Running at the speed of Apple leaves a congregation gasping for breath while it may be missing the point of ministry in the 21st century.
Let me begin by admitting something: I love the speed of Apple. I love it when they come out with the new and innovative. I am actually a beta tester for their new software. I am presently typing on a version of their software not available to the public.
While I love the speed of Apple for things Apple, the speed of Apple is destructive to the church. A church’s attempt to run faster, provide more, build bigger is a never ending task (see first two blog posts here and here). But more, increasingly in our society it doesn’t matter how fast we run or how innovative we are because the resources the church offers are not what people are asking for. Jamie Smith imagining a church planter entering the city of Bolder in How (not) to be Secular writes,
You came with what you thought were all the answers to the unanswered questions these “secular” people had. But it didn’t take long for you to realize that the questions weren’t just unanswered; they were unasked. And they weren’t questions. That is, your “secular” neighbors aren’t looking for “answers” — for some bit of information that is missing from their mental maps. To the contrary, they have completely different maps. You’ve realized that instead of nagging questions about God or the afterlife, your neighbors are oriented by all sorts of longings and “projects” and quests for significance. There doesn’t seem to be anything “missing” from their lives — so you can’t just come proclaiming the good news of a Jesus who fills their “God-shaped hole.”
Why aren’t are neighbors asking the questions we want to answer? Because of another central shift in time. Andrew Root, relying on Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, points out we have moved from one secular stage to another (for Taylor fans from Secular2 to Secular3). In Secular2 (the world most churches still imagine is reality) people left behind religious institutions. The solution to being left behind was for churches to create irresistible resources to draw people back. If the church just innovated a bit more, gave better resources people would stream back. Churches heard the message, “If you build it they will come.” Churches built and built, innovated and innovated, or alternately they refused to innovate holding the gospel is timeless and if we just preach well they will come.
Wherever a church finds itself in the present moment neither resources or simply good preaching will bring people back according to Root. Providing more resources will eventually wear a church out and much to the chagrin of the church, people are not looking for those resources. While preaching is always central to the life of the church when people are not asking the question our preaching answers it will fall on uninterested ears.
The reason people do not come back is not because we don’t have great resources or excellent preaching (I love excellent preaching and believe we need more of it). The reason is that we live in Secular3. In this secular stage people not only don’t care about the church they no longer believe they need God to live the good life. The good life is a busy life where you are innovating to have your best life and be truly authentic. This good life is caught up in a new story (not an old, old story) and freedom to do what you want (not a bunch of rules that the church tells you are good for you). In this secular moment more than any other before people are disconnected from the sacred.
Taylor, however, points out that while people are disconnected from the sacred they are still haunted by it. He speaks of cross pressures in a person’s life that keeps them open to the sacred (have you ever noticed how many supernatural beings there are in Marvel movies?). In this world the church moves from providing more and more resources (it does not stop providing resources, but they are no longer central to its being) and look
- To enliven belief and connect people to God
- To tell and live a better story; inviting people into the story
- Reject the idea that people are resources to be used to increase the church’s impact, instead they are people who walk with us through life
- Embrace being out of control—we can’t control the outcomes what we can do is create the context for people to connect with God
- Put together emotion (hearts’ stirred) and affection (moving toward others in love)
This last one, emotion and affection, according to Root is central to a church moving forward. Rather than focusing on providing all kinds of resources and innovating, a congregation needs to listen to where God is stirring its heart (when we pursue what we love we rarely become permanently exhausted or depressed) and combine that with an affection that moves towards others in love. Moving toward others in love keeps a congregation from being inward focused and on God’s mission.
What would change in your congregation if you moved into this new reality? Would you find a way beyond being exhausted? Would your community find a different kind of congregation living in their midst?