The Inventive Age

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.

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2 Responses to “The Inventive Age”

  1. Sande Rajcic Says:

    You write: “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.” How did this come about? Are the dynamics that produced this tendency still dominating the way we “do church”?

  2. clarkcowden Says:

    Sande,
    I think this is one of the results of living in a consumeristic culture. We eat where we like, we shop where we like, we go to church where we like. Since people make choices about where they go to church, they choose places where they like the music, the style, the dress, the preaching, etc. For some people, their highest priority is what a church believes. But, I believe the speaker was saying that many people make their choices on other aspects that they like. These dynamics continue to dominate the way we do church.

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