DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" ""> A De-centralized and Emerging Ecclesiology

A De-centralized and Emerging Ecclesiology

There is an extremely important theological conversation emerging in the socially networked phenomenon aka the blogosphere. A word or two should be spent, however, on the phenomenon of the discussion itself, before taking a headlong dive into the specific subject matter being addressed. Why? The nature of the discussion is absolutely remarkable! It would be a most unfortunate loss if the participants in this discussion and their readers failed to recognize how theology is being engaged in this postmodern time in which we are living. The nature of this particular discussion, or how it is being directly engaged, is, therefore, as important as the specific subject matter itself. These are truly remarkable and de-centralized times.

Drew Ditzel, a student at Columbia Theological Seminary, is enrolled in a class called “Emerging Church Models.” Specifically, the question Drew is contemplating has to do with the role of professional leadership in Emerging Church Models. He picked several Christian bloggers and requested a post dedicated to this question and any peripheral issues. The result: several well written posts - deeply cognitive and emotive - concerning emerging ecclesiology, missional practice, philosophy of ministry, leadership, friendship, orthopraxy, etc. The most remarkable aspect of this event is, however, the way theology itself is being engaged. As important as our local communities are to us, we are, whether we realize it or not, simultaneously engaging and developing the theology expressed within these local communities globally. Think about that for a minute or two.

The bloggers participating in this immediate theological discussion are: C. Wess Daniels (Los Angeles, CA); Anthony Smith (Charlotte, NC); Josh Brown (Atlanta, Georgia); Adam Walker Cleaveland (Princeton, NJ); Carol Howard Merritt (Washington, D.C.); Jonny Baker (United Kingdom); and Julie Clawson (Yorkville, Illinois).

Do you see it? These individuals are all living in different locations all over the globe! The conversation is, however, inter-personal, real, and framed upon an open and authentic willingness to deeply explore the theological question at hand. real-time changes are gradually being introduced into our local communities as a result of these global discussions. The comments left by readers at each blogger’s site push the boundary-less borders even further. Each comment left at each blogger’s site represents yet another individual who lives in yet another location separated only by miles. The boundary-less connection and willingness to openly explore and wrestle with ecclesiology and theology is as radical an idea as it is remarkable. The truth of the matter is this: the manner in which we are engaging and developing theology has been de-centralized, regardless of any conclusion(s) reached regarding particular subject matters (e.g., the role of professional leadership in Emerging Church Models).

Now that all of that has been said, I think proper attention can now be directed at the actual question being asked in this specific case. So, what is the role of professional leadership in Emerging Church Models? I think the answer to this question is actually contained in the aforementioned.

The “trickle-down” effect of de-centralized developmental theology is inevitable. Said differently, the way we are currently “doing” theology will actually effect the theology we are “doing.” Our local ecclesiastic structures, as expressions and/or extensions of developed theology, will consequently follow suit; they too are being pushed towards de-centralization. De-centralization is not accompanied by a cessation of leadership. The question is not whether or not leadership will exist, but rather what this emerging leadership will actually look like. More questions are discovered as one explores the question of emerging leadership further: how can time, energy, and resources be better used and implemented in this emerging local and global context; how can we prevent the natural and unconscious tendency to simply replace the de-centralized with our own version of a hip but still centralized hierarchy; what does any of this have to do with our unchurched friends and neighbors? These are only a few questions that could and should be asked.

De-centralization also means that an emphasis upon relationships will be authentically celebrated. If everyone is involved in development, than all will be developed. A deep friendship will be the overarching priority of the local and global community, rather than the hierarchical box and hoops we all have come to know so well. This is actually very good news for communities that want to swap the limited expression of Western Christendom for a celebration of the Gospel as missional expression.

What will leadership look like in Emerging Church models? Do we even know the answer to this question? Do we even understand the question we are asking? Are we aware of the contextual nature of the question and how this context shapes potential answers?

Will emerging models be characterized by professional leadership? Yes! Will emerging models be characterized by non-professional leadership? Yes! Will these models have paid leaders? Yes! Will these new models have unpaid leaders? Yes! Will they be built upon volunteer/friendship based leadership? Yes! Will the missional priorities of our faith be celebrated in authentically post-Christendom contexts? Yes! All of these questions - and their inherent issues - are totally rooted in context, and context changes. Fluidity is key; flexibility is at the heart of this emerging church model. In fact, the aforementioned questions are not as important as the fact that everything has been de-centralized. Said differently, the way we are engaging the question itself may just be more important than the immediate answer(s) we form.

So, instead of focusing so much energy and attention on universal answers to specific contextual questions, why not work on self-awareness and then do something substantial with the de-centralization discovered so the model Christendom built can be properly replaced with something tangible. God knows the world could use it.

The wide window through which we all are only beginning to peer is much, much larger than the window we have been starring through for years. It will take some time for us to catch up with the emerging window. Questions concerning ecclesiology are not going to be going away anytime soon. We are just beginning. It’s truly an amazing time in which we all live. What a journey!


  1. Posted November 14, 2007 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    “These individuals are all living in different locations all over the globe! The conversation is, however, inter-personal, real, and framed upon an open and authentic willingness to deeply explore the theological question at hand.”

    Shawn, how does that square with what you wrote here?

    Have your views changed or do you think that there are certain characteristics necessary in online conversation to make it “real”?

  2. Posted November 14, 2007 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for drawing attention to these articles, Shawn. I think I’m coming down from my “let’s tear down all the churches” mentality and coming to see things very much as you and countless other believers are.

  3. Posted November 14, 2007 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. But, what do you mean by: “Will the missional priorities of our faith be celebrated in authentically post-Christendom contexts?” “Post-Christendom” is what’s giving me the trouble here. Thanks.

  4. Posted November 14, 2007 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    @ck: It’s limited to the discussion and development of theology, which is something that leads to real-time changes. That makes these conversations very practical and very real. In other words, it’s a conversation that is resulting in very real and significant changes in local relationships, methodology, and practice. It is still, however, a conversation. It is a conversation that has real effects on real-time praxis and relationships. This fact prevents it all from becoming an echo-chamber. I still believe relationships can only occur in real time. Conversations can happen almost anywhere via any medium (smoke signals?), and can be inter-personal, real, and framed upon deep and open willingness to cause change. The difference in this case is the boundary-less nature social networking via the Internet provides. It’s never been done before.

    @Ben: I’m glad you are back! Yeah, they’ll most likely fall down all on their own, so better to direct your energy towards positive things. :)

    @Bill: Post-Christendom = Christianity, as it was known, is no longer the defining entity of society and/or culture. Christianity now exists in the margins, as something less than a spiritual authority. Some of us think this is a blessing because Christendom reflects very little of the values associated with Jesus’ Kingdom of God. Hope that helps! Feel free to ask more questions if that isn’t clear.

  5. Posted November 14, 2007 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Gotcha. So you are making a distinction between conversation and relationships. I still disagree (I’d say the apostle Paul had relationships with people via letter-writing, for example, even those he hadn’t met), but I see what you’re getting at. Thanks for clarifying.

  6. Posted November 14, 2007 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    @ck: I read Paul’s letters, and I’ve never personally known him, and I would never claim that I had a relationship with him. I actually peek in at conversation he had with others, through letters, and that peek informs me in a way that results in changes in real time and real-time relationships. A conversation is not a relationship, be it in a letter or through the internet, unless the conversation is an extension of an already established real-time relationship, but that is beside the point. It’s good to hear from you. I hope all is well.

  7. Posted November 14, 2007 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Oh, sure, I wouldn’t expect you to claim that (nor would I!). But if he wrote you back, then under my interpretation of “relationship”, you have one. Under your definition, you wouldn’t. It’s the philosophy training in me that wants to parse out the implications of that distinction, but I won’t take up any more space on this thread to do so.

    The initial points you’re making about the Emerging Church, global missions and flattened leadership deserve the focus here. Best to you as well!

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