The Church as Post Office 2.0

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.

3 Responses to “The Church as Post Office 2.0”

  1. Keith Tanis Says:

    What a great analogy! It makes me wonder if the key to the future is to rediscover the reality of the church as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” That identifies us better than “Presbyterian” or “Pentecostal” or anything that focusses on our little slice of the pie.

  2. Ross Byers Says:

    … reformed and being reformed ….

  3. Sande Rajcic Says:

    I agree with Keith that focusing our identity on our little slice of the pie has become life-deadening.

    Implementing a shift in consciousness out of “brand loyalty” would be greatly helped if churches developed an interdependence model with other churches of all stripes in their local area. Right now, we are gaining members from each other via transfers, which puts in competition for consumers.

    If we were to really view ourselves as disciples in a kingdom that extends beyond our campus, and beyond our denominational “club”, we just might get past the “31 Flavors” mentality that locks us into a largely unacknowledged, competitive stance towards our sisters and brothers worshiping down the street.

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