What can we learn and how do we tell our story too? Commonalities and challenges from the Emergent church


Topher Maddox, topher@sprucelake.org
Leadership team, NewStart Fellowship, Canadensis, PA

This past spring, I attended Emergent Village’s 2007 Theological Conversation at Eastern University. The gathering was a mix of pastors, laypeople, professors, and students, including several Franconia Conference staff persons. I attended the “Conversation” as a member of New Start, which grew out of the process of redefining church life at Spruce Lake Retreat in the Pocono Mountains.

During the gathering I realized how much the Mennonite church as a whole has in common with the emerging church. There are at least three traits that I feel we share with the emerging church. One, like the emerging church, the Mennonites I have rubbed shoulders with are relational. They really enjoy being together. Second, Mennonites are incarnational. Evidence of their obedience and willingness to be Christ’s hands and feet are all over the place! Even writing this reminds me of the conversational way the Mennonites share their beliefs with words. Third, I see a commonality in humility and a willingness to listen to the “other.” I did not grow up a Mennonite; there were some “sticky” points about Anabaptism that I was helped through by excellent talks with loving people.

While we have things in common, the emerging church can challenge us in our relationships, in the areas of service and mission, and at engaging our neighbors and the culture. One bad habit I believe we need to emerge from is the practice of only being the church during the one or two hours on Sunday morning. The emergent church challenges us to have not only a life-giving weekly worship service, but also to explore ways of being a church that brings that life into any given hour of the week.

Shane Claiborne, founder of a New Monastic community in North Philadelphia called “The Simple Way”, was one of the speakers at the Conversation. What can we learn from this emergent type movement called the “New Monastics?” Some of these men and women find the worst places to live and then move there, taking literally the idea that we are the body of Christ. I have to ask, is my church going to serve people without really getting involved, or are we willing to get messy and live alongside “the least of these?”

And I hope we’ll continue to converse. When we share our faith, we grow. I am really encouraged by the stories I read of Mennonites engaging conversations with Muslims. Keep telling stories and parables. Write poetry. Make films – I have heard that filmmakers are the storytellers of the 21st century. Blog about what God is doing in your community. My wife is telling our family’s story through scrap-booking; it’s a good story. And remember to listen. Leaders, if we are the only ones talking, then we’re probably not doing our job. Let’s equip our people to tell more and better stories. I want to hear them!