Having examined some of the major strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the EM church, what now? We can rejoice in its strengths: the variety and experimentation, the intentional engaging with culture, the emphasis on building community, the culture of self-critiquing, and the space allowed for mystery within an integrated, holistic faith that leads to personal and social transformation. We can embrace the opportunities that our current setting presents: the cultural change around us and the newness and adjustability of the EM movement.
But what about the weaknesses? What do we do with a movement without clear definition and direction, which is prone to unfair stereotyping, false dichotomies and exclusivity? If we pause to put this in historical perspective, we can then acknowledge that the church has never been perfect in practice (as a quick glance through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians might remind us) or theology (as we can see in the disagreements between Paul and Peter in Galatians).
Then there are the threats: the challenges of planting new churches or reinventing existing churches, the potential havoc EM literature could cause, the risk of rifting relationships with churches and denominations, the dangers of financial, social and ideological unsustainability and the risk of syncretism. But once again, if we look with a historical perspective, we can acknowledge that the church has always functioned in a somewhat threatening environment, whether the danger has been persecution, slavery, poverty, pluralism or nominalism. Two thousand years down the track, we can be encouraged: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and on this rock he is building his church – despite constant inside weaknesses and outside threats – and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Yet if we continue through Matthew 16, Jesus gave his disciples – us – the keys to the kingdom of heaven. What are we binding and loosing? Instead of Christians and churches with different views walking out and slamming doors on one another, why don’t we open our minds and listen to one another, seeking to celebrate and unlock our combined potential? If we can work through issues together we can combine our strengths, focus on making the most of our opportunities, minimise our blind spots, find help for areas of weakness, and support one another in the midst of threatening environments. As Stuart Murray Williams reminds us,
“hope for the future of the church in Western culture does not lie with the inherited church. Nor does it lie with the emerging church. It lies in conversations between inherited and emerging churches that enable each to learn from the other and together find fresh ways of incarnating the gospel in a changing and diverse culture”.
In the midst of changing cultures, the calling of the church (established and EM) is still to keep Jesus central. I contend that his desire for the church can be found in his last command before the ascension – “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” – and in his last prayer before his arrest – “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. Whether churches call themselves emerging, missional, established or traditional, their calling and passion should be to follow Jesus’ lead in both mission and oneness.