« mission as the liturgy after the liturgy | Main | digging deeper with dave andrews and mark yaconelli »


Adam Moore

Glad to read this. I'm thinking it all through...



Good post Jonny. Just point me to the bit in my posts where I suggest you've 'sold out'?! I didn’t mean to suggest that, and apologise if that’s what you’ve implied.

I also tried to be very clear in my posts that my inability to think of something that excited me was 'a critique of my own failings'. Yes, I am frustrated with my own church experience, but I'm happy to admit that's mostly my own expectations and hang-ups, and I'd never want to deny the brilliant stuff some churches are doing - I just don't see it connecting particularly well with culture in general: the church is still a by-word for homophobia and irrational thinking.

On the education thing, I don't buy your parallel. Schools are unique institutions - private or otherwise - because education is compulsory. If you wanted to use that parallel, one might consider the case of the teacher who becomes disillusioned with school-based education, takes up home-schooling, but then when things get tough goes back into the mainstream.

What’s wrong with that? Well, nothing. And my point was not a dig at institutions at all. Seriously, I'm not sure where you've picked that up. You’re right to say that they are a fact of life. The post was really not much more than an observation of one particular vector: that which has emerged has retreated. I didn’t intend any value judgement, and on re-reading don’t perceive one from what I’ve written.

However, I do think that that trajectory is interesting. In my perception – which again I’ve tried to balance with an acknowledgement of my limitations – people were moving away from institutional forms, but many leaders of those groups have now re-entered institutions. And those who were moving away were critical, but now have become more institutionalised and conservative - again, that's just an observation of that vector and, as you say, "I do worry of course that the power of the old will swallow the new."

And in a plea for consistency – you have to be joking about pointing someone looking for a central London bookshop to Church House Bookshop?! Come on mate! I'm pleased about the permission-giving going on - but that's not what the post was on about. So don't worry Rowan or Desmond, you can rely on my support!

(And Chelsea - well, don't get me started ;-)


Sorry meant 'that's what you think I'd implied'

Christine Dutton

The bi-lingualism is a helpful way to approach it. For some of us, we are perfectly comfortable conversing in both traditional and new forms and don't find it difficult to operate in both, switch between both and introduce one to the other. For those who come into new forms there can be a huge depth to be gained by connecting with the traditional and for those who have known only the inherited there is a freedom and release by learning to listen to and speak with a new language.

Of course, a language is at its best when listening and speaking complement each other.

Bill Roberts

I appreciate your exchanges. I have been attracted to the Emerging Church movement for what it offers my parish by way of reinforcing our emphases on Jesus' life and ministry, his proclamation of the kingdom, and engaging local ministries and needs. I would also second from an American and Episcopal Church perspective Jonny's commment: "the new institution free zone is also run by broken humans so can be as life denying or life giving as the institution it left which is also run by broken human beings. in fact my own experience is that new things have a tendency to become more dogmatic and controlling than the very things they left." That has been our experience. People who leave for negative reasons-- i.e., those who escape from what they perceive as a failed or flawed institution-- tend not only to become what they flee, but also to splinter from the successor group when it loses its "purity."

Martin Scott

Great blog and liked the way you picked through the issues. A personal perspective, from someone deeply involved in the 'house church' of the 70s and beyond. The most discouraging part of that scene was the rapid move toward institutionalisation that took place. Mid 90s I completed a thesis on the shaping eschatology behind the house churches in the UK. It was at a time of many emerging shapes / ideas circulating. I anticipated that there would be a welcoming of those concepts, and a response to the challenges, and even a renewing that would take place. But...

My take is that many simply closed in, saw their movement as the centre, and structure took over.

Emerging language is important. However, often institutions learn the language and end up shutting down change.

I write as one who is seeking to make a journey beyond the institution - ever mindful of the (right) critique of the lack of historical influence by many of those who have embarked on that journey. I also write as one who has connected to the established scenario in city contexts. But I also write as one who is highly sceptical of all forms of centralisation. So, of course, my 'support' is for those who are disconnected institutionally.

Jonathan - a different one :)

Off the topic, but in the UK the preferred term is usually "home education" rather than the American usage "home schooling".

I assume this to be because in the US, where in many States the regulations are more draconian than here, the decision to home school children appears to be made more often on religious grounds and is seen as replacing/replicating school. Whereas in the UK the decision is often based more directly upon educational philosophy.


Oh yes Jonathan a different one, what a brilliant statement by someone how must have a vast knowledge of that damn Yankee home schooling system. Unfortunately for u ur wrong because of ur broad generalization. now I'm sure u make ur assertion based on the only news to come out of hmschooling in the US is stories about fundamentalist who have brain washed their children through hmschooling. But to sum up how we as Americans use this alternative to how it is used across the Atlantic as we r draconian and u all r so much more advanced in ur use is insulting. I'm sure there are Just as many in the UK who use it on religious grounds as there are americans who use it because of philosophical difference. I live in Los Angeles one of the most disfunctional educational institutions around which is y I and many of my friends were hmschooled. What's ur expertise?

Simon Hall

Hey Jonny (and Kester),

You appear to have hit a nerve - I feel your pain! I speak as one who gave up my role as a clergyman over these issues, but who now considers my reasons for this to have been misguided.

This feels like a very similar conversation to the one that some Christians have about working in politics and government. Some want to 'get their hands dirty'; others refuse to make the many inevitable compromises. Most of us have fundamental values that trump others. It would appear that Kester's desire for moral purity and autonomy trump institutionalism and church, but not the pleasure of teaching and making a living.

I think this is partly an indicator of how much our society has changed over 100 years. Privatised individualism is becoming not only the norm, but the ideal: when the Guardian switched to the Lib Dems I realised how entrenched the worship of individual freedom has become among so called 'lefties', who now despise any notion of socialism.

For an older generation, community has always been one of the benefits of being part of church, but now it feels like one of the costs, something counter-cultural. From a broader cultural perspective, Kester is the conformist, Jonny the rebel!

In my study of education I came across a great quote, which I now can't find! However it went something like this: 'the institution is the enemy of best practice, but without the institution no idea of best practice is ever handed on.' Or something.

I think this is a vital debate, particularly as I believe the future of the church in the UK to be located in the very large and the very small. Whether one or other is 'right', or will endure, I really don't know...

Zygmunt Bauman has written brilliantly on this issue in a broader context (particularly how we deal with the victory of individualism over community): 'Exit Homo Politicus, Enter Homo Consumens' www.consume.bbk.ac.uk/citizenship/Zygmunt%20Bauman.doc

Having said all that I'm not sure that being a romantic is a bad thing!


kester sorry you feel i have not been been fair but your comments and posts are value laden rather than neutral - choosing the term retreat in the title of your post, finding ordination troubling, suggesting people have got conservative etc. in fact if i was ordained i'd feel pretty judged especially having read your take on it in the book.

my comment about church house bookshop was of course humourous - i'm delighted there is a shop people can go to to get your (and other) books. but it's just a cheeky example of how instutions are part of our lives and that you are engaging with and feeding off.

martin thanks for dropping by - i now feel bad that i used the house church as an example. i did find it an exciting/liberating movement initially though that seemed to morph. i'm interested in your take on it. i don't know if our paths have crossed but i have heard your name many times - hope life is good for you...

si i think the point you are raising is so important and along with steve hollinghurst's comment on one of kester's posts that this is about navigating mission in a new cultural space whether in or out of institutions are the two most poignant comments as far as i am concerned. i have been thinking since reading the posts and kester's book a lot about individualism and bizarrely about zygmunt bauman so it's weird you mention him. i think you name the big issue that this trajectory sets up. i hope you are well - been a while since we caught up.


Good stuff Simon, though I think your move to set up institutional forms of faith as the rebellious mode is spurious, and could be equally applied to anything that was unpopular. Neat trick, but invalid move in my book!

I do sincerely hope that no one would what I've written as some sort of expression of worship of individualism. Ouch - that's precisely what I don't want! Interestingly, my currently writing is building towards a piece doing a double critique of Marx and Christianity. They were both hugely interested in community and alienation - and I'm convinced that the deeper message of both has been lost in cheap jibes about 'socialism' being bad and 'christianity' being backward. So yes, I'd want to cheer on a communal message.

Your words about the church being located in the very large and very small seems to fit with my latter piece arguing that the Church (big C) will remain eternal, while churches (little c) will form and disappear and re-form. It's this fluid, jubilee infected idea of institutions that I want to see. NOT the disappearance of them!


Jonny - as I said to you on the phone, I enjoy using hyperbole, and I hope people 'get' that. But I did feel that taking the message that I'd said you'd 'sold out' was harsh - when in fact I'd said how good your stuff was... Just to reiterate again - I'm not anti-institution! We can't live without them. But if we leave them to 'harden' without critique - a danger of taking Si's move above and accepting them as some sort of act of rebellion - then they will, and do, do damage to people.

Ben Edson

the emerging schism!

Simon Hall

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, gents.

Kester, I think what I observe among people playing with ecclesiology (I mean that respectfully) is that most end up in communities of people just like themselves. I hope that the future of church includes encounters with 'the other': Christians who are not like me, my neighbours, people of other faiths or none, God. And beyond encounters, community. This kind of community has a high cost for autonomous individuals, a cost Bauman reckons we are no longer willing to pay. In that sense - of committing to a 'community of others' - I see church as counter-cultural and authentically Christian.

The instituional stuff I can take or leave - I'm a non-conformist!


Simon Hall


Everyone reading this blog has been onto Amazon, so after looking at Nation of Rebels (I have a different edition with a different title) I then got Kester's book recommended to me! So I now realise how ironic my previous 'other' post is... I suppose I'd better shut up and read the book now!

Just a note on your comment (Kester) about the damage that institutions do to individuals. Of course there is terrible harm done by churches, but there is also harm done by leaving churches, though perhaps not to people like you and I. I am currently three quarters of the way through a year's research into how 'post-congregational' Christians look after themselves and I have to say the findings are not encouraging. Those who were already good at self care when they were part of a congregation (normally the leaders, and very often 'professional' Christians in one form or another) are now doing swimmingly, since they don't have to look after everyone else. 'Everyone else' is doing rather badly.

So I think there is quite a bit of harm being done by the process of deconstruction, it's just that its less dramatic and harder to blame on anyone. In Leeds the leaders of a fairly 'successful' church made a principled decision to close down so that its members would realise how much they depended on leaders and meetings for their relationship with God (oh, the irony - being told by our leaders that we don't need leaders!). The idea in the leaders' minds was that once that crutch was removed these infantilised church members would understand their dependence and grow into mature, autonomous Christians. Unfortunately, only the first part of that has happened, resulting in the majority of members either joining other local congregations or losing faith altogether.

That doesn't justify the corruptions and privations of togetherness. But there are corruptions and privations of solitude too.


Jason Clark

Jonny, tnx for this post. Perceptive, diagnostically spot on, and one of the central issues if new forms of church are ever going to get any traction in the real world.



Damn. That was great. A lot of wisdom here, and personally really affirming some tough choices we have been making. Peace brother.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)


  • jonny profile pic

    i have been blogging for twenty years in fairly eclectic fashion. i am an advocate for pioneers, lover of all things creative, an explorer of faith in relation to contemporary culture, a photographer and writer. explore the presences section below to find me in other spaces

    about me | profile


  • instagram facebook twitter flickr vimeo links e-mail me


  • pioneer practice

    the latest book is a full colour coffee table type book which is the first published by new venture GETsidetracked - pioneer practice

    jonny baker book covers

    follow this link to other books, chapters, articles and music i have published.

worship tricks

  • series 1series 2series 3series 4

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


  • typepad monthly archivesmy first blog