; charset=UTF-8" /> ReInventing Church : Connecting Voices
Free hacker tools

ReInventing Church

by Rev. Cameron Trimble, Executive Director, President of The Center for Progressive Renewal

     The December 6, 2010 issue of “TIME” magazine featured an important article titled “What Really Happened: 2000-2010.”  Representing a larger dialogue among writers, journalists, political commentators, theologians, business leaders and homemakers trying to understand the cultural shifts we are all feeling but struggling to name, the article focused on the major events that have shaped the American landscape during the past 10 years.  Interestingly, the writers of this article pointed to the ways in which our institutions have failed us and what that means for our future.

     The writers started with the botched presidential election of 2000 where, for weeks, we debated hanging chads and who would be our next president—a failure of our political system.  In 2001, we met terrorism face-to-face in our homeland on 9/11—a failure of our national security.  In 2002, we watched the start, and immediate missteps, of the war in Iraq, which enmeshed our country in a war without clear objectives—a failure of our military system.  We also saw the impact of programmers who cracked the encryption codes on CDs and DVDs, creating the ability for everyday people to set up peer-to-peer file sharing, threatening the economic foundation of the entertainment industry—a failure of our mediating systems.  By 2003, we saw the Chinese economy take off, rivaling the US economic power for the first time in history—a failure of American economic superiority. By 2005, we were glued to our television sets as we watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina decimated thousands of homes and lives and then watched the U.S. government fail to respond to the disaster as levees broke, gangs took over the streets and a city drowned—a failure of our physical and political infrastructure.  By 2008, we were in the throes of the greatest economic collapse that the world has ever seen, threatening the middle class in the United States and leaving thousands of people homeless, unemployed and poorly educated—a failure of the American economic system.

     If we had been writing this article as theologians and church leaders, we might have added the failure of the institutional church to the list.  Clearly, when we look at our declining memberships, financial giving and social impact, one could conclude that the institutional church is in trouble.

     It is tempting to find all of these institutional failures overwhelmingly depressing. Everything that we have counted on in the past is coming into question, creating a cultural uneasiness that leaves all of us just a bit disoriented and stressed.  It is also accurate to say that we are living in the midst of stunningly creative opportunities for re-envisioning our social norms, values, behaviors and goals.

     Diana Butler Bass, speaking at the United Church of Christ’s 2010 “Search and Call” gathering, presented a helpful framework for understanding the paradigm shifts in which we are living currently.  She referenced a work by William McLoughlin, a history professor at the University of Chicago, who published a small book in 1978 called Revivals, Awakenings and Reform.  McLoughlin highlighted five significant social transitions that have marked human history and posited that we are living through this cycle again.  He argues that we are living through a fourth Great Awakening that is having seismic effects on our institutions, collective beliefs and behaviors.

     His thesis is this:  An Awakening is a massive, sustained movement of cultural reorientation and revitalization wherein dysfunctional, outmoded beliefs and behaviors are replaced by a new sense of reality, of identity, and of self-confidence, and, above all, a revision of institutional structures.

     He goes on to write:

Great Awakenings (and the revivals that are part of them) are the results, not of depressions, wars, or epidemics, but of critical disjunctions in our self-understanding. They are not brief outbursts of mass emotionalism by one group or another but profound cultural transformations affecting all Americans and extending over a generation or more.  Awakenings begin periods of cultural distortion and grave personal stress, when we lose faith in the legitimacy of our norms, the viability of our institutions, and the authority of our leaders in church and state.  They eventuate in basic restructuring of our institutions and redefinitions of our social goals.  Great Awakenings are periods of fundamental ideological transformation necessary to the dynamic growth of the nation in adapting to basic social, ecological, psychological and economic changes.

     The pattern usually expresses itself in this way:

1.  Crisis of Legitimacy: Individuals lose their bearings; neurosis, psychosis, and violence increase in prison populations; family breakdown.

2.  Cultural Distortion: People conclude their problems are not personal, but are the result of institutional dysfunction; the prevailing order has failed; ordinary techniques for handling social stress no longer work; no agreement on solutions; nativist/scapegoating movements develop at this point; these people resist change and seek to return to old ways.

3.  Appearance of New Vision: Individuals appear who embody the cultural crisis and begin to articulate a new way of being, new insights, new understandings of identity, and new moral and ethical possibilities. Typically these people “shed new light” on ideals and practices that the community already values; they act as prophets of the new way that is faithful to what has gone before. They bridge old and new.

4.  Attraction: Some people (often younger generations) begin to “get it” and begin to reorder their lives according to the new way of life articulated by the prophets; innovation and experimental stage, with both positive and negative consequences in the search for a new order.  Revivals, conversions, and emotionalism are often marks of this stage as well.  Conflict, division and partisanship roil between the followers of the new way and the maintainers of the old order. 

5.  Transformation: People who previously had been moderates or “undecided” regarding the necessity of change accept the new vision, new patterns and new behaviors. Considerable revision of institutions, political reforms, reorganized communities, shifts in family structures, new economic practices.

     Bass’ conclusion was that we are living cultural distortion and the appearance of new vision.  It is important to note that these are not necessarily linear.  You don’t finish one and start another.  They are all going on at the same time, with one having more control/influence than the others at a given point in time.

     As I listened to her speak, I thought, “Yes, this makes sense to me.”  The Church is going through some major shifts, and our role is to spot those bright places where God is moving and get on board with that movement.  We all have ministries in our areas that are creating experiences of new life, of genuine transformation.  These are the emerging prophets, if you will, of this new expression of Church.  They are the innovators, the game-changers and the visionaries.  They are experimenting with new models of church, inventing new rituals, repurposing traditional ones, and exploring what it means to be relevant in our culture today.

     Everything is changing.

      The future of the church will center most likely on these core values:

  • Religious Pluralism
  • Nurturing Capitalism
  • Environmental Compassion
  • Communal/Caring for One Another

     The great news for the Progressive Church is that our values are already there!  We already have new prophets among us testing new ways of doing and being church. People like Eric Elnes who, with his team, just launched www.onfaithonline.tv, “a portal to a new Christian faith for the 21st Century.” Their new virtual coffee shop, darkwood brew, connects a live faith community with a larger virtual community at 6 p.m. ET.

     The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, TX, under the direction of Senior Pastor Rev. Jo Hudson and Rev. Michael Piazza, just opened a stunning Interfaith Peace Chapel designed by the late Philip Johnson.  The chapel is open to the entire community as a shared space where people of all faiths, and of no faith, can participate in dialogue, meditation and prayer.  The environment and surroundings inspire people to join voices, hearts and minds in order to build understanding of similarities and differences.

     Examples abound!  Where are you seeing the appearances of new vision for church?  As we move into this new day of being Church, the important thing to remember is that, while this feels deeply disorienting and will undoubtedly be very painful for many invested in our current structures and incarnations, we actually are living in a time of amazing hope. We are ushering in a new day in Christendom!  You and I are playing a part in reinventing the Church of Jesus Christ.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, our beloved Church is moving into a new day where lives are changed by God’s love and communities are renewed through justice, collaboration and mutual respect.  God is still speaking.  Thanks be to God.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free