Predictions on Church, Ministry, and Emergence (2007)

SUMMARY. Gives a one-paragraph description of nine “predictions” of unfolding cultural trends. I wrote this article in July 2007 to share with a doctoral cohort in their course on Emerging Cultural Trends. I served at that seminar as their culturologist “practitioner in residence.” My extrapolations of underlying trends address issues on: collaborative governance in churches, team-based ministry, the limited overlap period with both conventional and holistic paradigms, eco-stewardship, how conflict clarifies paradigms and theologies, theological “defragging” and changing “platforms,” emerging ministry roles, how whole-person perspectives will become indigenous, and mentoring innovators.


I just ran across this piece from July 2007 in my files and thought I would edit it a bit, add titles to the paragraphs, and post it. I find prediction #5 – Clarification through Conflict – of special interest, in light of the ongoing controversies about terminology, methodologies, etc., regarding “emerging church.” It certainly feels like we’ve had an entire year of … “clarification opportunities” … what with attempts at differentiating emerging from emergent from Emergent, missions and external focus from missional, Lakeland and New Apostolic Reformation from post-charismatic, etc.

I don’t know how many others find themselves frustrated and exhausted by all this, but I certainly am. Taxonomies are taxing! I’ve been at it for over 10 years and yet, I keep at it because it matters to me – both theoretically and practically – that the Western branch of the Church moves forward with more grace and humility in a post-colonial, post-Christendom era. Many of the ways of the past will not do in the future. I suppose it will still take a while before the critical internal issues are clarified, transitions consolidated, and new alliances solidified. Hope I’m still around to see it, as it feels it will take forever!

Anyway, I wrote these predictions in July 2007 to share with students in a doctoral course on “emerging trends.” If you are familiar with the three generational paradigms laid out in The Younger Evangelicals: Facing the Challenges of the New World by Robert Webber, these are more likely to make sense. The Traditional Paradigm is native to the Builder generation, the Pragmatic Paradigm to the Boomers, and the Younger Evangelicals for Busters and beyond. (I use the term Holistic Paradigm as an approximate equivalent for Webber’s Younger Evangelicals Paradigm.)


1 – More Collaborative Governance. Eventually, members will refuse to tolerate the exasperation caused by CEO/managerial “fathers” who act like sole-proprietors of the churches they pastor; their apparent acts of control through leadership positions will be increasingly defined as harmful “self-will.” Fewer adherents of Holistic Paradigms will simply wait around for these older leaders to die off so they can take over the reins; they will instead leave in order to establish new works based on leadership models of participation and collaboration.

2 – Team-Based Ministry. As a result of the decline in trust for the one-person leadership system, generalists and interculturalists will increasingly be hired to facilitate team-based staffs at churches and ministries. There still may be specialists on staff, but there may eventually be no CEO/the-buck-stops-here-at-one-single-person position; instead, direction will come from a group of generalists, the equivalent of “ruling elders.” When that is in effect, a single specialist may not be allowed to appeal for a change in major policies, although several specialists from different fields might, if they collaborate on a proposal and show how why the intersections among their fields indicate change is needed.

3 – Overlap Era and Dual-Paradigm Churches. In the interim period while the Traditional and Pragmatic Paradigm generations go into their final stages of demographic decline (e.g., about the next 25 years), some younger to middle-aged leaders will have a passion to serve wherever God calls them, even in such institutional churches, though their paradigm preferences are more Holistic and decentralized. They will help facilitate whatever moderate paradigm changes are possible among the older and more modernistic congregation members, will also fostering the more holistic paradigm already resident among younger generations. Those playing this unique role are more likely to be intercultural individuals [whom I’ve termed interpolators], which allows them to live in the complexity between two conflicting paradigms.

4 – Eco-Stewardship. Churches, ministries, and denominations that do not actively support recycling and other ecological sustainability measures will be avoided (and perhaps protested against) by those from Holistic Paradigms. Formal “calling out” or even shunning may be instituted against church-related entities that refuse to actively engage in racial reconciliation, global economic micro-development efforts, urban renewal, substantive opportunities for leadership by women in ministry, and similar issues that represent Holistic Paradigm values and ministry practices.

5 – Clarification through Conflict. Differences in paradigms and theologies will eventually become clarified among various movements within what has been called “emerging church.” As clusters of followers crystallize their values and views – probably through situations of inter-group conflict – we can expect that intergroup collaboration will only go to the extent of strength in trust relationships of members across group boundaries. Tolerance for differences among “emerging” groups will continue, but newer Holistic Paradigm forms of “ecumenism” will likely be less inclusive of groups [or groups with leaders] that are perceived as being too reductionist, too philosophical, too sarcastic, and too celebrity-driven. The other groups that collaborate will simply get on with the work rather than continue in seemingly endless dialogues about the work.

6 – Theological Defragging and Changing Platforms. There will be a gradual increase in calls to move beyond “tweaking” systematic theologies, or even beyond developing amalgamated theologies via “open source” methodologies, and instead to reconstructing “systems theologies” from the ground up. This will require extensive studies in epistemologies, hermeneutics, cultural contextualization principles, paradigmology, organic principles, etc., before such attempts find wider involvement and acceptance. These eventually emerging holistic-integrative-interdisciplinary systems theologies will answer the critiques of modernist shortcomings in theologies and methodologies, in both conservative moralism and liberal social gospel, and replace them with a robust perspective that refuses to sacrifice either truth for deficient creeds or Holy Spirit empowerment in transformation for mere activism.

7 – Emerging Ministry Roles. New ministry roles in cultural research and development will emerge. These will include workers skilled in observation, analysis, and interpretation of cultures, as well as workers skilled in strategic foresight (futurist studies), relational infrastructure building, and social action catalyzing.

8 – Indigenizing of Whole-Person Perspectives. Christian disciples from Western backgrounds will learn more from Eastern religious and philosophical approaches where whole-person perspectives have millennia-long histories. It will take several generations of experimentation and wrestling with an integrative but biblical paradigm before a holistic approach becomes indigenous to at least some major groups of Western disciples.

9 – Mentoring Innovators. Learning/training programs for learner-leader disciples will move increasingly toward mentored field-based experiences. Skills in creativity and entrepreneurship will be considered essential, as new ministry development will be significantly more complex, requiring higher levels of innovation.

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