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The Impact of the Emerging Church on the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.

Introduction

The central research question in this article is how and why a mainline church like the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PCN) incorporated elements of the emerging church conversation into its way of doing mission. We will also look at the challenges that have to be faced when connecting an institutionalized church with ideas from the emerging church movement (ECM).

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is one of the most secularized countries in Europe. About 25 percent of the total population sees itself as part of a Christian church and 82 percent of the total population seldom or never attends a church service.

Counting in members, the PCN is the second-largest denomination in the Netherlands. The PCN has around 1.6 million members, which is around 10 percent of the population. In the last ten years this church saw a 22 percent decrease in membership, mainly due to the passing away of older members and a lack of young people joining the church. More than 50 percent of the confessing members of the church are more than 65 years old at this moment. About 1,600 local congregations are part of the PCN. This denomination entails very liberal streams as well as very orthodox ones.

The PCN was the product of a merger of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Netherlands. It holds a synodal-Presbyterian view on how to be church, meaning that the essence of church is found on a local level, where people meet around word and sacrament, as well as on a regional and national level in the presbyteries and the synod. The PCN has an extensive church order. The number of rules and regulations that local congregations have to conform to lies somewhere midway between congregational and episcopal churches. We mention this because rule requirements form an important backdrop when looking at the integration of the fluid understanding of church that has emerged from the ECM. Before we tell more about this, let us describe our view on the ECM in a bit more detail.

A conceptualization of the emerging church

The ECM has had a profound impact on the discussion about mission since the 1990s. While it never became a big movement in the Netherlands, it has influenced the discussion about how the Christian church should connect with an increasingly secular society in the West. Before we discuss its impact and development in the Netherlands, let us first describe what we think the ECM is in an international context.

An influential book describing the sociology and theology of the ECM is The Deconstructed Church by Marti and Ganiel. They define the ECM as "a form of institutional innovation, that is, an institutionalising structure that relies less on formal organizations than informal networks ... the ECM is driven by religious institutional entrepreneurs who share a particular religious orientation based on deconstruction." (1) Missiologist Stefan Paas describes the ECM in a similar way: people inspired by ECM "have been impressed by the post-modern take on the crisis of Christianity" and "generally advocate strategies that focus on de-institutionalization (creating a 'movement'), solidarity with the poor and marginalized, and the selective restoration of ancient 'embodied' liturgical practices." (2)

Interestingly, Marti and Ganiel notice many links between the ECM and developments in established denominations. They mention the link between the ECM and the Anglican-Methodist fresh expressions movement in the United Kingdom. The missiologist Michael Moynagh also mentions the ECM as one of the sources for his thinking in his classic book Church for Every Context. (3) As examples of emerging churches, Marti and Ganiel mention pub churches, online networks, and neo-monastic initiatives. In the American context, theologians like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Alan Hirsch, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Peter Rollins are important figureheads of the movement.

The ECM shares many of its core interests with broader missiological discussions. It is connected to what is loosely called "the missional movement." For example, both movements share a positive evaluation of the world outside of the church. Both movements like to overcome the sacred/secular divide. This is based on missio Dei thinking, where it is stressed that God, as the Creator of the world, is at work outside of the church and churches need to connect to the work God already is doing.

The emerging of the emerging church in the Netherlands

Around 2006, the ECC started to grow in influence in the Netherlands. Two youth workers, Matthijs Vlaardingerbroek and Daniel de Wolf, had become planters of contextual churches in deprived neighbourhoods and started to publish about their experiences and theological struggles. One wrote a book, the other invited several people for discussion evenings, and both published on blogs. (4) Some other forerunners joined the conversadon and formed a network. This network was influenced by people like Brian McLaren, Tom Wright, Dan Kimball, Alan Hirsch, Pete Ward, Michael Moynagh, Stanley Grenz, John Caputo, and Shane Claiborne.

In the years after 2006, a more visible network started to develop. Retreats were held, lectures were organized, a website was built, and several books on emerging church were published. Nevertheless, the heartbeat of this emerging church conversation was best felt via a dozen of blogs, and the discussions underneath published articles on those blogs. Evangelical and Protestant denominations in the Netherlands did have some interest in the topics discussed, and on occasion they joined the conversation or invited people from the network into meetings of their denomination.

The emerging church conversation was most visible between 2006 and 2010. After 2010, the number of events and publications with that label decreased, mainly due to a lack of people who wanted to invest their energy in taking the movement further. Nevertheless, the influence of the emerging church conversation continued, as we will show later, and was illustrated by the publication of a dissertation on emerging missional leadership in 2012. (5)

We acknowledge that the ECC is multifaceted. In this article we want to focus on three characteristics of this movement:

1. A focus on incarnational ways of being church, in which the context is allowed to shape the way a church is functioning. This is a shift away from more attractional models of church, where one of the main goals is to draw people into church services.

2. Giving priority to movement characteristics in the church, where the church is seen as a network, as a body of interconnected parts, without or with less hierarchical structures. This entails a preference for flexibility and adaptation.

3. A rethinking of theology, and when formulated more sharply, a deconstructionist view on theology and especially ecclesiology. In this, theology and the church are not seen as a fixed given but rather theology in conversation with its context.

Our argument is that these three characterisdcs have been taken over, at least partly, in the missional turn that the Protestant Church in the Netherlands has taken since 2004.

A Case Study: The Missional Turn in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands

As mentioned earlier, the PCN was the product of a merger of three denominations in 2004. More than three decades had been invested in a complex process of bringing three organizational structures and church cultures together. After the merger, a desire grew to look outward as a church. In the first four-year policy plan published after the merger in 2005, a mission agenda was stated: "Youth and youngsters are given every opportunity to search for new forms of being a church, to grow in the knowledge of Christ and grow in faith." (6) Note that in this policy plan, new forms of church were limited to a young target audience only.

After that policy plan, a new missions department was started at the national head offices of the PCN. This department initiated several tours: people of the national church would go to different cities all over the country and talk with ministers and other representatives of congregations about how the church could become more missional. That included overcoming prejudices on what mission means: a shift from sending messages into the world and organizing activities to listening to people and incorporating being missional into the normal course of affairs.

Parallel to these tours, about six church plants were supported, mainly in new residential areas, so that these church plants wouldn't conflict with other churches. And an online community of church, MijnKerk.nl, was established. Also, a new and extensive (twoyear) study programme on mission was developed for ministers in the PCN. With the national tours, the church planting efforts, and the extra study possibilities for ministers, the PCN invested in a more missional culture within the church.

Pioneer churches. Messy churches and more

Since 2004, the programme for pioneer churches has grown into an important priority of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. Between 2010 and 2015, the pioneer approach developed from classical church planting (focused on Sunday services) to more contextualized forms of starting new Christian communities. Nowadays, pioneer churches can take different forms, ranging from living communities in deprived neighbourhoods to evangelical celebrations in the hall of a school, or from vibrant intercultural churches to activities with monastic aspirations (silent walks, lectio divina, communal prayer rhythms and meals). And this search for new forms of church is no longer limited to young target audiences.

Pioneering is regularly on the agenda of the synod. It is funded generously and has resulted in more than 100 pioneer churches (and counting) in 2018. The pioneer programme in the PCN is strongly influenced by the fresh expressions movement in the United Kingdom. For example, the fresh expressions journey is one of the main training tools for pioneers. And the fresh expressions movement is referenced explicitly in a 2016 policy report:
New forms of church (fresh expressions of church) are coming into
being. These communities are open to contemporaries who, for whatever
reason, do not join existing communities. These new forms should not be
unduly burdened with existing ecclesial habits, structures and
organization. They deserve to get a chance to develop and grow in a
manner that does justice to the people who are part of it. (7)


Pioneer churches are allowed to become part of the pioneer programme on a few conditions: (1) there needs to be a team, (2) a local church should provide support, and (3) a plan must be approved by the local church council as well as the mission department from the national church. Every pioneer church is partly financed by the national church, by a charity fund for supporting Protestantism, and by one or more local churches. Most pioneer churches work with budgets ranging from 10,000 euros to 25,000 euros per year. Pioneer churches are stimulated to become self-supporting within five to ten years. Nevertheless, becoming self-supporting is one of the biggest challenges and much still has to be learned. Possible solutions differ from working without paid staff to starting social enterprises and raising funds from people involved in the pioneer church. Every now and then evaluation reports are published. It turns out that around 50 percent of the people involved in pioneer churches have not attended church in recent years. And almost 20 percent of the pioneer churches do not have a leader with theological education or any paid staff at all. (8)

Over the years, the focus in supporting these pioneer churches has shifted from church order issues and financial matters (the subsidy per pioneer church has shrunk from 100,000 euros to 12,000 euros) to training the pioneer teams and building networks in which people can learn from each other. At this moment there is an extensive support programme for pioneer churches, which involves several two-day training sessions, local coaching, a pioneer pastor for spiritual care, and an online learning platform.

In addition to the pioneer churches, there are also more than 100 kliederkerken, which is the Dutch adaptation of Messy Church. This movement is growing even faster than the movement of pioneer churches, partly because a Messy Church doesn't have to develop into a completely new form of church for non-Christians but can also be developed as a creative activity to help existing congregations to involve young families in the life of the church. Most Messy churches gather around six times a year and consist of creative ways to get in touch with Bible stories via games and crafts, a short celebration (usually around 15 to 20 minutes), and eating together. About half of the visitors to these Messy churches don't visit other activities of the organizing churches.

Since 2017, room has been made in the church order for "house churches." These are small forms of church with limited responsibilities, to be used in regions where it is no longer possible to sustain regular congregations. A lighter form of church is seen as the only option left for these contexts. At the moment (midway through 2019), only one house church exists; however, it is another example of the PCN creating space for different expressions of church within its own organization.

Connecting movement and institution

Over the years, some pioneer churches grow from an informal and flexible network of relationships toward bigger and more stable forms of church. Practice shows that in many cases, this process creates tensions with the mother church (a local church that has initiated or taken responsibility for the new pioneer church), because, for example, quite a bit of money goes from the mother church to the pioneer church, and when the pioneer church grows and the mother church shrinks, tensions rise over time. Just as with children growing up, in some cases a time comes for pioneer churches to stand on their own two feet. At the same time, many pioneer churches will stay closely connected to and dependent on their mother church.

Some mature pioneer churches have tried to become a "normal" congregation within the PCN, but didn't succeed or were disappointed with the result. They felt as David wearing the armour of King Saul: the rules and regulations they had to fit into were too heavy. Because of this, some of them started to organize themselves in foundations outside of the church, although these pioneer teams did want to stay in contact with the PCN. They valued being part of the wider church, but couldn't cope with the organizational culture of the PCN.

To tackle this problem, a project group looked into the concept of the "mixed economy" in England, which provides a vision for connecting different kinds of churches in one system. (9) In 2017, the PCN leadership wanted to introduce mixed-economy thinking in the Dutch context, as a new phase in the pioneer programme. After some brainstorming, the term mozaiek van kerkplekken (literally translated as "mosaic of church places") was introduced, as a Dutch translation of the mixed-economy idea. It also became the title of a new report that was published in April 2019, and it was discussed in two synod meetings shortly after that. (10) Central to the report was the (deconstructive) question of what the essence of church is, from a theological and organizational point of view. The aim was to connect new forms of church with "inherited" forms of church. (11)

This word kerkplekken comes from practical theologian Henk de Roest, who introduced the term to move away from the idea that church is something that happens between the walls of a big building with a tower. De Roest stresses that church can happen in multiple constellations and contexts. (12) Kerkpkkken makes room for a more flexible understanding of being church, where place matters less, and the quality of being church is more important. In this article we translate "mozaiek van kerkplekken" as "mosaic of churches," which isn't a perfect translation but best captures the intention behind the report.

The use of the word "mosaic" and the fact that the plural "churches" is used stress individuality in diversity. The individual parts, which of themselves are just coloured glass stones, together build a beautiful image of the church, maybe even of Jesus. So, what we see emerging in the Netherlands is a mosaic of churches, with different forms of church existing within one denomination.

The report Mozaiek van kerkplekken discusses different topics that emerged from research done during 2018. For this research group, interviews were held with 121 representatives from pioneer churches and their mother churches, and an online survey was filled out by 79 people. Topics included the role of the offices of elders, deacons, and ministers; whether and how membership is necessary; whether and how pioneer churches should be part of the presbyteries and synod; who should be authorized to administer the sacraments; and how much tension there was in the relationships between pioneer churches and mother churches.

In the rest of this article we will zoom in on parts of the report that focus on membership and on the embedding of new forms of church into an existing structure. This will show how the Protestant Church embeds parts of the emerging conversation into its own structures and workings.

Membership in pioneer settings

The whole system of the PCN is geared toward membership, from finance to governance to the sacraments. Take, for example, finance. In the Netherlands there is no substantial state funding for churches. The main method of raising funds to run the church is member-based, which means that members are regularly asked to donate money.

For pioneer churches, this system does not work well, because most people involved are either not registered as a member or do not realize that their pioneer community is part of a larger denomination. Quite a lot of people involved in pioneer churches don't even like the idea of being a member of a denomination, although they do appreciate the local activities of the pioneer church.

Across the board, from membership to finance or sacraments, you see this conflict between an institutional membership logic and the realities of a more flexible church-as-a-movement view. Pioneer churches deal in different ways with the gap between institution and movement when it comes to membership. For example, in one pioneer church, when people are baptized they are registered as a member of the church, but with the provision in the registration system that they should not receive automated requests to donate money, because it would annoy those people. In a second example, in another pioneer church, everybody who becomes a member gets a form and, despite the fact that by the church order this is impossible, they can tick two options: either to become a member of the pioneer church or to become a member of the pioneer church and the PCN. These two examples show that pioneer churches need to find workarounds to deal with official membership registry procedures. This is not an ideal situation for fragile beginning churches. They need all their manpower to build community, and the difficult job of dealing with sensitive issues about membership and sacraments within the larger church takes time, resources, and attention away from the focus on missional pioneering.

Pioneering raises all kinds of new questions about membership that inherited congregations do not have to deal with. For example, in the case of baptism: if somebody is baptized, traditionally this person also becomes a member of the PCN. Is that really necessary? Of course, there is no requirement in the Bible that somebody who is baptized also should be formally registered as a member. Others, however, reason that the PCN is an expression of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church, so being a member is also a reflection of the fact that you're not a Christian on your own isle, but that you are connected to the larger body of Christ. In this way, there is a theological rationale behind many of the regulations and practices of the PCN.

This is one of the challenges of the process the PCN finds itself in: on the one hand, it wants to make room for pioneer churches to innovate and to do things differently, and on the other hand, it has regulations and is challenged to state how important current practices really are and to rediscover the rationale behind those practices.

Liquid involvement and feedback

The backdrop of why the pioneer churches seek change is formed by developments in Dutch society. What being a member of church means is changing in the Netherlands. Being involved in a local church is no longer seen--in particular by people without a Christian background--as a package deal with being part of a denomination. Also, most people without a Christian background no longer have a clear-cut understanding of what it means to be a member of a church. Membership no longer entails a fixed, top-down identity with clear behavioural guidelines (from clothing requirements to expectations of how one should vote during elections) and doctrinal expectations, but is considered to be a personal choice with a subjectified and diversified understanding of involvement.

We call this liquid involvement, inspired by the liquid modernity thesis of Zygmunt Bauman. (13) This does not mean that involvement is shaky or sloppy! On the contrary, the involvement of people can be intense and committed, but it is difficult to shape this involvement in a specific mould or an institutional membership category. This liquid involvement is felt especially in pioneer churches, which relate in new ways to new groups of people who feel the changes in Dutch society much more strongly and urgently. In this way the experiences of pioneer churches function as a feedback mechanism for inherited churches, which increasingly have to deal with similar challenges.

Membership, the sacraments, and the offices

In the PCN there is a clear relation between being a member on the one hand, and the sacraments and the offices on the other hand. According to the church order, if you want to be in office--as a deacon, an elder, or a minister--you have to be a confessing member. These rules about governance in the church are difficult to apply in pioneer churches. For example, if most involved persons aren't confessing members and the pioneer church mainly understands itself as an egalitarian, close-knit community, what happens if this community wants to decide on important issues, such as calling a new minister or electing one of the group in a position of power?

There is another issue: the administradon of the sacraments. In the church order of the PCN, the administradon of the sacraments traditionally is reserved for the minister, who needs to be an academically trained and ordained person. So formally, if a pioneer church wants to celebrate communion and they don't have a minister themselves, they have to fly in an ordained minister who may or may not have any connection with the pioneer church. Most of the time, this feels a bit unnatural to the community of the pioneer church, which values personal relationships so highly. There is a provision in the church order that makes it possible that elders or deacons can provide the sacraments, but this is a hack of the current system, which sometimes ignites fierce discussions--and this hack has some drawbacks too.

What we see here is a clash between an informal relational approach, which is typical of pioneer churches, and a more formal and procedural approach, which is typical of inherited congregations and the higher organization levels of the PCN.

In the church order of the PCN and in the daily practices of regular congregations are many specific rules and regulations: how many elders or deacons should be in a church council, what their activities should entail, how many are needed to make a valid decision, etc. People from pioneer churches see the number of rules and regulations connected with the offices as too much ballast for their small and flexible communities. They have difficulties with the organizational translation side of the offices. However, the values behind the offices are often held highly. Many pioneers and the others involved feel a calling for the work they do: they feel that they are representatives of their community and that their pioneer church is not some isolated isle, but is part of the PCN and even more the Church with a capital C. These elements are all classical elements of the Protestant understanding of the offices. So, if we listen closely, we clearly see an appreciation of the offices.

The question then is: Do the traditional offices (deacons, elders, ministers) still fit the mosaic of churches? Do we need all the rules and regulations and standard practices that have become so attached to these offices? The people who are pioneering generally say, "No, something else is needed." And interestingly, many members from the inherited churches said something similar during the research: they also feel the weight of the traditional way of organizing local church life.

The nucleus congregation and tiny houses

One of the solutions proposed in the Mosaic of Churches report for this quest for smaller and more flexible forms of church is the kerngemeente (literally translated: "nucleus congregation"). Pioneer churches that reach a certain level of maturity can become a kerngemeente. It is a lighter form of church that has all the essentials of church and the same rights as regular churches without having the regulations and institutional extras that bigger congregations have. One of the requirements for a pioneer church to be acknowledged as kerngemeentes is that at least ten people need to be members of the PCN. This takes seriously that for a good relationship between the kerngemeente and the denomination, at least some people should be formally connected to the wider denomination (because the whole system is geared toward formal membership), without forcing everyone involved in the pioneer church to become a member.

In the Mosaic of Churches report, the metaphor of a "tiny house" is used for this kind of solution. A tiny house is midway between a solid house and a mobile caravan. A tiny house certainly offers more durability and safety than a caravan, but requires substantially less maintenance and money than a regular solid house. Also, in the Netherlands fewer rules apply to a tiny house compared to an ordinary house. So the synod of the PCN decided in June 2019 to allow kerngemeenten to make use of an existing article in the PCN church order (originally meant for the integration of immigrant churches) to create a low regulation zone for mature pioneer churches.

Discussion

Earlier we highlighted three characteristics of the ECC: (1) a focus on incarnational ways of being church, (2) giving priority to movement characteristics in the church, and (3) a rethinking of theology and especially ecclesiology. Now we would like discuss in more detail how these three elements are recognizable in the missional turn the PCN is making.

A focus on incarnational ways of being church

Much of what is happening in pioneering initiatives, from kliederkerken to the intentional living communities, entails a shift away from standard attractional models of church. Many of the regular congregations work from this model: they organize a worship service on Sundays and expect people to come to church. Of course, the theological understanding of church in the PCN is much broader than that, but on the ground level many local congregations operate consciously or unconsciously from that model.

The budding of new initiatives challenges this standard attractional model. The pioneering programme has given legitimization to people in the whole church to experiment with new forms of church, which generally operate more from the incarnational model, where people are expected to go out and be church in new contexts and new forms. In the first stages of starting a pioneer church, much attention is given to listening to the context: the neighbourhood or the target group. This does not mean that attractional models are no longer important within the PCN, but rather that one dominant form is supplemented by other, new forms and models of being church.

This is changing on the ground level of the PCN, but also on the higher levels of the church organization. The Mozaiek van kerkplekken report seeks to make changes in the church order in order to support this. While in the history of the PCN and its predecessors we have always seen forms of church that seek to go out (take, for example, the many urban mission initiatives set up in previous decades), this nevertheless is a major change in the ecclesiology of the PCN. It is deemed necessary to create space not only for regular congregations but also for these other, flexible, incarnational forms of church within the one body of the church. This will have profound impact on the workings of the PCN. For example, the synod decided that a special committee has to reflect on the way the offices are functioning within the church and on which changes might be necessary in the light of all these new pioneer churches. One could also expect changes in how initiatives are financed (less membership-based), how conflicts are resolved in a context of increasing diversity, how leadership is defined, how ministers are trained, etc.

Church as a movement

Perhaps the clearest characteristic is how the missional turn in the PCN gives more space to an understanding of church as a movement, although this is hard at times. On a local level especially, network thinking and liquid involvement offer challenges for an institution, which by nature tries to fixate and control via procedures and regulations. While rules are also necessary (for example, rules that make sure the church is a safe space for women or proper rules on governance of money and resources), those rules should not limit the capacity of the church to missionally adapt to new circumstances and contexts too much.

Also, on a regional and national level, more room has grown for a movement-like network dynamic. The idea of a mosaic stresses the diversity and existence of different forms of church in one system. The oneness of church is not seen as conformity to one institutional ideal, but is seen in the interconnectedness of different parts. All those initiatives have quite a bit of room for their own understanding of what the grace of God means in their own context, but together they form the body of Christ. With all the saints together, the church strives to comprehend "the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge" so that the church "may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:18, 19 ESV).

In our view, this unity in diversity paradigm is better suited to adapt to the challenges that the fragmented and dynamic Dutch society poses to the PCN than sticking to one model and style of being church. Up until now, the PCN has been able to deal with this diversity. This might be an unexpected result of the merger process that took decades. During the merger, congregations and the synod have learned to deal with diversity in a respectful way.

There is a strange irony in these developments: that a bottom-up movement of missional exploration and innovadon is supported from the top of an institution. It is a difficult dynamic the PCN finds itself in: How do you support a movement as an institution that inherently finds it difficult to become more movement-like? On the other hand, the ECM never became popular in the Netherlands, maybe partly because it missed the organizational strength that an institution can bring. It might be interesting to see how this dynamic will evolve: How will the relationships develop between institutional centres with power, money, and expertise and people and grassroots initiatives that are innovative and entrepreneurial? We think that, when done well, these two opposites can strengthen each other and create innovation as well as impact and sustainability.

Rethinking of theology

We do not think that the theological discussions taking place within the PCN are as radical as the proponents of the ECM in general ask for. They seek a redefinition of theology in a postmodern context. However, the Mozaiek van kerkplekken report is a reflection of many theological discussions taking place about the fundamentals of church. Ecclesiology is, not surprisingly, at the heart of these discussions. What are the essentials of church? If a local expression of church, such as a pioneer church, does not have to have deacons, elders, and ministers, can it still be seen as a proper form of church? Are the sacraments a necessity to be church? Or a worship service? Many of these discussions have been prefigured in the UK context, where reflection on the changes brought by the fresh expressions movement has had more time to develop. (14) In the Netherlands, these discussions have just started within the PCN.

While the core of most discussion focuses on ecclesiology--and, related to this, the understanding of the offices, the sacraments, and membership--there is also an effect on other classical topics of theology, such as what salvation and grace mean. Pioneer initiatives are rediscovering--based on their experiences with new, previously unchurched people coming to faith in Jesus Christ--how grace and salvation are experienced in daily life.

Summarizing

The Protestant Church of the Netherlands has made a missional turn since 2004. A big part of that missional turn is the growing room and support for classical church planting at first, and then later also the start of new contextual Christian communities in incarnational ways. This new movement of 100-plus pioneer churches, many kliederkerken, and many more new forms of church is more focused on flexibility, networking, and relationships than on upholding church practices as prescribed by the church order. And they are allowed and encouraged to do so. Nevertheless, in practice all kinds of tensions have arisen around membership, the offices, the sacraments and much more. This was studied in 2018, and what we have shown is that what happens in pioneer churches often clashes with the requirements of an institutionalized church. The informal, relational understanding of involvement in pioneer churches with regard to membership, sacraments, and offices sits uneasily with the formal, procedural approach of the larger body of the PCN.

Many elements of the emerging church conversation (such as church as a movement, being church in an incarnational way and a rethinking of theology) have been incorporated within the Protestant Church. Through the practice of pioneer churches, the PCN is challenged to rethink its theology and the application of that theology. The theological rationale behind the rules and regulations deserves proper reflection and translation into the daily life of local churches, whether they are pioneer churches or not, as inherited forms of church are also experiencing increasing tension between the way they (have to) function and what is appropriate in their context. One of the tasks of the national church is to take up this reflection and translation.

Fostering this mosaic of churches within an existing synodal-presbyterian system is challenging and requires a broader understanding of the body of Christ as a Church with a capital C, which includes incarnational churches that look totally different than regular churches.

The challenge ahead is whether the sensibilities, priorities, and innovative energy of this movement can be taken up by the Protestant Church, which is, of course, still an institution. To enlarge the chance that that will happen in a fruitful way, we surely need more reflection and thinking about how at the edges--where institution and movement connect and often clash--theological thinking can be explored and put into creative action toward a new configuration of church in the Netherlands.

Marten van der Meulen and Martijn Vellekoop

Marten van der Meulen is a lecturer of Sociology of Religion at the Protestant Theological University, Groningen, the Netherlands, and policy officer of Congregational Studies in the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.

Martijn Vellekoop is team leader of the national mission team of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and founder of a fresh expression of church for youth and families in his region.

(1) Gerardo Marti and Gladys Ganiel, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 30.

(2) Stefan Paas, Church Planting in the Secular West: Eearning from the European Experience (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016), 188.

(3) Michael Moynagh, Church for Every Context: An Introduction to Theology and Practice (London: SCM Press, 2012).

(4) Daniel de Wolf, Jezus in de Millinx: Woorden en daden in een Rotterdamse achterstandswijk (Kampen, The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Kok, 2006).

(5) Robert Doornenbal, Crossroads: An Exploration of the Emerging-Missional Conversation with a Special Focus on Missional Leadership and Its Challenges for Theological Education (Delft, The Netherlands: Eburon Academic, 2012).

(6) Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Leren leven van de verwondering: Visie op bet leven en werken van de berk in haar geheel (Utrecht, The Netherlands: 2005), 15.

(7) Protestant Church, Kerk 2025: Waar een Woord is, is een weg (Utrecht, The Netherlands: 2016), 9.

(8) Protestant Church, Fingers Crossed: Fresh Expressions in the Netherlands (Utrecht, The Netherlands: 2017).

(9) The Archbishops' Council, Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context (London: Church House Publishing, 2(104), ix.

(10) R. De Reuver and M. Vellekoop, Mozaiek van kerkplekken: Over verbinding tussen hestaande nieuwe vormen van kerk-zijn (Utrecht, The Netherlands: Dienstenorganisatie Protestantse Kerk, 2019).

(11) A term often used to describe longer-existing forms of church, especially regular congregations.

(12) H. De Roest, Een huis voor de ziel (Zoetermeer, The Netherlands: Meinema, 2010).

(13) Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000).

(14) Clare Watkins and Bridget Shepherd, "The Challenge of 'Fresh Expressions' to Ecclesiology," Ecclesial Practices 1:1 (2014), 92-110.

DOI: 10.1111/irom.12286
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Author:van der Meulen, Marten; Vellekoop, Martijn
Publication:International Review of Mission
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2019
Words:6283
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