Archive for July, 2012

A Conversation with Brian McLaren

July 4, 2012

On Monday, July 2, I was part of a group conversation with Brian McLaren to discuss what is going on in our world and how this is impacting the church. Brian discussed how we are in a huge time of flux and transition. He said that unless we figure out how to prepare for a new future, we won’t have a future. We are all in a time of massive change. We are in the front end of a change. We cannot save the denomination from the chaos. We are de-constructing and re-assembling. We are a traditional modern organization focused on control (which is not all bad), but we need to shift to a robust network whose primary function is vitality. How do we infuse vitality?

We discussed the example of the Church of England and their Fresh Expressions movement. They had tons of old buildings which couldn’t be torn down because they were historic, but the maintenance costs were staggering. A White Paper was written that talked about how they needed to become a mission shaped church. It said that we are in an unsustainable situation, and we have to think about church in a different way. They gave permission to do something different. They never could have done it until their spreadsheet told them they had to. They finally realized that they had to create a zone of experimentation. As of a certain date, any bishop who was willing, could enfranchise fresh expressions of the Church that could operate outside of normal protocol. The Episcopacy shifted from the primary agent of control to the primary agent of permission giving. Some bishops didn’t do anything. But, some bishops ran with it. Very quickly, they had 350 groups that stepped forward with new things to happen. From there, it grew to 750, then to 1200, and now it is over 2000. It has been a remarkable permission giving structure.

One Fresh Expression included a chaplain for the local skateboard park. They ended up with 27 baptisms of teenagers and tons of people came into the church. However, almost none of them went to worship on Sunday morning. They created new worshiping communities. They created a zone of experimentation. They figured out ways to do things that had never been done before.
When you create zones of experimentation, you are no longer in the tree business that only reproduces the same kind of tree. You are in the garden business, where you can grow all kinds of different crops. Innovative, experimental people are doing all kinds of things. They want to be around other innovative, experimental people. Creativity attracts creativity. While non-geographic presbyteries may be full of complexities, they could be used to create zones of creativity and experimentation. We need creative zones that value experiments that work on a different economic model.

Brian mentioned that there is an old saying which says that new churches can imitate, but new worshiping communities can innovate. Existing churches almost never innovate, but they can imitate. The irony is that the small churches are generating innovation that can be imitated. The key to the renewal of existing churches is the starting of new worshiping communities. We need to learn new ways of being a Presbyterian Church. What is our essential ethos that really brings us together? We already have a multiplicity of forms. We have to create safe zones where that can happen. The desire to start 1001 new worshiping and witnessing communities is an attempt to say: let’s have a safe zone of experimentation.

Presbyteries can inhibit or encourage creativity. Creating networks for local issues is a key.
Connectionalism is still important, but what does it look like in today’s world? The connective structures already exist. They are called the internet. Today’s younger generation already has a system of connectionalism in place online. If we want to be a connectional church in today’s world, a large part of our presence will have to be online.

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The Church as Post Office 2.0

July 3, 2012

On Monday, July 2, I went to hear noted author and speaker Brian McLaren, who was addressing the Office of the General Assembly Breakfast. He began with an analogy that the denominations in the United States today are like the US Postal Service. After email was invented, the first response by the post office was denial of the problem, as they lost $2 to $3 billion in 2001. They responded by saying what great service they provided and that email wouldn’t last. Their second response was to go through a period of downsizing and adjustment. First class mail continued to decline as more and more people began to pay their bills online. By 2010, the post office lost $8.5 billion, and now in 2012, the possible deficit could grow as high as $15 million. But, there is an opportunity emerging from the crisis. As the complexity of the problems are beginning to be understood, and as they are exploring expanding into new businesses, people are beginning to think outside the mailbox.

McLaren suggested that a couple of areas that all denominations are having to cope with:
• We are moving into a new era of authority sharing. We used to think that “The more authority you give away, the less you have.” That assumption is being reversed. If we don’t empower others, people don’t see our power as being worth much. The authority that matters is generous moral authority: servanthood, sacrifice, suffering, solidarity.
• We are moving to a new identity. What does it mean to be Presbyterian? What does it mean to be Christian? We have gained our identity by how we’re properly structured (polity). This is silly. Why do we build our identity around our structure? Then, when we adjust our polity, it creates an identity crisis. We end up focusing more on polity and forgetting important things like how to build disciples. We climb the ladder and then realize our ladder is leaning against the wrong building.

McLaren asked, “What if the key identity issue is not Presbyterian or Episcopal or Lutheran, but a shared identity as collaborative missional Christians?” Our identity is not just what we have been in the past, but what we hope to be in the future. The new identity we are moving into will involve a new kind of authority, that is emerging as many things in our world have failed or are failing. We have witnessed the failure of communism. We are witnessing the failure and unsustainability of industrial consumerist capitalism, the modern nation-state, the super-power, traditional bureaucratic denominations, and traditional congregations (in their neighborhood and mega-forms). Many congregations and denominations have been built on a financial model that is unsustainable.

Part of our identity shift is viewing Christians not as customers, but as disciples and apostles. It is viewing the church as a seminary. It is viewing the clergy as missional equippers, community organizers, talent scouts, mentors, trainers, and troubleshooters. We need to rediscover the church as a missional entity. We are witnessing a world wide system failure. We need to re-discover confidence in Jesus and His good news. We need to see the church as an always reforming global network of committed Christians.

The Inventive Age

July 1, 2012

On Sunday morning, July 1, I went to hear the Rev. Doug Padgitt speak at the Presbyterian Foundation breakfast at the General Assembly. Doug is the pastor of the Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis. Doug talked about four different eras that we have lived through, and how each era has shaped how we “do church” in each season.

During the AGRARIAN AGE, church was about geography and location. We talked about how a church served a parish. It was usually a rural area, and most denominations were ethnic clans. During the INDUSTRIAL AGE, church buildings and ministries were shaped by the factories where many people were employed. The cultural shift was from rural to urban. During the INFORMATION AGE, the emphasis was on gaining knowledge, so we started Sunday Schools and churches added educational wings. The cultural shift was from urban to suburban. But, now, we are living in the INVENTIVE AGE, where the emphasis is on creativity and innovation, and the cultural shift is from suburban to virtual.

We are shifting from one cultural age to another. This requires us to think differently, and this is hard work. We have rewarded people for organizing our systems in “left brain” ways. Now, we need to organize in “right brain” ways, or at least a combination of the two. This kind of values shift is very hard and very upsetting for a lot of people. We have a tendency to organize around aesthetics (robes, music style, dress code) rather than around what we believe or the kind of mission that we do. The church that begins a discussion about using a projector or putting up screens in the sanctuary is entering into a cultural conversation and is discussing a culture shift.
Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention and sometimes invention is the mother of necessity.

Some of the aspects of the Inventive Age that we are now living in are:
• Meaning making – people want their lives to count for something, to do something significant
• Participation – simply singing along on songs is not enough. People want to influence the creation of their community and are pushing new forms of imagination
• Shift in authority – in the Facebook world, there is no single authority that everyone must follow. Everyone can post whatever they want and all comments can be listed side by side to create a conversation and people can determine what they think. Facebook users can “veto” decisions they don’t like.
• Ownership – people are looking for creative generation in what happens.

We are living in a time where one of the best things we can do is to cultivate the conditions for imagination, creativity, and inventiveness to emerge. We need to protect our entrepreneurs. We need to give them space to experiment, to fail, and eventually to succeed. We need to provide good support, oversight, and accountability, but if we stifle the creativity that can emerge, we will not become the church God is calling us to be. God is opening lots of doors all around us in communities, where we can participate in the growing mission of God. We do not lack for opportunities. They are everywhere. We need to encourage people to go on a journey of discovery – to discover new ways that God is calling people together to be the church in the world. If we discover this, the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit will rush into us like a strong, powerful wind, and we will get swept up in some very exciting ministry.