While considering the life cycle of a movement, a picture came to my mind of an arc describing a trajectory from point ‘0’ up through three or four stages, peaking and then describing a descending arc back to the baseline which contained point ‘0’. I began to think about movements of the past, ones of which I’d been a part, and ones that had gone before that. And then I thought about the future, about the emerging church.

I’ve already suggested that 2005 will be the year of the emerging church movement, whether or not Emergent/EC is ready for it… and it is already being called a movement by observers. But what’s the difference?

Personally, I don’t have the energy for another movement, unless it’s going to be different. I’ve been through the days when it was de rigeur to run from one guest speaker to another, from one book to the next, from conference to conference seeking to “imbibe” whatever new and earthshattering truths could be gleaned in order to transform your church or ministry. And I’ve had enough, thanks. The idea of course seemed to be that by dipping into various “wells”, one would be able to balance the ministry of the church by taking in the emphases of various others. In actual practice, it tended to give people whiplash. It felt a little like we were junkies going from fix to fix, seeking the next conference high that would carry us over to the next hit. This probably has me jaded, but I’m at the point now where if I’m going to hop on board another train, it’s got to be one that I know is different enough from the ones I’ve been on so far.

Designing a Destructured Movement

Movements I’ve known in the past all have a trajectory. They start somewhere, execute an arc, and decline. “The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” sounds like a tragedy of things going right but then suddenly all wrong… but it could be the title for the story of any modern movement. I submit that there are commonalities among movements which cause them to rise and fall — or at least which cause the fall rather than the rise. Chief among these in my view might be the question of scaleability. When things don’t scale well, a bottleneck is created so that no matter the force or import or size of the “thing” bearing down on the bottleneck, it can only pass through at a specified maximum pace.

I have outlined some specific thoughts contrasting former (Modern) church movements with what may emerge as the characteristics of a postmodern church movement. Naturally these characterizations are very much generalizations, so they may not apply to every modern church movement, but represent some off-the-cuff thinking on the concepts found under each heading… so the comparisons below are more conceptual than cohesively thought-through at this stage. In this context, I consider the Vineyard Movement to be the last major church movement (things like “The Toronto Blessing” do not qualify as movements in my view).

Modern Movement Postmodern Movement
Heirarchical Leadership Non-Heirarchical, “flat” Leadership
Structured Destructured
Top-Down Bottom-Up
Emphasize Unity Emphasize Diversity
Protect & Defend Apologetic Welcome Critiques
Drawn for organization and structure; talk about fellowship and synergy Drawn for fellowship and synergy
Control Structures Entropy is Not a Design Flaw
Authoritarian / Org-Chart No Ultimate Authority (but God) / No Org-Chart
Starts in specific time and place Grassroots, global beginnings
Identifiable Leaders Identifiable Spokespersons
Organized Community Relational Community

This comparison is a work in progress, and seeks to help understand what the major differences will be between a postmodern emerging church movement and the majority of modern church movements which have preceded it. It is not intended as a bad/good comparison, just as very general observations of what characterizes these movements differently from each other. (This post has been an unfinished article for a few weeks now, so I decided to simply publish what I had so far and come back to it after further reflection or comments from others).

Update: okay, here’s the visual, very rough:
Trajectory of Movements
…see my further notes on it below, comment #4.

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