Saturday, February 11, 2006

help! my tongue is stuck in my cheek and i can't get it out!!

How Emergent Are You? McLaren's Seven Layers of the Emergent Conversation

Islam has its five pillars. Buddhism has its eight-fold path. Evangelicalism has its four spiritual laws. And now the Emerging Church has its seven layers of conversation.

Last month I was part of a small gathering of church leaders that hosted an evening with Brian McLaren. And the conversation turned as hot as the chutney. A number of participants were eager to discuss the criticisms that have been levied against the emerging church in recent months. The hijacking of the emergent movement by those merely interested in new worship trends rather than more substantive issues aggravated others. Everyone was looking to McLaren to chime in.

Always more likely to defuse than to detonate, McLaren entered the spicy conversation casually while slouched into the sofa with beverage in hand. He cautioned us against judging where others were in the “emergent conversation.” Leaning forward, he outlined what he saw as the seven layers of the emergent conversation. "We all enter at a different layer," he said, "but everyone should be welcomed into the conversation no matter where they may be."

Based on McLaren’s description, I’ve outlined the seven layers below.

I’ve added my own titles and used the imaginary “Seeker Community Church” to illustrate each point.

Layer 1: StyleSeeker Community Church realizes they’re ineffective at reaching the coveted 18-32 year old demographic. They send a few staff members to a conference and they come back with goatees and candles.

Layer 2: EvangelismAfter trying every facial hair permutation, Seeker Community Church discovers that to actually communicate the gospel to a younger generation they’ve got to learn to speak their language. They hire a former youth pastor to start an evening worship service with an “x” in its name.

Layer 3: CultureIt gradually dawns upon Seeker Community Church that the new challenges they are encountering are not limited to the younger generation. The entire culture is shifting away from the modern presuppositions their church was built upon. Some of the language and practices of the “x” service trickle into the rest of the church.

Layer 4: MissionThe emergence of Postmodernism causes Seeker Community Church to reevaluate the effectiveness of their mission strategy. Altar calls and gospel tracks are left behind in favor of community groups and relationships. Conversion is accepted as a journey and not merely a point of decision.

Layer 5: ChurchSeeker Community Church begins to wonder if a multi million-dollar building housing a theatrical production every weekend is the only way to do church. Drawing from new and ancient forms of church, they launch alternative communities—one meets in a bar on Sunday night, and the other is a liturgical gathering. The church also partners with an inner city monastic group to reach street kids.

Layer 6: GospelThe leadership of Seeker Community Church is stunned when the senior pastor confesses, “I’m not sure I’ve really understood the gospel.” He begins to wonder why Jesus never said God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? And why Paul never asked anyone to invite Jesus into your heart? He starts to realize that the Good News is much more than he’d ever imagined.

Layer 7: WorldMaybe the mission of the church isn’t simply to become a bigger church? Maybe, like Jesus, the church is to engage the larger world to reveal that the kingdom of God has drawn near? To their amazement, Seeker Community Church discovers significant swaths of the Bible (such as the Pentateuch, prophets, gospels, and epistles) talk about justice, poverty, and compassion. The church begins to speak about social issues and participates in efforts to combat poverty, AIDS, and global injustice.

So, how emergent are you?


  1. Concerning layer 5...
    If you watch the glass room off the narthex on Sunday mornings, you may spot a few people gathering. We come for the community of believers, and when everyone else walks into the auditorium, we slip to the fringes and join together. This fledgling few is starting to join together to participate in the body of Christ without the weekly theatrical production. We are not there to emerge, just to find a way to be more like Christ. We are looking for a deeper understanding of the Good News which is so much more than we have imagined. Although we have not advertised, or invited others, our numbers seem to be growing. We are not looking for a guest speaker, or an endorsement, we just want you to know we are here.

  2. hey nathan - i'm so flattered you actually read this thing :) i think it's so cool that you're expressing your desire for god in new venues. as long as our spirit is sweet and our hunger for jesus leads us i don't think we can go wrong. cheers!

  3. The good news is more than we ever imagined. It is sad that we look at success in light of the "easy" measureables... attendance, offering, applause. I suspect that as we move from a target of just a bigger church to a transformed community that expresses Christ's Character with justice and charity we will please Him more. If that makes me emergent. Sign me up.