Phyllis Tickle’s “The Great Emergence”

Stewardship time is always an invitation to look toward the future as we consider budgets, programs, and directions for the coming year. One of the best books I’ve read in recent years about the future of the church is the late author Phyllis Tickle’s “The Great Emergence.” Tickle suggests that the Church renews itself every 500 years or so.

If you look at the last 2,000 years or so of Western history, you can identify some great upheavals that occur in Western culture and Christianity about every 500 years: The Reformation (1500’s); The Great Schism (1054); the Council of Chalcedon, Fall of Rome and Gregory the Great (590), and at the time of Jesus, the Great Transformation or Change of the Eras.

Tickle contends that the Church is in the middle of yet another vast transformation in the way that Christianity is understood. Some have termed it a kind of “rummage sale” where we get rid of the clutter and hold tight to the treasures of our faith. In other words, everything is up for grabs during this time of “emergence.” Over the past generation or two, there has both great confusion and fear as well as great opportunity as a Church “re-forms” itself.

The big question, of course, is what are we—both locally here at South Church and as a global church—to do in during this “rummage sale” time? Do we hold on tightly to everything stored away in the church’s collective closet for past 500 years? My sense is that that answer is, “No.” But then what do we give away? What practices and programs have outlived their usefulness? And how much do we try to hold on to?

There’s no easy answer to these questions, of course, but some have suggested that we look to the Early Church for inspiration and guidance. After all, our ancestors in the faith also endured a time of great change and transformation. In Acts 2, we find the practices and distinctive elements of the early church. The first church members 1) devoted themselves to the Apostles’ Teaching; 2) devoted themselves to Fellowship; 3) devoted themselves to the Breaking of Bread; 4) devoted themselves to Prayer.

So, what might it mean for us that the 21st-century Church likely has more in common with the 1st- and 2nd-century Church than with the 20th-century Church? How might that change our priorities and how we go about doing ministry here in Bergenfield? What if we also focused on Teaching, Fellowship, Eucharist, and Prayer—and trusted that God will provide all that is necessary for the future?

I’d welcome your comments and conversation on the “rummage sale” idea of faith. And thank you for your continuing support and prayers for this church!