Jan Edmiston writes about a presentation Glenn McDonald, pastor of Zionsville Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, gave at her Presbytery's meeting this week. He spoke about church transformation ...
... that those under the age of 39 are "natives" to the culture and those over 39 (that would include me) are immigrants. We are the foreigners who don't speak the language, share the same worldview, etc.
Jan was not pleased with the distinction.
Would I sound defensive if I said that it's not about age; it's about mentality?
Leonard Sweet wrote "the natives" are from the same "psychographic" instead of the same demographic. They want to be in touch with the culture while also being "in tune with the Spirit." Personally speaking, I love the culture and can only pray that I'm not totally out of tune with the Spirit.
Having said this, I worry about potentially embarrassing myself (not to mention my kids) by "not acting my age."
find it fascinating how we try to separate people and churches into
various types or market segments. Natives-immigrants. Traditional-contemporary. Attractional-missional. We end of living in the tyranny of categorical distinctives.
Hey, I want to make sense of the landscape
too, but these categories are way too minimalistic. It all goes to the old game
of who's in and who's out. These
descriptions do say something, but they don't say everything.
From my perspective, we are still looking at the church in far too narrow ways. If we threw out all the terminology and all the categories and looked at the church and every other human institution as if we were from Jupiter, what then would we say?
I know that I sound like a crank or at best a contrarian. I'm not because I do think these categories have meaning. I just don't think that we should endow them with an importance that divides the church into haves and have-nots based on these categorical distinctives.
I know this will sound odd too, but as an organizational consultant, I think what we have done is essentially dehumanized the church. We have done so by trying to say the difference between the church and other organizations is how we are organized. We have a different mission, a different governance structure, a different this or that.
My experience with churches is the same as with non-profits and for-profit organizations. The problems are human problems and spiritual problems. Ironically, the solutions are often organizational solutions.
The church's problems aren't primarily theological. Instead, our problems are often due to knowing more theology than we understand how to live. From my perspective, that is a spiritual discipline problem that can be solved organizationally as we require practicality and application in our theological discussions.
The dehumanization of the church has meant that we have become more a socio-political institution that operates by a type of ideological correctness that says "You are in" and "You are out." This political/social correctness is based on subscribing to specific conceptions of the church and its theology. Wander too far off the prescribed path, and you are out. Stay intellectually compliant (ie: lazy or robotic), and you remain in, regardless of your categorical distinctive.
These categorical distinctions have merit as differing ways the church is addressing its place in a particular culture. So, to pit high-church against low-church, connectional against congregational, attractional against missional, traditional against contemporary is to miss the point. Our distinctives are born in the interpretation of Scripture within a human organizational context.
Churches are human institutions, no matter what theological rationale we attach to them. They are human institutions just like any other organization. The distinctive is not in the organization but in the people and their relationships to one another. What distinguishes the church from all other organizations is the endwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives and relationships of its members.
What this means to me is that we human beings do not control the organic community of the church. When we confuse the church as a structural organization with the communal nature of a Spirit-bound society, we fall back on our tendency to draw lines in the sand and say who is in and who is out.
I can't tell you how many churches with whom I've conducted projects over the years whose whole identity was built on not being like another church. They were "In" and even in decline, they knew they were the "true" church. Their categorical distinctive blinded them to the realities of what it "truly" means to be the church.
Ultimately, what we need are criteria that transcend these categorical distinctives, that tell us how we can be a healthy community of God's children. The answer lies in both an understanding of the church as a spiritual society and as an institution. And the answer lies beyond these categorical distinctives.