by Tony Jones
On the eve of the third Emergent Convention, I thought we could take a little walk back through time. Some of you will read this with winsome memories, and for others it will fill in gaps and hopefully help you understand how willy-nilly this whole Emergent thing is.
In 1997, Doug Pagitt left the employ of Wooddale Church in Minnesota and went to work for Leadership Network, a Texas-based foundation that brings together church leaders who mainly talk about building bigger churches (yes, that's a charicature). Doug's job was to build networks of youth pastors and young adult pastors, but being the radical subversive that he is, Doug quickly attracted some revolutionaries who thought that the whole way church is done in the U.S. needed to be overthrown.
The "Young Leaders' Network" was born. A national conference was held in Glorieta, NM (earlier incarnations, called "GenX 1.0" and GenX 2.0" came before what is now simply referred to in Emergent lore as "Glorieta"). The national gathering was followed by several regional conferences, and the word was spreading -- by this time, many of the individuals who are currently on the "Coordinating Group" were involved, as well as several others who have since chosen to distance themselves from Emergent.
Big changes were taking place at Leadership Network as Doug and Shelley left to plant Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. Regardless of the work of new personnel and those of us who were volunteering, what had then become known as "Terra Nova" was doomed. Ultimately, we wanted to talk about changes in theology, and Leadership Network avoided theological conversations in an attempt to maintain a "big tent."
After a bit of treading water, including a significant meeting in Chigago to try and salvage the Leadership Network realtionship, we had a conference call and formally decided to go it on our own, under the name "Emergent."
It was only a week after and with no knowledge of that call that Mark Oestreicher of Youth Specialties flew to Minneapolis and met with Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, and me to talk about books and conventions. What Marko offered was basically a platform, the very thing that had been lost when the relationship with Leadership Network dried up. Marko came as a friend of the nascent Emergent -- that is, he has theological and cultural symathies with what we're up to -- and also as a businessman. Marrying those two aspects of himself, he said this would give Emergent a chance to get the message out through books and conferences, and we said yes.
(As with any history, this is incomplete, ignoring several important aspects, including 1) the people at Jossey-Bass taking a risk and publishing Brian's A New Kind of Christian after several others passed, 2) the relationships formed with other emergers around the globe, 3) the advent of blogging, etc.)
Now at least the conference aspect of that partnership with YS is ending. But in so many ways, Emergent is no longer in need of a platform. Brian is now among the "25 most influential Evangelical leaders in the U.S." and is selling truckloads of books. Others are getting lots of requests for book deals and conference speaking, and lots of organizations are waiting in the queue to help Emergent with events and publishing.
But we hope you've noticed something in the past week, since YS announced that it was bowing out of the convention after this year: that is our deliberate push for "contributers" and "affiliates." Emergent has always been a friendship, and that's not just a platitude. We want as many people and organizations involved in this thing as possible. The "Coordinating Group" is just that, a small and rotating group of individuals who are attempting to coordinate the contributions of dozens of individuals and organizations. (Regardless of what you read on blogs, the Coordinating Group is not an elite group of emergers, but simply a collection of volunteers who are attempting to keep this thing rolling down the tracks.)
So, the big question for you is, How are you and/or your organization going to be involved?