An (ana)Baptist explores Deep Church and wonders

Over the weekend I’ve been devouring Jim Belcher’s new book “Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional”, which I won’t be reviewing today, but will be reviewing shortly. Instead, today is for processing, for reexamining my own engagement with the emerging church conversation. The question: how would I describe my own ministry?

You see, in many ways my entire journey has been beyond emerging and traditional, whilst being immersed in both. Of the three streams Belcher refers to – relevants, reconstructionists, revisionists – I clearly swim with the “reconstructionists”. Yes, I tend to be influenced by Anabaptist “resident aliens” perspectives, and yes, I am actively exploring postConstantinian (note,  contra Belcher I would not say preConstantinian) church models. But I am doing so from within a semi-traditional, sem-contemporary church, so what does that mean? How do my ‘reconstructionist’ tendancies manifest in my traditional church activity?

Well, since moving into the role of Ministry Leader for Mission and Evangelism late last year I think it’s been most obvious in my insistance that all ministries need to become more missional, that my calling is to equip the church for mission, to lead the church into mission, not to do all the mission. It’s been in my efforts to help our “Kid’s ministry” events to become more missional in preference to running separate “Evangelism ministry” events (which is a way of saying mission and cultural engagement is unavoidable, not a “special” thing for some). It’s been in my pushing for ministry meetings to be opened up so different ministies can work together (which is a way of saying worship and witnessing should be explored in more holistic, less fragmented ways). Unlike the “relevants” I seek more than stylistic change, I seek structural change, and I am actively working for it.

But I am not seeking structural change through the founding of house church networks or new monastic communities as some within the reconstructionist stream strongly advocate. Not only is this not so practical for me, not being a recognised minister and all, but I am not so sure church planting is the only way forward anyway. Many reconstructionist leaders have spoken as if all we should do is plant new missional churches and wait for the old unmissional ones to die. Given church planting receives little support in established suburbs, yet established suburbs still need missional churches, I ask, why not consider church transformation as a valid option for some of us? After all, this insistance on planting good, transition bad, could that not be a subtle manifestation of the consumerism reconstructionists might otherwise protest against?

So in summary, I think there’s a place for opening up traditionals to “resident alien” perspectives, for exploring third ways. Or is it a third way? No, I’m getting ahead of myself, I’ll leave that for the review.

5 thoughts on “An (ana)Baptist explores Deep Church and wonders”

  1. You make some really good points, Matt. Sometimes the place we need to be is in the “established” church trying to change the structure as it stands.
    That said, changing an established church is HARD. I’m sure you know this being that you work at one. There is a lot of red tape one often has to cut through and a lot of people with very entrenched positions.
    But Jesus never said it was easy.

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  2. Extactly, the easy path is not always our path. It’s worth noting that prior to taking up the Ministry Leader role I had already been at the church nine years. Timing is important. It wasn’t the time before. There are times for sowing and times for plowing.

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  3. Steve Addison has recently published a book on movements, which argues that established groups do not renew themselves… historically renewal comes from the edges (which sometimes then re-energize the centre.)
    I’d suggest the Catholic church seems to be in pretty robust shape given such a dismal hypothesis… but I haven’t yet read the book, and he may explain that fresh impetus comes from the missional orders on the fringes, not from the centre… still…
    I’d like to hope for renewal of establlished too!!!

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  4. Ahhhh, but what happens when a church invites the “edge” into the “centre”? This is precisely the situation. As you know I’ve been pushing missional boundaries from the fringe for years, but late last year I was elected into a Ministry Leader position and my wife was elected to the Diaconate, and soon after, Church Secretary. Now we’re busy re-energizing. This is not a center-originating process.

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