Dangerous People

as seen in ChristianWeek December 16, 2005 • Volume 19 Number 19
or at: http://www.christianweek.org/stories/vol19/no19/story3.html

Experience key for emerging church

Some Christians are abandoning structure for
“a spirituality that is very rooted in life.”

Frank Stirk
BC Correspondent

RICHMOND, BC—One Tuesday evening in November, nine people met at a local pub and spent two hours in a lively conversation about social tolerance. Guiding the discussion was Phil Harbridge, the leader of Breathe, a new “emergent church” community in Richmond.

Previously, Harbridge ministered for about 12 years to youth and young adults at First Baptist Church in Vancouver. That ended in late 2004 and his family decided they needed a deeper and more spontaneous worship experience than the traditional Church was able to offer.

“It seemed more like a choreographed sort of show,” he says. “It didn’t speak to us and we didn’t feel like we were connecting with God much.”

In its place emerged Breathe with its two components—Inhale and Exhale. Inhale gatherings take place on Sundays at the Harbridge home. The time is devoted to discussing and applying a passage of Scripture, plus various opportunities for worship with no set format.

“People can go and read a passage and interact with it themselves. They can go and have communion or quietly pray. There’s a spot where they can tithe and commit to God in other ways. They can go on a walk and just listen to God’s voice in nature,” says Harbridge.

Another key element, he adds, is “the sense of spiritual connectedness” that comes from sharing a meal together.

The second component (Exhale) comprises the Tuesday pub gatherings.

“It’s not overtly Christian. Probably the majority of people that come are not believers at all,” says Harbridge. “But it’s an opportunity to interact with people and at least in a casual sense be people of faith.”

While Harbridge insists he loves First Baptist and still has “deep friendships” there, he believes the attraction of Breathe is that it “allows people to experience a Christian spirituality that is very rooted in life.”

Murray Moerman, director of church planting with Outreach Canada in Delta, B.C., says the Breathe phenomenon is part of a much larger quest or restlessness within the North American Church for an “authentic expression of communal life in the gospel.”

“There is always risk in the questioning,” he says, “but to the degree that it causes the Church to become missional—more focused on understanding and meeting the needs of the unchurched community—then that restlessness is helpful.”

Across western culture, Moerman adds, a historic re-evaluation of church structures is underway.

“There are some who would suggest it’s a reformation of ecclesiology parallel in significance to the reformation in theology in the 1500s and the reformation in mission in the 1800s, and this is a third component of necessary reformation,” he says. “I think that is true.”

At the same time, Moerman doubts this spirit of reform will move forward in Canada as rapidly as it seems to be in the U.S. There, researcher George Barna projects that numerous new ways of expressing faith, including emergent churches, will cost the more traditional Church roughly half of its “market share” by 2025.

Harbridge does not disagree, but he also believes significant changes are already taking place in Canada.

“Quietly,” he says, “people are gathering in groups like [Breathe] across Canada. I don’t think it’s as sweeping yet as it is in the States, but it’s a lot more prominent than we think.”

Whatever the outcome, says British missiologist Martin Robinson, “a new kind of creativity is emerging onto the scene” that deserves to be encouraged and applauded.

“You’ve just got to constantly look for the spiritual entrepreneurs, who often get shut out of the church, because they’re risk-takers and they’re dangerous people,” Robinson told ChristianWeek during a visit to Vancouver last May.

“Fortunately, our backs are so up against the wall that we’ve got no option but to take the entrepreneurs on board.”

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