“Can we expect emerging churches to emerge in an institutional context?” I asked this question in a post a couple of weeks ago and have been asking it of myself, my colleagues and practitioners in the emerging church movement for some time.
My answer to the question would be “probably not”. Some people in the institution would say the same. What I find interesting is that we say one thing and do another. When you’ve been immersed in an institution, it takes major resolve to identify and challenge the way we do things – our culture. And, as Mark Greene memorably told our clergy conference last year, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. When our institutional culture dominates, we default to a one-size-fits-all approach to inherited and emerging church alike and deal out all our traditional forms of accountability, training and support (financial, pastoral etc) to the emerging church.
The result is disillusionment among some emerging church practitioners in the Church of England who have been encouraged by what the leadership have said and subsequently felt misunderstood. “I am not sure whether the Diocese knows how to deal with ‘fresh expressions’ or anything that’s not a parish-based effort,” wrote one such practitioner in an e-mail to me.
This asks big questions of someone in a position like mine. We’re giving serious thought to challenging the assumptions we’ve got about how to do church and to creating completely different forms of accountability, training and support which will empower pioneer leaders to step out of traditional expectations. I’m going to share some of that thinking here. But the next step will be putting it into action and creating a different culture. If we fail to do this, we’ll just reinvent the wheel and the thinking will not be worth very much.