It’s good to try and envision what’s ahead for the year… and to look back on what you said about the year just ended to see how close you were. Okay, I don’t know how “good” it is, but it’s fun, anyway. Andrew Jones has made his prediction, and others have made theirs, so…
In 2005 I wrote Saulâ€™s Armour: 2005, The Year of the Emergent Movement, in which I predicted that the whole question of whether or not the emerging church was a “movement” would go away, following the de facto answer that it is. Well, nobody’s talking about it anymore… and it’s commonly considered a movement by insiders and outsiders alike. We could digress into my thesis that it’s a post-modern movement and therefore differs from church movements of the past, but that’s another matter. Bottom line, I did alright with that part of this prediction. I also said that the label of a movement wouldn’t be all that welcome, as it wouldn’t seem to “fit” properly… I think the jury may still be out on that one.
In 2006 I wrote 2006: The year that is emergingâ€¦ less word, more work, in which I predicted that this year just past would see most of the conversation turning toward more practical matters… less orthodoxy and more orthopraxy. I think I would say that this has in fact happened, that the conversation has in a lot of corners turned more toward the practical, so I guess I’ve done alright on this prediction as well, though the outworking of this shift has yet to become as widespread as it will.
In 2007, I am suggesting that the coming year will be “the year of Missional.” Rick Meigs’ site, Friend of Missional has gotten a lot of rapid endorsements since being launched this past year, the concept catching on rapidly. There are currently links to some 80 sites/blogs supporting and discussing missional topics — quite a leap from the half-dozen or so that there were when I made a point of adding this site to the list. Missional thinking and action is going to become increasingly important to people in the conversation over the coming year… and I think this is already evident enough to make my prediction tend toward the ho-hum “dog bites man” variety.
But what does all of this mean? I believe that we can string together the three years of predictions I’ve just outlined, illustrate a common thread and direction, and extrapolate some futher predictions… which will allow everyone to put me down as the first to be foolishly sticking my neck out and making predictions for 2008… and beyond.
The thrust from 2005 is that the emerging church is gathering, organizing, and crystalizing itself around some common themes and values. We haven’t yet seen that there are some facets of this that will lead to discomfort, but we’ll work through that when we get there. For now, it’s enough that we’re uniting around some common ideas, things we think are important. Turns out, as we saw through 2006, that we’re more concerned about what we do than what we say. We can live with minor disagreement on the finer nuances of theology, as long as we’re clear about our duties to our neighbour, and our understanding of what it means to the world for us to be the church. As we move into 2007, we’re able to give this idea a label, “missional.”
Missional thought and ideas are going to be further defined as a common set of values during the coming year, and as we move into and through 2008 (and on this point you should think more 18 months than 12 months from now), the idea of missional will begin taking root in established / inherited / institutional churches, which will lead to an increased openness in evangelicalism (for example) toward the emerging church in general. There won’t be a wholesale adoption of emerging church values and thinking at that point, but on missional subjects, there will be a certain amount of agreement or resonance. This will be significant but not widely understood (yet) within the established church, as it will be the beginning of a fundamental shift for them in how the purpose of the church is viewed.
As we move past 2008 into 2009 then, there will be a greater willingness on the part of both emerging and established churches to work together or to see things from the same viewpoint. Having been willing to consider missional endeavours together, or at least in the same way, an increased willingness to consider common theological ground will begin, and a deeper level of open conversation will result. This is where it will get uncomfortable for many in the emerging church, as we don’t want to become the thing we rejected, and it may seem to some that the emerging church is institutionalizing. Perhaps some will, but this is what is anticipated in my metaphor of “Saul’s armour.” Some will feel they can grow into it, others won’t… but there will be a renewed and more widespread conversation going on, with a genuine openness on both sides.
Do I think it will take three more years before the established church is accepting of the emerging church? I’m not sure, I doubt it will take that long in every case, but in some cases it will take longer. As closely as I can from this vantage point though, I think I’m offering a general idea of when the tide will turn.
We’re watching the foundations being laid for Church 2.0. Remember folks, you heard it here first.