Saturday, April 26, 2008

Renaissance Man

As I talked with someone recently about my post on the digital revolution and how this impacts the church, he commented, "Perhaps we are saying that the best person to deal with this is a "renaissance man."

If you are not familiar with this concept, the renaissance ideal of the consummate individual was one who was skilled in a number of fields--languages, the sciences, art, music, etc. In that era, the concept was embodied by Leonardo da Vinci and Nicolaus Copernicus. Later examples would be Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson , H. G. Wells, and Albert Schweitzer.

I don't believe my friend was saying that one's knowledge has to be as comprehensive as that of one of these unusually gifted individuals in order to be an effective church leader today. (If so, I might as well hang it up right now!) Instead, I believe that he was saying that the effective church leader must a generalist, one who is conversant with oral, print, broadcast, and digital world views (see Rex Miller, The Millennium Matrix). In order to ride the crest of the postmodern wave (and be comfortable with these various world views), one must know at least a little about a number of different fields. To understand our culture, for example, we should read the news (in print or online), know the history of how we got to where we are, have some grasp of the social forces that have shaped us, understand how our theological heritage empowers and impedes us in doing ministry today, and have skills of communication and discernment.

Although the modern era valued the specialist (and we need those folks--I want a good aerospace engineer to design the plane on which I fly), there is a great need for generalists today. In the church, this means that a leader needs to be conversant with current affairs, contemporary culture, sociology, history, theology, and a bunch of other things as well!

Sound like too much to handle? May I suggest that you start by reading just one book this summer that would not normally be on your reading list. It may be a novel (mystery, fantasy, memoir), a biography, a popular approach to a scientific issue (like climate change), or a book about some aspect of philosophy or theology. Go to see one movie that you would not normally see. Watch one television show that is not on your preferred list. When I do this I always come away with at least one or two new ideas and maybe even a new perspective on a problem or issue.

Will this make you a "renaissance person"? Probably not, but it will start you on the journey to being a more well-rounded and knowledgeable leader.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Digital Age

A friend recently introduced me to this quote from Peter Leyden:

We are living through an extraordinary moment in human history. Historians will look back on our times, the 40-year span between 1980 and 2020, and classify it among the handful of historical moments when humans reorganized their entire civilization around a new tool, a new idea. These decades mark the transition from the Industrial Age, an era organized around the motor, to the Digital Age, an era defined by the microprocessor … [a] defining moment when society recognized the enormity of the changes taking place and began to reorient itself.”

I have been part of an online group of ministers for the last several weeks that has been discussing the implications of the Digital Age for the church—especially a five generation church that includes people with three worldviews (print, broadcast, and digital). Here are a few things that have come to mind for me.

First, what does it mean to be a “gatekeeper” in an era when information is readily available? The pastor or the minister of education is no longer the “content expert” when it comes to curriculum, missions education materials, and worship resources. All of these are readily available on the Internet. This does not mean that the experience of one educated about these things is no longer needed, but it does mean that person is no longer a gatekeeper as much as a trusted guide.

Second, and somewhat related to the first, what is the meaning of proprietary information (copyrighted content, for example) when media can be quickly and accurately reproduced with a key stroke? If people are to receive some compensation for their work (writers, researchers, composers), how can this be assured in the digital age when material is so easily transferred?

Third, what is the meaning of relationships in the Digital Age? I have amassed a goodly number of “friends” through Facebook—current acquaintances, former students, professional colleagues—and have enjoyed reconnecting with them. I even have the opportunity to offer a word of encouragement to some of them from time to time. But how deep and meaningful are these connections?

Fourth, is the Digital Age perpetuating and widening a cultural divide between the haves and the have-nots? Are some people cut out of this dialogue because they do not have the resources to participate? Should Christians be encouraging this separation?

Fifth, how does the Digital Age change our way of understanding reality? How does it change our perceptions of the world, people, and the church?

Perhaps all of these are questions related to morality. They deal with issues of honesty, integrity, authority, and caring. Certainly the Bible and our Christian faith speak to these issues in any age. The challenge that we face is making appropriate application.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

There Will Be Blood

A pastor friend in another state is dealing with a major conflict. The church he pastors has decided to close a Christian school that has been meeting in church facilities for 40 years. This has provoked anger from parents, several church members, and some individuals in the local community. Of course, the media has jumped on this and publicized the dissension. Why did the church make the decision? I am sure that were many factors involved, but one was that the school no longer reflected or furthered the mission of the church.

If we have not personally been afflicted with cancer, we know someone who has. The person is diagnosed with the big "C" and is usually offered a regimen of treatment. The treatment is not easy. It is often long, painful, and draining. Given the options, however, the person reluctantly agrees to try the treatment. People who go through this are heroes to me.

The church finds itself in the same situation. Many churches need to make decisions about their future--hard decisions, painful decisions. Some ministries must be changed or dropped, new approaches adopted, facilities must be adapted or sold, and some "sacred cows" must be slain. Will this be easy? No. Will it be pretty? Not very. Will it make some people angry? Probably.

This is where the institutional church stands at the beginning of the 21st century. It is a time for heroes. It is a time for leaders to gather faithful, discerning people around them and discern God's leadership. Of course, not all heroes survive the hero's journey. The treatment can be destructive. Such tasks are not for the faint of heart. Some will fall in the quest. But the goal is worthy--becoming part of the Kingdom of God that is breaking in upon us.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Birth and Death

When we visited Williamsburg recently, one of the guides talked about the dangers of childbirth in the colonial period. Even among the gentry, the birth of a child was a dangerous time. The child might die, the mother might die, or both might die. This, of course, was true well into the early 20th century, but I did not realize how this possibility might come home so soon.

Friday morning my wife received a call that the daughter of one of our closest friends was in the delivery room birthing her first child and there were complications. Rita immediately went to the hospital. When I didn't hear anything from her, I went over and walked into a tragic situation. The mother, who was only 25, had "complications" in childbirth. The baby boy survived, but the mother did not. Her pregnancy had been normal, there were no evident problems, yesterday was her due date, but she did not make it.

We really don't expect this to happen in 2008. Sometimes infants don't survive, but it is rare to lose a mother. The hospital staff, very competent and professional people, seemed--yes, indeed were--as stricken as the family, friends, and clergy who quickly gathered in the maternity area.

How does anyone cope with this type of tragic loss? This is one of those "Why, God?" situations. In the midst of tragedy, we search for some signs of hope. Sometimes we do not see such signs; others take years to emerge. In my struggling with this loss, I have been able to perceive a few things that help me. First, this young woman was a believer who lived each day to help others. There is much to be said about her gracious Christian living. She blessed those she touched. Second, she wanted to have a child so much, and she brought this precious life into the world at great cost. Third, I am reminded that we should not take the passage of childbirth lightly. We should thank God for our mothers, wives and daughters who have undertaken this task and give them a special embrace to show our thankfulness. Fourth, we should value each moment with our loved ones; we never know when those will end.

But . . . we still grieve this loss.