A “new thing” in our midst
Last month I said “I’d love to know what your perception is of the “new thing” that God is doing in our midst.” Due to the complete lack of response I’m wondering if we have our heads firmly buried in the sand, or whether we hope that by not acknowledging “new things” they will disappear and life can continue as normal? Or perhaps God has passed us by, and we have been left in some backwater, marking time?
I’m reading a book – as part of my studies – by Ron Martoia Morph! The Texture of Leadership for Tomorrow’s Church. In it he makes the following insightful comment:
“In our postmodern culture, people are looking for experiences to bring them closer to God. Why have we been so unimaginative? Postmoderns aren’t looking for principles to die for; they are looking for practices to live by” (page 58).
The challenge we face as Anglicans, along with other so-called “main-line” Churches, is that we have been shaped over centuries by a worldview that raises “principle” on a divine pedestal, and is often suspicious of “experience”. Postmodernism is a worldview that forms the outlook and expectations of many younger people (mostly those under 50) and these people are often drawn off to Christian communities that offer a more experiential faith dynamic. It is not that principle is unimportant, it is just no longer pivotal.
Rules and regulations are the pedestal that upholds principle, and Martoia comments that the postmodern perspective associates rules and regulations “leading to dull, monochrome lives” (page 58), and thus to a dull, monochrome faith. As Anglicans we are often nervous to venture too far into the experiential realm, finding our comfort and security in transcendent truth and principle. We are suspicious and critical of other denominations and many of the newer “break-away” communities that appear to reject the sense of dignity that principle engenders in worship and life. And we are nervous to let these ideas through the door: the very thought of them makes us insecure.
Another book that I have been reading – Systems-Sensitive Leadership: Empowering Diversity Without Polarizing the Church by Michael Armour and Don Browning – suggests that postmodernism encompasses at least four emerging worldviews (thinking systems and values), themselves discontinuous, that the Church increasingly needs to take cognisance of. While there is far too much detail to go into here, the key issue is that “main-line” Churches like ourselves need to begin exploring ways to incorporate and make space for people who have an increasingly different perspective and expectation from that which has shaped our Church-life over centuries. Statistics strongly suggest that in the Western world the Church as we have known it is dying, especially when attendance figures are married to population growth. Research suggests that this is not due to a decrease in interest in spirituality – which interest remains high among postmoderns – but is rather an inability (unwillingness?) to transform in order to meet the needs of a new generation, a generation whose needs are discontinuous with the past.
And so, perhaps, I got the question wrong last month, and I need to ask instead, “What new thing does God want to institute in our midst?” – do you have any thoughts?