Dan Kimball is a recognized authority on the emerging church. After all, he did write the book on the subject. At a recent conference we sat down to talk with Kimball about the future he sees for the emerging church, and how it relates to the growing popularity of all things "missional."
There has been a lot of talk at this conference about the emerging church. Looking into your crystal ball, where do you see this going? Do you think this conversation has legs, or will it morph into something else?
It is totally hard to say. The term "emerging church" now means so many different things depending on who you are asking. So it all depends on what stream of the emerging church we are talking about. For me, the term means churches that are being missional in our emerging culture. That part of the conversation certainly seems to be gaining steam and interest from churches of all types. So I really hope the missional outward thinking is something that grows stronger and lasts. But what that looks like may be constantly changing as culture changes. But I hope we keep gaining a passion for being sent by Jesus into the world. I hope that stream of the emerging church grows and lasts.
You've talked about Guder's book, The Missional Church. Do you see a convergence between the ideas generated by the emerging church and the growing popularity of missional theology, or do you see them as really separate conversations?
To my best understanding the emerging church and the missional church are very much the same. But when you talk about the "emerging church" there is also a stream of conversation which focuses more on pragmatic changes - like worship gathering and helping younger people connect with worship. That is part of it, but it is far more than just making changes in the worship gathering, it is a philosophical way of being a Christian and being churches sent into the world. Personally, I use the terms "emerging church" and "missional church" interchangeably. They are synonymous conversations. But not everyone sees them that way.
Because they're not addressing the deeper, philosophical, theological issues, they're just changing their style?
Some churches only change the style or add an alternative Sunday night worship gathering to see younger people come to the church and consider that to be missional or emerging. That's a wonderful hope and worthy motivation, but usually that isn't addressing the deeper issues. Adding an alternative worship gathering to an existing church is very difficult because the philosophical DNA not going to be different. Being missional requires an ecclesiological change.
That's why I never recommend starting an alternative gathering with a different pastor in an existing church. Being missional must impact the whole of the church, not just a department within the church. That's why most churches-within-a-church don't work and why we are seeing so many church planters. It's hard to change an existing church at this deep a level. It's not impossible, but it is a lot harder than just changing the style of an alternative worship gathering.
Dan Kimball is pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and author of They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Zondervan, 2007). A review of his book can be found in the summer issue of Leadership.