But even with all these difficulties people are still using the term emerging church. So has to mean something. But what?
Well I am going to express my understanding of the emerging church. (I am sure that I am going over simplify some things, misrepresent other things and even fail to even mention some important things. But it is important to express something, if nothing else to generate discussion). Now there are certain assumptions which I think are characteristic of the emerging church. They are: missional, embracing questions and experiential.
The church has a mission to the world. This is not something that the emerging church has recently discovered. We have known this all along, right from the very beginning of the church. Jesus gave us the great commission and told us that he was sending us out into the world. And the church has lived this. There are the great missionary movements, the Billy Graham crusades, seeker sensitive churches, evangelism training and so on. There are a couple of things which make the emerging church missional focus somewhat different.
First, as Michael Moynagh states, “Emerging church with a mission heart is different. It does not start with a pre-determined mould and expect non-churchgoers to compress in. It begins with the people church is seeking to reach, and asks 'What might be an appropriate expression of church for them?'” (http://emergingchurch.info/reflection/michaelmoynagh/index.htm)
The emerging church has the belief that what we do is shaped by our culture, language and assumptions. In other words church as we know it is a cultural expression of our understanding of the Bible. Since we are called to reach people in different cultures church will look different in these different cultures.
A second possible difference in the missional focus of the emerging church is who does mission. We have often believed (or at least practiced) that the professionals do mission, we stand in the background and support. We send out full time missionaries, hire full time ministers. When it comes to evangelism we bring our friends to hear a professional speaker and then have a stranger to council them. The emerging church is emphasizing that we, all us, are on a mission. We are all missionaries, we are all ordained (by the Holy Spirit) ministers. Mission is not for the professional, mission is for the church.
A third focus in its missional understanding is that the church is here for the world. The emerging church believes that we are to bring heaven to earth. Just as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Another aspect of the emerging church is its willingness to embrace questions and live in mystery. The emerging church does not believe that it has everything together. It views itself on a journey to discovering Yahweh.
The emerging church is actually very skeptical of anyone who claims to have it all together, to have all answers. The emerging church does not believe we will ever be able to arrive at all the answers (at least on this side of the grave). Our minds are too limited to fully grasp and understand Yahweh. Therefore the emerging church believes that there will always be an element of mystery in our faith, an element that we cannot completely explain.
Since the emerging church does not believe that we have it all together they believe that we can learn from other people. Practically this means that the emerging church embraces many different denominations. They believe that every denomination has something to offer.
The emerging church is not interested in just knowing about Jesus and God they want to experience him. They are not interested in religious rules they want to live in a real life giving relationship with Yahweh. Faith becomes viewed as a dance. The goal of a dance is not to have obeyed all the rules. It is to embrace the music and the passion of the dance. Rules can provide a structure but they cannot provide heart.
So when the emerging church gathers together they are not interested in just talking about God (though that does happen) they want to experience God. Practically this means that a worship service can possibly be more interactive than a typical service.
The emerging church believes that as people we have a desperate longing and hunger for God and spirituality. A God and spirituality that is not just believed but is experienced.
This is a very brief overview of how I understand the emerging church. What do you think?