Saying that authentic community is important to the Emerging Church doesn't distinguish it from other churches. Most churches have “building authentic community” as one of their missions or goals. You can see this in the time and energy spent on small group ministries or Sunday School. I will leave analysis the effectiveness of those two models for another time. Because what I believe is different about the Emerging Church is that this community focus must make its way both in the way we do theology and the way we structure our churches (ecclesiology).
“Will the generation that created Wikipedia be content with a traditional top down church hierarchical structure?” (Hat tip to Mike S.).
This question has helped to shape my thinking on this subject, because if the answer is no, and I believe, for most of us, it is, then that has serious consequences on how we form our communities. It doesn’t mean there is no leader (Wikipedia still has a CEO) but that the leader’s role in the community is different than it has been in the past. More facilitator and less boss, more coach, and less charismatic leader, more friend, and a little less priest.
And it means that we must create opportunities for our Christian communities to be shaped and led by everyone in the community who shows up. Not just the pastor, or staff, or leadership team, or the longest standing members, or the biggest givers, or whatever. All those people have roles to pay, but so does everyone who calls the church home.
But its more than structural, it’s theological also. I believe that the spirit is just as likely (if not decidedly more likely) to speak truth to the community then it is to speak truth to me. I believe the spirit is just as likely to give us guidance through the community as it is to give guidance to me. And believing that has consequences on how we do church as well. A simple example in my community is that after almost every sermon there is a time for discussion, for questions, for thoughts, for places where someone might disagree with me, etc. it’s a small thing but it seems to have a big affect on people.