Monday, August 16, 2004

hacking the emerging church

We live in strange days, when an Anglican vicar suggests we leave church. There is much about church I struggle with. Yet I stay because church is a space and a resource to hack.

A hack as in an enthusiast who … through clever programming, pushes the system to its highest possible level of performance … a person who enjoys programming rather than just theorizing about it.

Hacking has an ethic. It is not mischievious, but is based on … the ethic that all technical information should, in principle, be freely available to all and that destroying, altering, or moving data in a way that could cause injury or expense to others is always unethical

Thus an emerging church hack is about the attempt to create missional spaces; to seek to make the gospel freely available for all, rather than encrusted under layers of modernity, and ossified under centuries of tradition.

A hack does not intend to destroy or alter data. Thus a hack respects the riches of the past. But a hack recognises that church is not monolithic. Rather church is a contextual response of a group of people, uniquely working with the strands of Scripture and culture and tradition in their context. Thus a hack takes the rich strands of past data, and seeks to re-work them to maximize to a highest possible level.

In 2001 New Zealand dub band Salmonella Dub released Inside the Dubplates. In 2002 they gave their mix to 10 different DJ’s, who produced a new mix, titled Outside the Dubplates. Same elements, same number of songs, same song order, but the strands of bass and vocals remixed.

Church hackers won’t leave, despite the invitation. They will stay because they want to take what is inside the church’s dubplates and play it outside the dubplate. They want to take the gospel freedom beyond the centre of church and institution. It’s a missiology that might be hard to grasp at its deconstructive best, but at its constructive best its an adventure that gets me up in the mornings.

Please, despite the invitation, don’t leave. Keep hacking.

Posted by steve at 05:57 PM


  1. it wasn’t an invitation to leave. It was a restatement that Jesus’ own call to follow him is an invitation, not an order. Some people need to leave for a while before they discover the freedom to re-engage with church. If you read the rest of my post, you’ll see that I recommend leaving your current church and going to a different one for a while. Or having the freedom to do other things in addition to Church, instead of seeing it as the total provider of all needs (some Churches operate this kind of control over peole’s time and commitment.)

    I don’t want anyone to leave Church, especially mine. But what I want even more is for people to engage with God, and Church, in a sustainable way.

    Comment by maggi — August 16, 2004 @ 7:35 pm

  2. …oops, got cut off…
    If that kind of engagement means leaving my church or yours for another Church or another way of doing it, then we need to give people their freedom. (Read Alan Jamieson if you haven’t already) My congregation do not belong to me in the legal sense.

    Comment by maggi — August 16, 2004 @ 7:38 pm

  3. Interesting metaphor with some good points. Though not one I’d push too far given “an important secondary meaning of hack is ‘a creative practical joke’.” (

    Comment by Stephen — August 16, 2004 @ 9:47 pm

  4. Steve, thanks as always for your thoughts. I often wonder though if this is a particularly leadership focus, i.e. as the pastor you have autonomy and mandate of your congregation to “mix” and “re-mix” Many churches it seems to me perpetrate a culture where the ‘audience’ are voiceless (read also “powerless”) and change etc. is introduced from the ‘top’. You are actually mandated to “hack” in a way that many other “hackers” aren’t. This church dynamic means (it seems to me) that for many of our most creative thinkers / explorers / and practitioners the experience of belonging becomes increasingly untenable because to belong means to “die” and “shrivel up”. The call to follow Jesus, the call of the Spirit pushes many in new and unexplored directions which sadly aren’t centred on a particular local expression of at the very least the global body of Christ…perhaps this leaving is necessary, perhaps this leaving is an act of seeding the future, of nurturing and protecting the fragile seeds of reform and reformation…?

    Comment by Paul Fromont — August 17, 2004 @ 10:03 am

  5. Steve, I am so excited to read this. You are not using some of the language and thoughts from Pikka Himannen’s book “The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age” by any chance are you? From the tone of this post, I think you have. But if you haven’t, I reckon you’d really like it. I have a workshop based on the book and concept of hacking (which is my background) that we have used around the Forge Network a number of times. Happy to send you the guts if you are interested.

    Comment by Stephen Said — August 17, 2004 @ 2:16 pm

  6. stephen,
    I haven’t read the book, the post came straight out of the top of my head, just reflecting on some stuff.

    I’d love to see your notes.


    Comment by steve — August 17, 2004 @ 3:00 pm

  7. Maggi,
    I did read your post as an invitation to leave. I’ve read it again after you comment and that still seems like an option you are offering people.

    Comment by steve — August 17, 2004 @ 3:03 pm

  8. Paul,
    re-writing liturgy on a blog … asking questions in a discussion group … doing some new type of worship in an home setting … its all hacking.

    So I think anyone can hack – sure a pastor has some freedom, but then a pastor can also have less freedom – keeper of the doctrine etc.

    Comment by steve — August 17, 2004 @ 3:05 pm

  9. Hacking the church

    From Emergent Kiwi: Church is a space and a resource to hack…A hack does not intend to destroy or alter data. Thus a hack respects the riches of the past. But a hack recognises that church is not monolithic. Rather…

    Comment by The Dying Church — August 21, 2004 @ 10:33 am

  10. it’s refreshing to see an invitation from a ‘senior pastor’ to stay in the church and ‘hack’. by definition i would be a silent hacker of all things church. my husband is employed in a church so it doesn’t allow for me to ‘leave’, but it rarely allows for me to hack publically either. again steve you are refreshing. thank you!

    Comment by bobbie — August 27, 2004 @ 1:23 am

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