Friday, March 09, 2007

Where is the intersection of Urban and Emergent?

Yesterday I had an excellent conversation with Chris Brooks at the Caribou Coffee in Wheaton. Chris is the Pastor of Family Life at River City Community Church, an urban multi-ethnic faith community in inner-city Chicago.

He came to me with a difficult question: where is the intersection of the urban church and the emerging church? Do the two worlds intersect, and if so, why is it so hard to find much evidence of this intermingling on either side?

I suspect there are many answers. In large part it's probably because the emerging church conversation is so decentralized and amorphous. It only consists of what the participants bring to it, and thus far, not many of the participants have been from an indigenously urban context. (Though I suspect this needs some definition. For instance, both Wicker Park Grace and Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler are indigenously urban emerging churches, and yet I'm not sure they're quite what Chris had in mind.) At any rate, this is a gap in the emerging church conversation that sorely needs to be filled, and I wonder if up/rooted can play some role in filling it.

So I'm throwing this out there for conversation, and I really want to encourage the readers of this blog to participate:

Have you seen intersections of the urban church with the emerging church? If so, where? What do they already share in common? How can each enrich the other? And what needs to be done to continue merging the two?


Kevin J. Bowman said...

I think the intersection is the corner the urban church sits on.

The emergent church if we are truly pursuing missional living needs to GO to our urban brothers and ask them in what ways can we be available to wash the feet of your ministry.

Since the EC is mostly a white, suburban, college educated, (upper) middle class movement we bear the resources to partner into their existing work. I have observed watching my friends who serve in urban churches, that they have been "doing it missional style" while we were still watching Hells Bells and making pledges that "True Love Waits". When I say that the intersection is their corner, it is because they sit on the corner where the true work of missional living is already in full swing.

Anonymous said...

This is a great topic, because I think it highlights the glaring need for the next step in the Emerging Church. As Kevin pointed out, the people who are drawn to the EC are drawn to it because they are hearing voices say that it’s time to actually LIVE out these commands regarding the least of these, and that we go into all the world.

But I think what they actually find in the EC is a bunch of people who are SAYING we should do that, but who aren’t actually doing it, yet. And they aren’t figuring out how to do it. And they aren’t even talking to the people who are doing it. Let’s face it, the EC has become an academic thing, with many of its key leaders being professor types. LOTS of talk, very little action.

The churches you mentioned in this blog entry typify the phenomenon. These are churches in “hip” urban areas, with a few middle class minorities, but mostly the same white people as you’d find in the suburbs. NONE of those churches you mentioned is in the ghetto, and none are reaching the ghetto. Just because a church is near downtown doesn't mean they're reaching the least of these,and the only people who fail to make that distinction are people who aren't really intending to get face to face with the least of these. As I’ve heard Glenn Fitzjerrell put it, (he of the Bridge ministry fame), there is a difference between urban ministry and “urbane” ministry. He says it with a smirk and his little pinky out, but you get the idea.

And speaking of the Bridge, here is a perfect example of where the EC fails. Many EC individuals I know, and 3 or 4 emerging-style church bodies I know of have plugged into their urban ministry, and they love it, and they think it perfectly exemplifies what the EC is all about, but you never see The Bridge ministry or Glenn at any emerging conferences. What’s up with that? Does the emerging church REALLY care about putting legs to their beliefs? Do they really want to be missional? I think the EC has about 15 minutes to put aside the rhetoric, and roll up their sleeves, or they’re going to see their credibility fall right back with their church establishment buddies.

glenn said...

This certainly is something that I have been wondering about. Who cares about putting another paint job on the same old self-serving local church? One of the great dangers for the EC is that we gather as conglomeration of hip, young, angry ex-evangelicals and rebuild the church for ourselves. It will take more the candles and couches to make the church truly relevant. Any church that reflects God's mission will be relevant.

There are places in most communities where very little light of God's goodness is shinning. Those are the places that should be drawing us. I have felt there could be a symbiotic relationship with the large evangelical churches retreating to the burbs and new churches springing up. At least there are a lot of church building for sale. (Not that you need a building to be the church.)

Mike Clawson said...

Thanks for kicking off the conversation guys.

I do want to ask one thing... let's please make an effort not to denigrate the calling that God has placed on other ministers and other communities. I don't want us to fall into the trap of implying that unless it's urban, it's not real ministry. God is at work in the suburbs as much as in the inner cities. For those of us who are called to the suburbs, we often feel like we have an almost harder job than our urban brethren, since it's our job to wake up comfortable suburbanites from their narcissistic slumber and get them caring about God's mission in the larger world.

Also, before we start pointing fingers at the EC, let's make sure our accusations are based on fact. Do we really know that the EC is all talk and no action? Or is that just the impression because we're only listening to the talk and not sticking around long enough in the communities to see what they do about it afterwards? Let's give real life examples, positive or negative. Not just blanket statements.

And by the way, Anonymous, your comments are welcome, but if you're going to come out swinging, please do us the courtesy of signing your posts. To criticize people without being willing to own your comments is disrespectful and diminishes the conversation.



Mike Clawson said...

I've also noticed one other thing. There seems to be certain assumptions about what and who exactly the "emerging church" is; but I'm not sure the labels are entirely accurate.

Kevin described the EC as "mostly a white, suburban, college educated, (upper) middle class movement"; and Glenn described it as a "conglomeration of hip, young, angry ex-evangelicals".

I want to ask two thing: 1) is it really that? and (if so) 2) is it only that?

glenn said...


I did not intend characterize the emerging church movement as one consisting of a "conglomeration of hip, young, angry ex-evangelicals." I did intend to say that it is a great danger if we can be legitimately characterized as such and if repeat the sins of our fathers when it comes to being internally focused and self-serving.

Things get a little crazy in the blog-o-sphere and it’s easy to overstate our case with our fingers flying over the keyboard. Yet, we each are speaking from the only place we can, out of our personal experience, which adds color and new insight to the discussion and needs to be taken with discernment as a part of the whole.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to post as anonymous, but I’m a bit of an inside player in this whole emerging/urban ministry situation, and I suppose I’m hoping to give the inside dope without giving myself away, and I hope you can dig that.

Secondly, I never really mentioned suburban ministry, and suburban ministry wasn’t the original subject. Of course God calls some to minister in the suburbs, and of course a massive number of people who aren’t called there go there too. And we aren’t na├»ve as to why that is. There are also people called to the inner city, and of course many of them simply do not go. This I can tell you after 20 years of ministering in both the city and the suburbs. Finally, as someone who has ministered in both places I’d like to lovingly encourage you to rethink the notion of telling people that you “have an almost harder job than our urban brethren”.

In fact, I think that statement might tell you a great deal about why the EC has problems interacting with ministries to people who are down and out. Urban ministries might take it as an insult for you to suggest that you almost have a harder job than they do. Just a thought, take it or leave it.

But the truth is after all the years I’ve spent in urban ministry, I rarely hear urban ministry people putting down suburban churches. They are especially respectful of suburban ministries that recognize that a big part of their mission is to funnel their much greater financial resources into “least of these” ministries. (2 Cor. 8:13-14)

And to be perfectly clear I don’t think there is anything wrong with the churches you mentioned, as long as you recognize that they are essentially ministering to white, formerly suburban dwelling people in a recently gentrified area near a downtown area. This is simply nothing like urban ministry to gang members, addicts, prostitutes, and ex-cons. And if they are calling what they do urban ministry, and letting white suburbanites like yourself think that they are really working with the least of these, then that was what I was suggesting might be a problem.

Here are some of the specific examples you asked for: ministries like The Bridge, Lawndale Community Church, New Moms, Safer Foundaton, and Hope House. Do ministry with all those least of these types of people mentioned above (gang members, addicts, prostitutes, and ex-cons).

To provide a contrast, you have River City Community Church, which is a fine church with wonderful worship and a nice place to be on Sunday morning. And I think they would tell you quite honestly that they aren’t doing much in the way of prison outreach, feeding the homeless, or reaching out to the gang members who are can often be seen on their block. They are in an old traditional Puerto Rican neighborhood, and the last time I was there (and this was awhile back to be fair) there wasn’t a single Puerto Rican in the building. Also to be fair, they do have multi-ethnic congregation (African-American and white), it’s just not the ethnic group of the neighborhood they happened to be in.

Finally, is it all talk and no action? What message is sent when the EC says it prefers the term “conversation” over the term “movement”?

Tripp Hudgins said...

Hey. Good stuff.

Our church is Emergent in the sense that it exemplifies the way the Spirit is emerging in a theologically diverse, densely populated environment.

We have Catholic, ECUSA, Salvationist, Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, Dutch Reformed, Evangelical Covenant, Methodist, and Lutheran voices in our congregation. We have postured as an ecumenical congregation, and people have come from all over the neighborhood.

We met in a coffee shop. It closed. We meet in the chapel of a local Lutheran congregation now. We have experienced more growth there than in the "hip" coffee shop. Who knew?

I would say that Reconciler, our congregation, is not very hip. It is, however, a place for discipleship. And that is the most attractive feature. We have no band, no guitars, no flash computer happiness...though I love a lot of that stuff. The congregation has journeyed away from that.

In urban ministry, as in most places, the formula reveals itself. And it changes constantly. If the Emergent movement is about how the Spirit emerges and not about two or three specific formulae, then it has a place in the urban environment. But if it insists on its own way, whatever that is, then it will fail. Urbanites seem to rebel against compulsion.

Does this make sense?

Chris Brooks said...


I am loving the dialog. Anonymous, please call me offline. I'd love to connect. There has beeen a very healthy parallel conversation at my blog:

I am following all of this closely, and I will be re-connecting with Mike (and maybe some of you) soon to take this dialog to the NEXT LEVEL. Holla!

And, oh yes, we have Ricans in da house @ River City. Come Sunday and see the biz.

Steve said...

"Any church that reflects God's mission will be relevant."

Glenn, that was beautiful.

nanette said...

Hey All,

Nanette chiming in here from Wicker Park Grace...

We're located at the intersection of Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Humboldt Park. At a recent Sunday gathering of sixteen we were eight people of color (five Hispanic and three African American) and eight not.

One point about urban ministry is that not all urban dwellers are gang members and prostitutes. And not all the people living in our gentrifying neighborhood are formerly suburban dwellers.

Our (beautiful old) building (used to be a factory I think) was recently purchased by the condo developers who built five condos down our block next to us, and now they want our space too. We're trying to protect spaces like ours, which is managed by the Neighborhood Arts Council and functions like a community center in our neighborhood.

We're working with the alderman on this and trying to prevent the landscape from becoming a completely solid block of ticky-tacky condos. This is the neighborhood we're in. It's urban.

We're "emerging" in that our developing and growing community is made up of people who are striving to develop and grow. We care about our city and our world, and sometimes feel overwhelmed by the suffering and injustice we see and live with and through. We're learning just how we can make a difference and just how we can support each other to do that.

We're also trying to see God's hopes and dreams for the world, and to live into that future. Many of us at Wicker Park Grace have had negative experiences with the church and we're exploring what it means to be followers of Jesus and people centered in love and generosity.

We're all works-in-progress. I hope that we can be sources of encouragement for each other in these efforts.

Kevin J. Bowman said...

I think Glenn is right about being aware of the danger of a tendency to reinvent ourselves as a "hipster" rendition of the same self-obsessed churches many of us "emerged" from. At the same time I also sympathize with Mike about ministering to "wake up comfortable suburbanites from their narcissistic slumber and get them caring about God's mission in the larger world."

I think this is where we need more participation in urban ministries. As we answer their invitation to us to enter into their work, in their neighborhoods, we are less able to remain narcissistic, lazy, and self obsessed.

I know from my experience EVERY person we have taken to the bridge can't wait to go back. I have MORE volunteers for my next host team which is not even scheduled yet than the Bridge can accommodate.

Our members are hungering to go back and The reason is simple, that work is the kind of work Christ hungered for.

I personally agree with anonymous' second post when she noted the connotation of deciding to be a conversation rather than a movement. The Urban Church calls us to movement.

Kevin J. Bowman said...


Your post is beautiful!

Mike Clawson said...

Anonymous, if you really feel that you can't disclose your identity, that's your perogative. Just be careful that anonymity doesn't become a shield for unkindness. I'm not saying that you have done that yet, I just know from personal experience that it's easier for me to be unkind in online debates when the other person doesn't know who I am. I'm more inclined to be gracious and loving when I know that I might have to meet that person face to face soon. (Or when I know that my professional reputation may be affected by what I say.)

Anyhow, I guess we'll just have to trust you to hold yourself to that same standard despite your anonymity.

And I do apologize, I should have been broader in my original exhortation to not denigrate the work of suburban churches. I should have also included churches in "hip", gentrified urban neighborhoods as well. I would hate for the leaders of any of those churches to come here and feel like their work for the Kingdom was being devalued simply because they are on the north side and others are on the south or the west sides of Chicago. You say that there's nothing wrong with these churches, but I still seem to detect a note of condescension in your tone (please forgive me if I'm reading too much into your words). It still sounds to me like you think such urban churches are inferior, or not really "urban".

I've asked for more clarification and definition of exactly what we're talking about when we say "urban ministry", and you've defined it as ministry to the "least of these", and I think that's a pretty good definition, except that maybe it's too broad. If Wicker Park Grace ministers to gays and lesbians who have been rejected by most other churches, is that any less valuable than a church that ministers to ex-cons and gangbangers? Isn't it just a different type of "least of these"?

There's a saying that I learned in my Intercultural Studies grad program: "Different is different, not better or worse." That's the tone I'd like for us to establish in this discussion. Every church is called to be missional in their unique context. Let's value that, while also exploring how we can all expand our collective horizons.

BTW, you mentioned ministries like The Bridge, Lawndale Community Church, New Moms, Safer Foundaton, and Hope House. Those are all great groups. Here's my question, why couldn't we consider them to already be part of the "emerging church" whether they know it or not? When I look at what they're doing and see that it resonates with the values of the EC, then I want to claim them and include them and say "Yeah, that's what I'm talking about." According to my definition they already are emergent ministries. Why not?



Mike Clawson said...

BTW Anonymous, you also said:

"I’d like to lovingly encourage you to rethink the notion of telling people that you “have an almost harder job than our urban brethren”."

Thank you for the caution. The "almost" was deliberate on my part. I don't want to judge who's work is easier or harder. All I meant is that in urban ministry the needs are obvious and immediate. You don't have to wonder how to go about making a difference. Out here in the suburbs it's trickier. First you have to get people to see that there is even a problem in the first place before you can even get them involved. And then, once they're ready to get involved it's hard to know what exactly to do. The needs aren't right in front of our doorstep. We have to be a little more creative and deliberate about it.

Anyhow, you're right, I shouldn't have said "harder". It's just different, but still very challenging.

Chris Brooks said...

Nanette from WPG,

We should compare notes.

Mike Clawson said...

Sorry, one more thing in response to this question:

"What message is sent when the EC says it prefers the term “conversation” over the term “movement”?"

I think what that means is that the EC is not seeking to become a denomination or parachurch ministry to replace the work that other people are already doing. The EC is a "conversation" in that it is collaborative friendship between others who are already "on the ground" doing the ministry. We want to connect people in these existing ministries, not just launch the "official" Emergent urban project (or Emergent church planting ministry, or Emergent global relief fund, or whatever).

That's why, IMHO, it's misguided to fault the EC for not being more directly involved in urban ministry (or whatever). If there are urban ministers involved in the emerging church conversation, then the EC is involved in urban ministry through them. I think the question we're raising here is: 1) are there urban ministers out there that are already involved in the EC conversation? and 2) how can we get more of them involved?

One example of what this looks like: the folks at The Bridge have connected themselves to the emerging conversation by participating in up/rooted, and we've been able to help connect others in our group to them because of that. (And we're planning on having Glenn speak for us at our Midwest Emergent Gathering this summer.) So in my opinion, The Bridge is one example of an intersection of the EC and urban ministry. We're doing it through them, because they are a part of us. (And vice versa.)

Does that make sense?


nanette said...

Hi Chris. I'll write you off-line. We should totally compare notes. I'm serious about being sources of encouragement for each other.

Thanks for seeing beauty in what I wrote, Kevin! It's the beauty of our unfolding into the purpose God has for us, maybe.

And Mike, thanks for mentioning the lesbian and gay community. You're so right--that's a very important part of Wicker Park Grace. It's so much a part of the air I breathe that I forgot that was part of our diversity!

About "conversation", I see the use of that term as a reflection of the desire to be a community of generative friends. We converse as friends converse so that we can generate real missional work and support each other to do it. Emergent Village describes itself as "a generative friendship among missional Christians."

Friends converse. Friends encourage each other to grow and expand in understanding and practice. Friends address one another face to face and work through disagreements in respectful and transparent ways.

Personally, I like the "conversation" concept for all those reasons. Conversation like that makes for better movements in my opinion.

grace and peace everyone...

Kevin J. Bowman said...


You said, you want to "claim" these great ministries that anon named. That is what I am trying to say to a point. What I challenge you as the "leader" of uprooted is I think these are the ministries we need to learn from. I would MUCH rather come to an up/rooted meeting and hear from the people on the ground in these ministries than even hear from a T Jones or D Paggitt. I want to learn from the amazing people how I can plug more into their work.

I think we need more movement. Not a new movement, but more application through introduction to these wonderful urban ministries.

Mike Clawson said...

Agreed Kevin. That's part of why we have a representative from the ONE Campaign/Bread for the World coming in April. That's not specifically "urban" per se, but it is a chance to learn from a group that is already out there in the world making a difference.

Julie said...

When I was in college (a conservative Christian college) the only mission I ever heard about was the 10/40 window. If one wasn't focused solely on the 10/40 window then they weren't considered good Christians.

Sometimes I feel something similar happens in these discussions. If people aren't doing urban ministry, or aren't doing urban ministry in a certain way then they are wrong - not good Christians.

I've had to learn this as well. As passionate as I am about there actually being a female voice in emergent, I realize that its not the only important thing out there.
This is a complex conversation with many important aspects, and it gets even more complex when certain important aspects don't have much of a voice yet.

So what I guess I'm wondering, is how can we respect and value all the parts of the conversation without having to tear down other parts? Can we still appreciate listening to Doug and Tony, and value urban ministry (in all its forms), and empower women, and work to promote fair trade, and discuss theology, and explore alternative worship... ?

Chris Brooks said...

Great stuff all. After some sleep, I want to add my 2 cents to the "conversation" (I actually prefer the term "dialog," but that is really just semantics.)

Julie, I am an urban Ministry guy. I have been all of my life. Some of my best friends on earth are from the suburban context - both Church and secular. I love my suburban peeps. Love 'em! I want to clearly state that non-urban does NOT mean inferior or not "good Christians" as you would characterize your perspective. God is omnipresent. He kicks it in the suburbs and in the rural pockets and in the shantytowns without preference.

What I do believe is true, however, is that most movements in the Western Christian world - intentionally or unintentionally -continue to carry an isolationist or exclusivist "Crusader" methodology. What I mean is that when you look at the majority of "movements" or "reformations," there is almost always a white male at the top of the food chain. Take EMERGENT as a real-time example. Who is writing the books? Who is getting interviewed on TV? Who is speaking at the conferences? Who is making big bucks off of the momentum?

Where are the indigenous urbanites/people of color? I would suggest that we have, once again, not been in on the catalytic dialogues. We are now coming into the conversation late. Again.

As sad as that reality is for me personally, it is now water under the bridge. We need to turn those lemons into lemonade. Thus, I am not bitter. I want to serve this little blogosphere cohort by remaining true to my bi-racial heritage and to our God. I want to honor both sides!

Much love. To all y'all.

rmaxt said...

well, I'm wondering how much of this EC/Urban conversation reflects a congregation/dialogue/diatribe of predominantly immigrant peoples?

I see '1st - recent' generation immigrant church families that are having their indigenous Emerging Leaders siphoned into the 'exciting' new church in the hood. I've been in exploratory conversations with some 'safari leaders' who enjoy the 'Urban Trip' and have even 'bagged trophies for Jesus,' but budget boards and prejudicial viewpoints (on both sides) have not deemed it fit to bring out that new 'pair-o-dimes' ☺ that would allow us to have deeper partnerships. My challenge is to encourage indigenous leaders to 'expect the best' of their safari-ing brothers. Tribal [a.k.a. FAMILY] respect is still holding us together and we have weathered multi-hour famines, flag-pole sittings, and are the better for it... but we're no longer a minority! (and growing) The "Western" world (& church) still has a long way to go. As recent as this past week I was able to experience verbal expressions of hatred to my cultural heritage, and I dealt with it as most of my history dictated: 'Be noble. Say nothing. Know that you are better than that.'

In support of ICor12-Body Ministry, I know each of us serves a vital purpose and are necessary in the body. We know that we will always have the 'poor' with us [Mark 14:7]; but I didn't know I was poor! I just knew that my friends had really cool toys. Now, things are better a generation later, and I am able to buy my children cool toys [and me a MacBook! ☺] , but we still don't live like my Suburban friends... and that's ok. My children are now expanding their horizons and one of my sons will be the first male in the history of our family to graduate from a College or University. I would say he has his own idea of an Emerging Church model... and it's gonna rock, and it's gonna be diverse, and it's gonna be practical. I just don't know that he will write a book coz he's gonna be busy doin' the stuff!

So that's where those of us who believe that we 'get it' can come alongside and support them [urban leaders]. Serve them by promoting opportunities to resource their vision with training, evaluation, sustainability, impact, greenbacks or even pizza.

My own personal experience with one of those EC models was when they were directly across the street from a school we were serving with an outreach program, we couldn't get volunteers because everyone was a long commute away. Bitter, nope! Just observing. They made it in that same night to their 'unplugged' coffee house on the same night, but we couldn't somehow get them to work with 'THOSE' kids.

I'd like to hear how other multi-generational immigrant congregations/ministries/outreaches are handling this concern of seeing our own emerging leaders being wooed into lucrative (don't blame 'em) arrangements that negatively impact urban development.

Thanks for hearing my heart.

Mike Clawson said...


Thanks for posting. I definitely hear what you're saying. However, I almost laughed out loud when you mentioned these "lucrative arrangements". Where are you finding these lucrative arrangements in the emerging church, and, more importantly, why hasn't anyone told me!? ;)

I don't think there's anyone getting very rich off the emerging church right now, but maybe you're seeing something I'm not.



Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

While we are a so called "para-church", our ministry is both emerging and urban. It has been easy to gain a strong sense of resonance with other Christians that the two should run parallel, especially with the emphasis on justice that has been rekindled in the EC, but it has been harder to see people step out and engage it.

I am glad you have this conversation going. Keep it up!


Mike Clawson said...

Hey Jamie, what is your ministry? Can you tell us more about it?