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deep church?

So is this the next big thing? Is “deep church” a new subset of emerging? Is it the new Emergent Village? What do these new “movements” or new “language” mean for the existing conversations? Were you aware of “deep church”? What does it mean to you?

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  1. ron — August 21, 2007 #

    Makeesha, a concern that has been perculating in mr for some time is the very question you raise, ” What do these new “movements” or new “language” mean for the existing conversations?”

    There is a very danger of creating the very thing we are trying to avoid. Are we creating our own inclusive language, our own culture. In order to be ” in ” you have to know the language we speak. The leaders, the thinkers…those in the conversation…we might not be conscious…but are we creating our own heirarchy.

    In only guessing, but I would say there is still a large portion of the church still way out side of things emerging and missional. As they seek to understand…will we leave them behind. Language is important, deep is great…but we have to come up for a breath of air now and then to see if others are swimming with us.

  2. Mak — August 21, 2007 #

    this is exactly what my husband and I talked briefly about today. it’s important that we be aware of that in the emerging church and I’m concerned about creating even more subsets of the existing emerging conversation with a whole new vernacular. I’m very aware of it already and adding to it makes me nervous.

    I think your “guess” is spot on, most of the “church” feels outside the existing conversation - - often by their own design because of animosity and a refusal to engage but sometimes, it’s because they’re as confused about emerging/Emergent as I am about deep church. Which is not to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with emerging or deep church or whatever…but it is something to be alerted to I think.

    I have no problem confusing groups of Christians if it means that I’m speaking to the sought, but it’s important to watch it carefully IMO.

  3. Mak — August 21, 2007 #

    by the way, I readily admit that I’m probably just missing something with deep church stuff..I’ve already asked several of those involved to help me and just when I think I “get it” I read something that makes me incredibly confused. I feel like the conversation going on is “inside” and I’m “outside” which has created a deeper empathy in me for traditional christians and how they must feel about us in the emerging church.

  4. Jonathan Brink — August 21, 2007 #

    I’m not ready to admit that this is the next big thing and here’s why.

    One, the term was coined ages ago and lost. I see what Jason and a few others are doing but it doesn’t seem to have the traction that the emerging church does in terms of conversation. But, this could change.

    Second, there has been a tremendous amount of publishing around the emerging church movement, starting with a larger influential institution (Leadership Network). We have identifiable leaders (McLaren, Bell, Driscoll, Jones, Clark, Sweet, and some would say Yancey). Deep church has one book that supports the idea, and the word is in the subtitle.

    The emerging church is a response to a dramatic shift in culture, which created the liminal period, allowing us to really explore our roots. I don’t see the Deep Church movement being in response to anything yet. Maybe it is just not clear yet.

  5. Paul — August 22, 2007 #

    grin, we’re not a movement we’re a conversation. or a bid for ecclesiological world domination. maybe both/and… we’re just not sure yet, lol ;)

    I apologise though that it is so unclear, it’s all early doors and i think it is something that is still finding traction and exploring how this can be a reality beyond the academy.

    I’ll try and put down a couple of markers here about my view of deep church, but maybe it would be better if you want to ask me some Qs or take some of these points on. In all seriousness i don’t think we are trying to be the new emerging church conversation but are a group of people very excited about the possibilities that the conversation engenders for exploring deep church.

    In essence I think the direction of travel of the deep church conversation is flowing into territorty that will be familiar to some as generous orthodoxy, alive to the possibilities of the new of what God is doing now and to what God has done in the past across time and traditions.

    I think that is essentially where it crosses into emerging church as one of the more serious conversations in town which is about exploring church in a postmodern world rather than a new stream/movement. In other words the emerging church are already open and active to asking how can i be a baptist, evengelical, charismatic, catholic, orthodox etc in the 21st century.

    It is also a conversation that is very positive about the church, about the gathering of people to share their faith/lives rather than advocating a post church or a more liquid shaped model.

    Deep church conversation also helps scopes out the context/content of spiritual practices, theologies etc - to avoid a pastiche or nostalgic form of doing church, it has to be more than “retro-novelty” of incorporating the past. On the other hand it is trying to help stop the cycle of throwing babies out of bathwater when a new movement comes along and to avoid the obsession with the ‘new’ and ‘experiential’ which can result in a backlash against what is being left behind - as old, outdated, out of touch etc.

    In many ways then it is about exploring the longer term of the emerging conversation and taking a reality check, setting us in the context of the history of the church and the emergence of new forms of church in different contexts. To that end it provides, I think, a helpful critique and a constructive challenge for concrete church realities as well as seekihng to work both up stream and down stream of the conversation in order to share the new along the river of christian faith in which we swim…

    Which is all very nice I know but crying out for me to be asked some concrete Qs :). So fire aeay…

    I’ve written about deep church/emerging church relationship in a 3 parts [which looks to deepen some of the themes i've touched on above] - altho you’ll probably need a coffee and a wet towel to get through it all.

    Part 1: looks at why reports of the death of the institutional church have been greatly exaggerated – i.e. how in the emerging church conversation we are often reactive and reactionary driven. Perfectly understandable but a deep church perspective allows us to critique ourselves for the best/worst of our responses


    Part 2: built on this to look at how the emerging church shares much in common with the Pentecostal-charismatic movement as highlighted by the essay by Luke Bretherton in Remembering our Future i.e. emphasising our continuity


    Part 3: explores why I think Deep church offers the emerging church a hope for engaging with the ongoing work of the Spirit in an experiential reality but also providing a the historic context and critique of practice that will help us mature rather than burn out or fade away i.e. emphasising continuity and discontinuity. It’s in two parts…

    3a: http://paulmayers.blogs.com/my_weblog/2007/05/emerging_to_ong.html

    3b: http://paulmayers.blogs.com/my_weblog/2007/05/an_inconvenient_1.html

  6. Mak — August 22, 2007 #

    I’ve read it all my friend :)

    I think where I’m confused is that these are all aspects of the emerging church so it seems your just giving a name to an existing component of an existing “movement”.

    I’m concerned that this is going to create even more confusion than we already have going on in the Church right now.

    Also, I have yet to see how this, in practice, is any different than weak ecumenism.

    So for questions - what does this all look like in practice? Are you thinking we’re going to see “deep churches” start up? Do you agree that this could create confusion in language and practice, muddying already very muddy waters - if not, how are you expecting to prevent this?

    and finally I have a suggestion - on the deep church site, it would be helpful to have short explanations of what’s going on or what you are hoping to accomplish - SHORT being the imperative term.

  7. Paul — August 22, 2007 #

    Thanks Mak, you are too kind as ever :)

    I think deep church stradles ‘emerging church’ boundaries so there is some overlap and certainly it rejoices in some of the freedoms of postmodernity to explore similar sorts of questions but at the same time I don’t think it is just another strand in this one conversation.

    I think that generous orthodoxy, ancient-future worship etc also cover a lot of the same ground but again this is trying to inform and engage with how this looks in practice. I think that is the chief weakness at the moment that there is a lof of the academic and less of the practical/demonstrable - which is one of the chief reasons behind the site to try and find fertile soil for the ideas to flourish in the local church environment and in the long term see more practical examples and more commentary from practitioners.

    I personally wouldn’t want to see ‘deep churches’ per se as a brand, not least as every church i’ve ever been in as been both deep and shallow and it’s more than just slapping on the latest cosmetic camoflage. But I’d like to see churches that are deep in their praxis. I think you once articulated a vision of churches as wells, linked together across a community where they serve the community who don’t care so much as to the brand of christian at the point of service/blessing delivery [and in many cases whether its a christian or not helping them].

    Which is where I think this goes beyond ecumenism -which is a form of tolerance - to we celebrate each other, including our differences - that a rich, diverse, healthy community of faith who can disagree and yet still work and play together for the kingdom of God is not only wonderful in its own right but a reflection of the creative and wonderful God who we seek to follow.

    And yes I agree a short what is deep church page on the site would be helpful, thank you for the suggestion :)

  8. Jonathan Brink — August 22, 2007 #


    I’ve read the pages you’ve listed and I wonder if this is a locality or language issue (America/England). I simply don’t get it. Help me with this one because I’ve read a lot of Jason’s writing’s and I’m missing the basic understanding of what Deep Church is about.

    You mentioned many times the term generous orthodoxy, which is a distinctive in the emerging church. McLaren’s intent, from my perspective was to find the beauty in all the viewpoints of denominations so we could find some way to come together and celebrate it. So how is this different from what Deep church is doing.

    I agree with Makeesha that there doesn’t appear to be enough distinctive differences between the two to call out a new language. It appears confusing. That is unless you can explain why we need this new language.

    Help me with this one.

  9. Mak — August 22, 2007 #

    thanks Paul, I’ll have to chew on this.

    Jonathan - I’m so glad I’m not the only one. I tend to read the deep church comments and wonder if I’m in some parallel universe or if I’m just daft because I’m so confused hehe.

  10. Lyn — August 22, 2007 #

    OK, my understanding of Deep Church is that it is based on a book which is looking at past traditions and practices which can be brought into emergent expression. Therefore celebrating the “positive” in the churches history and entwining it into the new.

    I don’t fully understand it, and I guess my comment above may show that? I’m not really sure how it fits in with everything. Likewise I find the language quite difficult at times, it’s not just an American-British issue, as I am British! It’s something I’m watching on the side line with interest, to see how it pans out. I really don’t see it as a new movement though, it’s a conversation - which I don’t really understand!

  11. Mak — August 22, 2007 #

    lyn - I think maybe that’s my problem, I feel that (and this is my issue, not the fault of anyone) it’s such a simple thing to dedicate a whole “term” for that I must be missing something.

    I’m perfectly fine with accepting that it’s something people are talking about, I just don’t want to miss out for the simple fact that I’m not “getting it”.

    Now, if, when it’s all said and done, I still don’t really get it then I’m ok with letting it percolate and just watching from the outside.

    So I’m not saying that I HAVE to “get it” and that it HAS to appeal to me and that I HAVE to be ok with it…that would be silly…I’m just trying to understand…in part because I like Jason and I like what he says and Paul is a good friend and I like what he says and I just keep thinking that if I were to “get it” it would be really great. hehe.

  12. Lyn — August 22, 2007 #

    I get you on the understanding thing - maybe we should get Paul to produce “Deep Church for Dummies!”

  13. Paul — August 22, 2007 #

    grin, but I am a dummy lyn, maybe you guys are all way too intelligent, lol :)

  14. Paul — August 22, 2007 #

    Hi Jonathan, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by calling out a new language - perhaps you can unpack that for me and then I can try to better interact with your Q?

    I think it is helpful to point to generous orthodoxy because a lot of people have heard of it, so as a starting point to say we can learn from different christian traditions - it is therefore I find a useful common ground to talk about deep church with people from the emerging church.

    Deep church I think is more than just being generous in our orthodoxy, in recognising each other as being on the same side - it is the active outworking/exploration of what that means in practice - in taking the best of what God is doing now with the churhc and the best of what God has done in the past with the church. That in part is what the book ‘remembering our future’ is meant to capture.

    In a simple practical way of thinking it helps us see where we are on the chain of faith, how we have come to this place, how we are connected within the body of Christ but also how it can be two way so that we can bless the rest of the body as well. Whether the ‘we’ is defined as new churches, emerging church, or any other church stream that is happening in the world…

    Does that help at all?

  15. Mak — August 22, 2007 #

    I think I’m gonna have to just let it go and observe until it starts to gel in my thinking. To me it just sounds like simple networking and generous orthodoxy coming from ecumenism.

  16. Jonathan Brink — August 22, 2007 #


    Another way of asking my question is, why do we need a new distinction or term?

    Your response leads me to again ask why. I don’t see how this is different from the emerging church conversation. I see the emerging/missional church as being all about practice. The only thing I see you asking maybe a little clearer is what can we learn from history.

    I’m with Makeesha. I’m just gonna let it simmer and see what happens.

    My best and thanks for the conversation.

  17. Jonathan Brink — August 22, 2007 #

    I just thought of something. If you take the deep church material and insert the word “emerging” in the place of “deep”, would anyone notice? If so, what and why?

  18. Paul — August 23, 2007 #

    Thanks Jonathan, I think it is possible to argue that anything to do with a concrete expression of church is to do with practice, deep church can (and is) part of other church conversations that would not identify themselves as emerging. I find it is easier to start with some of the concrete Qs which I have experienced people wrestling with and finding

    For example in a lot of new forms of charismatic church that are starting to feel a frustration/tension with their sole focus/theology/practice of immediacy of God. They are asking how have other traditions addressed this as churches and how can we incorporate that in ways that are contextual rather than just novel. So one example would be a church introducing the lectionary as one way of reading/exploring/preaching through the whole of the bible rather than just what was ‘inspired’ by the preacher that week. The unfolding story reveals to us moments where God is extrememly close and active and times when he feels to us to be so far away, it allows us to explore both the triumph and the failures, the suffering and the serving, the pain and the times when that pain is relieved. We encounter a fuller story of faith which maybe in turn iilluminats and encourages our own faith story.

    Another example would be to examine how any form of church set up in the last 50 yrs is infused with our cultural fascination with consumerism and the rhythms in which we live our life - our church becomes formed in our image of what church needs to be like to reach the culture around us. We could ask the hard question what forms of our culture are we baptising by the way we do church and ask should church be a place of detox/challenge/change to our dominant cultural narratives which are also often the dominant narratives of our lives. In that context using the liturgical calandar allows a retelling of the christian story, the fasting, feasting and ordinary time of christian life and contrasts it with the other calandars of our lives christmas presents, love hearts, chocolate bunnies, summer holidays, collected chocolate (and for my american cousins ‘how to cook a turkey practicce run #1 :).

    Or looking how we as church community take communion and dedicating a whole service to it (something we will do more often from now) - which included both our understanding of what communion means to us as individuals (which was diverse) but also the history of communion across the christian tradition. We also used a very simple liturgy style to allow people to use the service as a journey in the presence of God, rather than the rush, grab, dab way that we usually do communion.

    Or let’s see how it flows the othe way - how “mission” for instance is permeating the church conscience as a way of conversations/encounters/connections/serving their communities. People who would actively disassociate themselves with emerging church are going out and making friends with people, doing things in their commuties and workplaces to make a difference to them because they see it as part of what it means to be a christian. Or another example would be the impact of charismatic churches on mainstream churches - the “re-discovery” of the holy spirit. I look at the anglican church here and see how it has been tremendously impacted by John Wimber/vineyard who passed on the blessing of what they had received.

    These are all little snap shots but I would say deep church is distinct from emerging church in its scope and application although the emerging church is probably the most open and accepting of exploring church of the past as well as contributing to the wider church out of the exciting things that God is doing/leading. I would not say that deep church = emerging conversation as there are for example: significant elements in emerging conversation that question the need for any church and seek to practice/live as people of the christian faith outside any institution.

    Deep church is not a post-church response it is very pro-church. One thing I think that it helps to highlight is that across church history there have been no perfect churches and that any form of church because it contains people will have its good but also its crappy, we get to see and experience the best/worst of us - which of course adds another elememnt to the conversation as to what can we learn from the past and in starting new churches for post-modern people can we less about labelling/feeling that we are being the new right/better form of church instead of just another gathering of God’s people? Not that I’m sure we do… :)

  19. Paul — August 23, 2007 #

    Hi Mak, yes I can see how it can be simple ecumenicalism and a generous orthodoxy - i think that is a great starting place. It is certainly a good way of learning, listening and another reason people are excited about the emerging church as we are so good at doing both - we’re not afraid to converse with different tribes and grow as we share with each other.

    Maybe the examples above that I shared with Jonathan help to start explore where this becomes more than just information or even practices that we select because we like them or they make sense but actually because they help us address a blindspot, or challenge are imported cultural assumptions or help us when the novelty wears off a bit and we ask what next - how do we consolidate or catch up with what we have neglected (what we focus on after all determines what we miss) - which probably won’t begin to kick in for another 20 yrs or so (so we can have a mid-life crisis together ;)).

  20. Mak — August 23, 2007 #

    I think it would be a tragedy if what you’re talking about Paul, is excluded from the Emergent/emerging conversation because you are setting yourselves up as somehow “separate or distinct from” the existing movements. I hope that doesn’t happen.

    However, what you said reminds me a LOT of what I hear at the Emergent mainline conferences and conversations and what I read from emerging-ers in denominational contexts (like Jason interestingly enough)

  21. Paul — August 23, 2007 #

    well i’m personally grounded in the emergent movement so my corner of the tent is more concerned with emerging/deep church and what they can contribute to each other but i can see how deep church is also useful to people in other contexts/conversations.

    Grin, i’m not surprised about mr clark, him being a big fan of both ;)

  22. Mak — August 23, 2007 #

    I still think what you’re talking about is emerging-missional which is why I’m getting confused as to why “deep church” is needed (instead of you all contributing your voices to existing conversations for example) but it’s ok, I don’t need to understand.

  23. Paul — August 23, 2007 #

    thanks Mak, why is it that you think that I’m talking about emerging-misional? How do you define that term?

  24. Mak — August 23, 2007 #

    TO ME (and i’m certainly not an authority here - just a practitioner in a tiny community in colorado), I’m seeing the same thoughts, the same questions, the same feelings and the same opinions being expressed in the existing streams in the emerging-missional movement. If you read Andrew Jone’s piece on it, that’s a little bit of where I’m coming from.


    I think you’re bringing out and highlighting the “generous orthodoxy” concept and giving it more of a prominent place and magnifying it a bit but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s similar stuff that’s already there….which isn’t a problem to me except that like I’ve already said, it appears on the surface that you may be adding to confusion and muddying the waters because the first impression I get when reading your stuff is that you’re creating something “new”. If it were just a matter of “hey, let’s talk about the deep church concept” it would be different but when I see articles that talk about curriculum, the only thing I can think of is that you’re trying to do something that you think isn’t being done already

    I’m not judging “deep church” and I’m certainly not suggesting that you’re doing anything “wrong”, I’m just trying to express my impressions as someone who has recently “emerged” from a traditional charismatic model who is trying to lead a missional community with a generous orthodoxy and also is participating in the Emergent conversation in the emerging-missional stream..maybe I’m just trying to think too hard about all of this. I was telling David that if I have to add one more catch phrase to my churchianity lexicon I’m going to self destruct hehe

  25. Paul — August 24, 2007 #

    Thanks Mak, your location and size of community does not reduce the value of your contribution. Without any form of ‘critical friend’ we’d get lazy and flabby in our deep churchism so I’m glad you’re engaging and asking such great questions…

    The TSK piece reminded me of kniting fog which is what DC probably reminds you of :). If ‘emerging’ refers to new systems then DC as a way of thinking will qualify - it’s certainly pretty simple in its thinking in many ways. Altho I think emerging here usually refers to more contextually than that :)

    I’m not sure myself whether DC is a new seperarate thang - I find it a constructive way to think about/explore the ‘church’ part of emerging church so it is something that i use within the emerging conversation and indeed has traction within the conversation because of its nature. So your Q on whether a whole new phrase is needed remains a valid one.

    But please please please don’t self destruct!!

  26. Mak — August 24, 2007 #

    I just hope that your “message” doesn’t get lost on people or that people don’t just write it off because it’s nebulous and just “too much” to handle right now. In other words, I hope that someone doesn’t look at DC and say “ok, so I was just a baptist and now I’m an emerging organic missional post evangelical baptist…I just can’t handle any more” ya know?

    Also, I can foresee it becoming divisive in a time when there is already an “aura” of divisiveness…and that would be a shame because the last thing emerging Christians need is to divide ourselves.

  27. Paul — August 24, 2007 #

    “I was just a baptist and now I’m an emerging organic missional post evangelical baptist…”

    not that we’re label obsessed or anything, lol :)

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