Pursuing the Original Mission of the 'Emerging Church'

When Dan Kimball began writing his book, The Emerging Church some eight years ago, the term "emerging" had a meaning completely different from how many would define it today.

The first to use the term in writing in the United States, Kimball "got into the whole emerging church world" because he wanted to see "lost" people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.

In other words, it was all about evangelism.

"My entry into the emerging church world was because of the reality of the increasing amount of people who aren't Christians and weren't experiencing the joy of salvation and knowing Jesus in this life and the reality of eternal heaven and eternal hell in the life-to-come is a reality," Kimball wrote in his blog last year.

In a recent interview with Leadership Network, the Vintage Faith Church pastor from Santa Cruz, Calif., recalled the energy and excitement in emerging church conversations nearly a decade ago when young pastors were trying to "rethink" church for younger generations.

"It was more initially focused on evangelism ... with innovative thinking about what leadership then looks like for future generations, what ... spiritual formations look like ... and what worship gatherings look like for the next generations," Kimball said on "The Show" last week. "It was much more evangelical churches desperate to see people know Jesus."

But the focus over the past six years since his book was released has diversified quite a bit, he said.

The "emerging church" has become much broader theologically and much more confusing. It "diversified in so many different pockets," Kimball, who first heard the term in 1997, explained.

Today, Kimball chooses not to use the term anymore as few are likely to associate it with evangelism.

"If you were to have asked me about what the core of the emerging church is, I would have responded with 'evangelism and mission in our emerging culture to emerging generations.' And from that, other things were of course included, alternative worship, discussions on ecclesiology etc. as a means for fruitful growth of disciples of Jesus," he explained on his blog. "Underneath, the reasons for desiring change was an outright passion and desire for seeing emerging generations ... experience His grace, forgiveness and joy of following and knowing Him."

"Today, I certainly sense if you asked someone what is 'the emerging church' it would mean a whole lot of different things than that. In fact, I don't even think the word 'evangelism' comes up when I start hearing about 'the emerging church' for the most part anymore."

Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll from Seattle is also keeping his distance from the term. He told his congregation last year that he has concerns over the theology of some of the more liberal emerging church leaders and said the term has become highly confusing.

For Driscoll, labels come and go and he doesn't concern himself with them.

And although Kimball will not use the term as readily as he did in the past, he said he won't stop in pursuing the heart and mission of what "emerging church" originally meant, or at least how he had defined it.

"Underneath all the emerging church discussion for me, was evangelism," he said. "I want to focus time, prayer and energy on healthy evangelism and new disciples of Jesus being made who weren't Christians before in our new cultures and new generations."