What is an Emerging Leader?
I don’t know yet! They are still emerging.
Seriously, this whole emergent thing has me beat. How can we define such a phenomenon except historically … in the future? But it is happening and it has caught our attention, so with my best David Attenborough voice I ask, “What is this creature people are calling an emergent leader, where are they found? What exactly is it that makes them tick? Come with me and we will see if we can discover just a fraction about this strange and elusive creature called the emerging leader…”
Emerging Leaders Think Like a Missionary not a Minister
Many of the emerging leaders I have met and spoken with seem to operate out of a different paradigm than I have seen in the church in the past. They seem to think missiologically a long time before they ever begin to think ecclesiologically. In other words they frame their thinking, their reading, their language as if they were missionaries, not church planters or church pastors.
I think we have believed a couple of myths; we have believed that we can get the world to come to us, and secondly we have believed that if they do come, we have what it takes to meet their needs. For a small slither of Aussie culture, this may be true, and we celebrate those victories (and we should) as though we have the key to winning all the lost this way. Leaders who build attractive churches do see fruit, but in my experience, on the whole, most of those who are attracted do not come out of the world but from other churches.
Hudson Taylor is a hero of mine. He models the type of ministry I see needs to be embraced more in our post-Christian Australia. He went to China and discovered that missionaries lived in a compound and journeyed outside for mission work. It’s obvious why – Western food, western Christian conversations, western Christian culture all existed inside the compound…only they were not reaching western Christians! They were reaching eastern people who did not know Christ. At the dismay and criticism of the missionaries (and the Church back home) Taylor removed himself from the compound and began to live and eat and dress and even talk like the locals for the sake of reaching some.
Emerging leaders I have met seem to adapt their ways, their (church) culture to incarnate Christ (not Church) into the culture in which they find themselves. In short, they seem more involved with what is considered ‘function’ rather than ‘form’. For example function is something like bible teaching, in most of our churches the form that function takes is a sermon…but it doesn’t have to, this is just the form we have traditionally given it. What if an emergent leader sees this as an inappropriate expression (form) of a correct and biblical action (function) he/she should try something that is more culturally appropriate! Think like a missionary!
Professor of Church growth at Fuller, Eddie Gibbs says that for younger leaders, the greatest concern isn’t how to get people to come to church but how best to take the church into the world. Their emphasis is not on extraction from the world but on engagement with society. (Leadership Next, 38)
Emerging Leaders Think “Community” not “Congregation”.
Jim Peterson says in “The Church Without Walls” that God’s people are not, in essence, a congregation. They are a community. “Congregation” is frequently used in the Old Testament to describe the gathering of the people of Israel. “Community” implies life together, a life of caring for one another that touches the full spectrum of our affairs. (pg 150)
Eddie Gibbs says that congregations should not be viewed as a group of people who gather together for an hour or two each week. Rather, he says, they should be viewed as a federation of teams – people who support and encourage one another as they live out their faith commitment and minister to the people they are in contact with…ministry and mission flow out of relationships. (Leadership Next 37) This describes – community.
We seem to have made congregating the major priority in our churches. Emergent leaders I speak with recognize the importance of gathering for teaching and worship, but it seems that many people are unsure how living and loving in community in full view of unbelievers actually works. How do we live out Jesus command in John 13:33ff to Love one another (believers) as Christ loved us, SO THAT OTHERS WOULD SEE AND KNOW THAT WE ARE BELIEVERS? Where does this actually take place? Where does the world observe first hand, believers loving one another in their day to day living?
Emerging Leaders Define Success Differently.
Bums, Budgets and Buildings are ways of describing what are the measures of success in so many churches (not yours of course!).
Many emergent leaders that I talk to are not all clear on how to measure success. But they are challenging some of the ways in which our secular culture measures success and in some ways wanting to challenge the way in which many churches have taken on the worlds values in the means by which success is measured.
In the course of history, the church has tended to pattern its leadership style after the predominant power structure of the society. Our current predominant model in the western world is a business/economic model. When we embrace the business model, Jim Petersen says, we are forced to define success numerically. We think cost-results, asking, ‘what do we get for our money, for our effort?’ It can become manipulative to evaluate ministry numerically. Those being ministered to end up serving the leaders in the accomplishment of the leader’s goals and vision because people are the bottom line in this “business”. (116)
It is far deeper than what space allows here but some of the questions being asked by emergent leaders regarding success measurements are;
· Do we count people coming to us or going from us? Gibbs says that emerging leaders are concerned not with institutional maintenance but with missional effectiveness. They focus on ministry by the church in the world rather that ministry in the church that is largely confined to the existing members.
· Do we count those saved last night or 10 years on…those discipled?
· Do we need to count every ministry performed by people in our churches as ‘our ministry’, and thus expect the fruit to be new comers into our church?
· Is the small end of the funnel the corporate gathering on Sunday morning ?
· What if people choose to be responsible for their own giving rather than running it through our books?
· If people haven’t ‘been saved’ but as a result of our ministry, the community is looking more like the Kingdom of God (Justice, Righteousness, Peace etc) – Is that a (measurable) sign of ‘Good News’/Gospel success?
One of the great difficulties in defining what is an emerging leader or an emerging church for that matter, is just that…they are “emerging”. They are not yet formed, this is new, this leader, in this new area has “L” plates on. Oh sure they may have written 10 books on the subject, but how can ‘emergent’ be anything but…new and … well…emergent!
So my plea to the reader is this – “Handle With Care” or prayer for that matter! Support, encourage, challenge, help, be humble enough to receive critique of what you are doing, be it old or new and be bold enough to ask the hard questions to those emerging among us.