Sabbatical Musings, Part the Fourth

On the eve of the NE Region of our Presbytery engaging in the “Creative Collaborations” workshop, some salient socio-cultural thoughts have come to mind…

  • The region of “Nones and Dones” will continue to expand from the PNW toward the east and south of this country – this is in reverse of the original colonial missionary model that pushed its way from the Eastern seaboard to the west and south with the founding of America.
  •  We are seeing young people flee from all institutions built by their great-grandparents – and this includes the institution of the church – hence the term “organized religion” or “institutionalized religion” becoming more like a derogatory term in some circles. Shrinking main-line protestant churches are the norm, not growing vibrant communities of faith.  Why?
  • Think service organization as opposed to propagation of the Gospel.  This is very different than American cultural assimilation of Christendom – which I believe is no longer happening in our time.  As M. Scott Peck once wrote in an illustrative story called “The Rabbi’s Gift,” “The spirit has gone out of the people.” [The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace (New York, NY: Touchstone Simon & Schuster, 1998)].
  •  One of my opinions rests in the challenge of shifting leadership models and cultures – in this case the DNA of corporate main-line Protestantism from the 1950s to something else resembling authentic communities of practice.  That means it is imperative to find ways for the church to become an intergenerational community focused on making real-life authentic, genuine differences in and for the community in which it sits.
  • If the determination and intent is to continue moving away from intergenerationality and back to “the way it was,” or to put in place age-segregated learning, absence of children in worship, and “traditional bible story curricula” as opposed to family-based passing on of our faith stories and the more messy/”noisy” intergenerationally collaborative worship models where all are welcome and have a place, I would hazard a guess that church can expect a 50% reduction in membership in the not-to distant future (possibly even two to three years from now, certainly by ten to fifteen years from now). 64% if that church is closer to the PNW than the S/SE. Community, by definition, includes all peoples regardless of age, stage, gender or persuasion.

The last two points you might take with a grain of salt, I suppose.  Here’s why:  I’m deep in the heart of the PNW, and I have a certain “GenX angst” perspective as I’ve watched all our young people flee just about every main-line protestant church in our presbytery, leaving all but the Silents and the Boomers in the pews. It doesn’t give me much hope for long-term job security, unless I can form creative collaborations and/or change myself and the church I work for to fit/serve contemporary spiritual needs.  That’s a tall order, but I might suggest it is survival for any pastor of today’s average traditional main line denominational church.

Culturally, at least here in the PNW, the metamorphosis that has been and continues to take place is this: from the point of the church being to, “Spread the Gospel” (equated with Evangelical-In-Your-Face-My-Way-Or-The-Highway Bible-Thumping Religion – Bad) to the point of, “Authentic communities of worship and practice to address real needs in the community.”

It’s almost like: “If you aren’t a community of practice doing real-life-tangible things, then it isn’t authentic.  Gospel of Salvation? Who cares, we can’t see the spiritual realm or the state of anyone’s soul, so it doesn’t matter.  We can see how people behave towards one another and if others’ compassion – no matter what faith – is reflected in real-life, showing love and justice for all people and the earth.  That’s what matters.”

It causes me to wonder if we, or at least society, are (is) in the throws of (or on the cusp of) craving a revivalist need similar to the time and perspective of Paul Tillich and Karl Barth.  They were trying to re-embed Christianity in the social justice movement (and all that would mean).  Many of the secular issues then are also found and discussed today in the “Millennial Blueprint for America,” which is very cleverly crafted but leaves out almost entirely a sense of the centrality of spiritual grounding.  (Phase 1 report from the Think 2040 data collected by the Roosevelt Institute).

Well . . .  deep thoughts.  May God guide us all into the future of faith and what it is that is required of us – as long as it is to love mercy, act justly, and to walk humbly, I’m in.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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