarnational’, that it does rely strongly on mobilising it’s people into the many programmes of the church, including the running of our gatherings (Sundays, Fridays, Wednesdays etc). (Note – I am not making a judgement call on these issues, just trying to state the obvious, sorry to rave on here).
For the purpose of this brief summary of Steve’s comments I have changed his term ‘Missional Church’ to ‘Emerging church’ because in part I agree with Mark W in that many large churches are in fact quite ‘missional’ or maybe ‘missionary’ in their focus.

Steve’s paper was titled The Missional Church Debate – Missional Church (eg Forge) verus Large Church. (I’m not sure I see these 2 as mutually exclusive. – Scott’s comment)

Steve believes we need pioneering, experimental ventures eg pub church, beach church. We must diversify and explore. He says we are in a hinge time in history: a period of uncertainty for the next 15 years.

He notes some of the difficulties with the ‘emerging church’, there are no real runs on the board, some of the models seem hardly reproducible, not family friendly etc.

He notes some of the advantages of the ‘large church’ are that they are well positioned to pioneer and diversify. (If they are secure enough to relinquish control– Scott’s comment) They have people, money and acumen, the very things being criticised by the ‘emerging church’.

BUT…The thing from his paper that caught my attention most was his break down of history, not by time zones or culture types (Gen x, Post Modern etc) or by issues like industrial revolution, information age etc. But by communication periods. He shared a concept he picked up from Rex Miller – the four eras of communication:

  1. Print Era. Typified by a pulpit, head knowledge, intellectualism, liturgy, hymns and people with credentials.
  2. Broadcast Era. Typified by a stage, head and emotional knowledge, experience, a crowd and being entertained, praise and worship, and people with charisma.
  3. Digital Era (lets get rid of ‘post-modern’!!) Typified by a chair, it’s holistic, superficial, experiential/personal, faith stories as worship, people with connection.

This digital era, Steve says, is not about ‘po-mo’, this excludes many people. It’s about a digital world – that will shape a new era of church.

There is a heap more stuff he gave to us, very thought provoking, very ‘hinge’ if you like. ‘Hinge is a picture that Hamo often shares, one that I really connect with.
We need these hinge leaders who perform a vital link, sometimes even a peacemaker link, between the ‘crazies’ (respectfully!) these guys who are playing and experimenting with the new and the not yet and with the more stable, ‘larger’ (in most cases) churches.


17 thoughts on “A New Digital Era?

  1. i think i understand what you’re saying, but i might hesitate to use “forge” as the example of “missional” type church – i think they see themselves as a training organisation rather than a church type. not sure if this is valid???

    look forward to sharing a krispy creme donut – you did say there was a dozen right? well, there’s 5 Vawsers and 6 Bartletts – should be one left for Max. ha!

  2. Hi guys

    Part of the problem is the co-opting of language without the change of consciousness or paradigm. The way Forge uses the term missional is to contrast it with the the evangelistic mode. Most large churches do evangelism in that they often are effective in reaching within their own cultural frameworks. This is evangelism–not mission. And they still largely operate in an attractional mode. Its not a ‘sending’ mode (missio means send in the latin root) Once the person comes to Jesus they are expected to ‘go to church.’ A church here is viewed large as a Sunday service/s with the accompanaying apparatus of church (cells groups, youth groups, service provision, etc.) Actually, co-opting the langauge makes it very ahrd to differentiate and lets everyone off the hook from having to to the conceptual work at the level of paradigm. I don’t hink it is the same at all. They are different ‘imaginations’ of church and mission.

  3. Point taken, but I guess it’s hard to differentiate when in some of these large churches, like my own at Whitford, when training takes place in ‘evangelism’, even personal evangelism, to help us fulfill the great co-mission, we see people come to Christ and lives changed for the better, we see ‘mission’ happening. I agree, that in the ‘large church’ model in most cases is to see people ‘come’ to ‘church’ = interpreted: Attend Sunday morning worship.
    On another note, I agree with where otherendup was heading regarding Forge. I think many people familiar with maybe emergent language here in Australia call everything that is not ‘normal church’ – Forge. Hamo runs a thing now called Upstream Communities, but many people just call it “The Forge Thing up north”. I have to explain many times that Forge is not a church, or a movement of churches, like, say a Vinyard or whatever…with Alan as …Pope…can you say that??

  4. Hey Vawz, met you brother. Talk about yin and yang! Did you really come from the same womb?

    But to the topic….naah I’m not a pope, but yes, Forge is a training agency and not a denomination. Our tole as we see it is to ‘help birth and nurture the missional church in Oz and beyond.’ So we work with denoms and colleges to fulfill that task. And yeah, we don’t have set model but we do encourage a kind of approach that is distinct. It relates the that ‘imagination’ of church that I mentioned before. I hope that a thousand models emerge out of the missionary engagement.

  5. For me the issue is why Mark wants to use the term Emerging Missional Church. How is it going to help him and Whitford Church?
    Part of me doesn’t care what words people use about church. We spend too much time thinking about the stuff instead of just doing it.
    But also I can see the importance of descriptions and words.
    I try and not define Myriad. Lot’s of people call it a house church, but I try not to use that term. We’re a church, and that’s what is most important to me.

  6. Yes I hear you. I spoke to Mark O’Brien today, he is ‘accused’ of co-opting the term ’emergent’ for his church. He had some great insights on the emergent scene in the USA after a recent trip there. I would say that all these terms are starting to bleed into one another, much to Alan’s discomfort, I’m sure. But I think it may become like holding back the tide. In some ways it’s a compliment when someone begins to use your language. Although MArk would say some of the terms being used in a Forge/Emergent context have been used for many years and are in fact ‘co-opted’ by this newer thing being called the Emerging Missional Church. Hmmm
    I’m off to be missional now…

  7. Vaws I wonder if Mark has observed USA ’emergent’, a somewhat different gig to the Aussie take on emerging missional church.

    I find it very curious that Mark would want to call Whitford an EMC…

    I agree with Gaz – the question must be ‘why’?

    It really doesn’t belong in the frame we have set to describe the EMC.

    I feel a blog rant coming on!…

  8. In defense of Mark (OB or Wilow or any other Mark or non Mark who chooses to co-opt terms from other movements)I would have to say that the term ‘mission’ or ‘missional’ which are not too far apart as far as words go, were being used by us on staff at Whitford a long time before I ever heard of this EMC business. ‘Emergent Church’, now that’s a term I find hard to see used any where else but in the context of a non ‘mega’ non ‘driven’ non ‘seekerish’ kind of thing…if you know what I mean, like it is hard to define but once you start sniffing around these things there is a definite difference hey.
    Even somewhere like Phil’s Northern Communities in VIC, it has buildings and a sound desk and some fancy schmancy ‘stuff’, but something of it’s ecclessiology and missiology brings it into a more emergent sphere in my mind. Funny thing to note, when we were visiting Northern Communities as a ministry tour we asked ‘how many people do you have here?’ The resonse was telling – ‘I’m really not too sure, we don’t measure numbers as much as we measure the ongoing spiritual growth of the congregation, as hard as that may be’. But when asking the same question of a ‘City Life’ or ‘Planet Shakers’ the exact response from the most recent up to date computer data was at their finger tips. Obviously a clear sign of ‘success’ for this style church is BOS (Bums on Seats). Not that I have an issue with counting people…the BOS is a term we use all the time at ACOM…as these BOS pay our wage, they are our bread and butter…it’s a business you know…maybe this is how it is in these churches too??

  9. I gues this argument comes back to how important it is to define what we do.
    It seems like some people need to defien more clearly what they do and why they do it. SOme use the latest buzz phrases (these contain oft-used words but put them together and provide meaning i.e. Emerging MIssional Church), but I don’t and find it hard to see the importance of such things.

  10. I just thought of something to add to my last comment.
    I can see how important it is to guard words and understnad the true meaning of what someone is saying. But I struggle to understand the importance of guarding how we talk about the church.
    Aren’t all the descriptions and meanings just getting us off track of loving one another and being light in the world?

  11. i was talking to VAWZ the other night as we waited for pizza about groups and their own cultural language.

    leadership relies on those that follow them to understand and reproduce the same language with their closed-group agreed meaning. normally, this is all that matters because those within the said group are not interested in, or involved with, other groups.

    it’s when you have groups (you can read groups as “churches” in this context) that try to engage in cross-communication and debate. that is, they try to discuss common words with different cultural definitions. these leaders often find that not until there is a new, shared, accepted definition, can the conversation move forward.

    but, and it is a big BUT, even when an agreed terminology is reached, our personal learned cultures – ie, the pictures and meanings and experiences that are unspoken, yet second-nature to those within our “group”, continue to dominate the language context within our minds, which goes on to continue to cloud the spoken discussions.

    and maybe this is where we continue to be distracted. if we really want to work together, more time needs to be spent on the re-defining of a common language. which needs to be shared not just verbally, but also experiencally. this would mean more time spent together in community and mission as larger groups.

    BUT, if the truth is, that we are happy with our own little groups, with our own dialects, and our own individual “missions”, then let’s stop pretending anything else.

  12. picking up on that last thought – I am reminded of what Hirschy said on Sunday; the best way to critique something is to present a better alternative.

    I think ultimately as EMC’s develop and mature, in their various forms, those that are faithful Jesus’s life and work, will prove to be the best definition of what it means to be EMC as opposed to church growth, purpose driven churches.

    I think there are fundamental differences in the two “strands”, but taking up hirschy’s “the best critique to to improve” statement and knowing that most prominent church leaders are generally pretty prgamatic people, seeing the manifestation of mature EMC may help them ‘get it’?

  13. Bruce, if I’m reading you right you’re saying, “get out their and just do it, do it really well and let the others watch.”
    I reckon that’s what more of us should be doing than going to the myriad pastors conferences and seminars and reading the latest book or article on what’s going down.
    Hamo uses the phrase, “actualy doing it” to talk about certain people (okay, he told the Forge crew on Tuesday that I could have a badge saying that) rather than the lots of people I notice who talk and do nothing.
    But I also know that I talk more than I do, so I need to hear my own words more.

  14. i must admit, im not too worried about what people call themselves…

    i gotta say though that we can’t be getting all uppity about it, as it further sends the message that we are trying to separate and segregate ourselves from these other guys.

    Kinda reminds me of my brother always telling me i couldn’t use his favorite words cos’ i wasn’t cool enough….

  15. Surely the issue with terms are that they are helpful for a particular community in defining what it stands for. If a particular term “works for you” then it’s probably useful.
    If the EMC term works in helping people articulate what they’re on about, that’s great.
    But, in conversations between communities, where different contexts give rise to different understandings, we have to spend time defining terms so that we can understand one another. But, then, after such conversations, we have, in a sense, formed a kind of community – albeit temporary.
    If EMC works, then use it. If it confuses, avoid it. But each community should adopt terms that help it to define what it stands for and what is trying to achieve.

    The term “contemporary” for example could mean a thousand different things. But if it is useful for a community, it should help them define something. At the core of all the definitions is the tricky spiritual task of trying to get what is really important into the centre. If a term helps to do that, then it’s useful. If not, drop it!

  16. “Most large churches do evangelism in that they often are effective in reaching within their own cultural frameworks”

    If that is the distinguishing feature bewteen mission and evangelism, then I have not seen anything that guys who call their work emergent are doing that could not be defined as evangelism.

    Also there seems to be an implication that large churches have a cultural framework which is basically the same as each other or redundant to contemporary culture. If so, I would challenge that.

    Finally the key in my opinion is to grab a little of what Gareth has stated but expand it with something Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruit”. Maybe its time we stop our academic posturing and just started leading people to Christ. I include myself in this little diatribe.

  17. I like the dialogue. One of the key points in the Millennium Matrix is that our theology grows out of our worldview and our worldview is conditioned by the dominant mode of communication. So in my system history breaks out as follows:

    Oral Culture – Ancient Worldview – Liturgical Tradition

    Print Culture – Modern Worldview – Reformed Tradition

    Broadcast Culture – Postmodern Worldview – Evangelical/Charismatic/Seeker models – (Presentational)

    Digital Culture (emerging because it is emerging) – Convergent Worldview – Interactive model

    This is not a superficial environment. Interactive media and the environment it creates is highly engaged and participatory. Watch gamers. Better yet go to a tournament (www.thecpl.com).

    The digital environment will have many similarities to oral culture because both have a synthesizing quality. So you’ll see desires for connection, community, story, collaboration etc. Those are all integrative.

    I find that talking about the structural divides in history is more productive that debating the theological divides. One has to understand the roots behind the divides in the first place.

    You may want to read The Millennium Matrix. It’s on Amazon. There is enough good discussion here that it should add some more insight and dialogue.


    Rex Miller – http://www.millenniummatrix.com

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