A Conversation with Brian McLaren

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.


One Response to “A Conversation with Brian McLaren”

  1. eLink News – EXTRA! « Shenango Presbytery News Says:

    […] https://clarkcowden.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/a-conversation-with-brian-mclaren/ […]

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