Friday, October 02, 2009

New Times Call for New Thinking


In The Age of the Unthinkable, Joshua Cooper Ramo writes “My argument so far has been that . . . many of our best minds, blinded by optimism and confusion, are using out-of-date and unrealistic models of the world. This is why our uneasiness about resting our future in their hands is inevitable.” Although he is talking about foreign policy experts, I think we can apply this to other areas of human endeavor as well, including churches and religious institutions. New times call for new thinking.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, everything really has changed in the 21st century. The changes have been coming for decades, but we are feeling their full influence and power now. Let me suggest several that have especially impacted churches.

First, fragmentation. While there at least appeared to be unity in 20th century denominational structures and they certainly operated efficiently, most denominations today are divided over theological, moral, and practical concerns. Whether it is the way that gays are treated or the nature of the Bible, schism is the order of the day. Feelings are strong and tempers are short. This fragmentation will not be solved by recourse to the old way of doing things.

Second, customization. “Just in time” supply lines, “Have your way” fast food, and an “Amazon.com” retail world have led us to expect what we want when we want it. In the church world, the denominational publishing house or mission board are no longer the preferred provider of goods and services. Most churches browse the marketplace to find what best fits their need or they do it themselves. In reality, this is a very positive move for it places responsibility squarely on the local congregation on mission in its unique context.

Third, decentralization. Martin Marty’s comment of several years ago about the “Baptisification of America” has certainly come to pass. Even churches with strong connectional systems want to practice local church autonomy when a congregation disagrees with the decisions of their national leadership. Congregational government is looking better all the time as churches chose their own direction.

This is a time calling for new models and ways of thinking. The old models were creative when they were introduced and produced admirable results, but their time has passed. The challenge for us is to find new models and practice them. In subsequent postings, I will suggest some ways to do this.

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