Church should be defined by its imitation of Jesus, who spoke a blessing upon everyone he met. Jesus spent his days walking among the fallen and touching those who needed his healing. His few sharp words, were directed towards those who spoke nonsense and shame towards the weak. And, even though Jesus had been educated in the highest place, he continually prepared for his peripatetic teaching work by going off alone in prayer. He only spoke about God from his own personal experience. He was in this Way, the word made flesh (John 1:14).
In San Diego there’s a boat museum with three old submarines tied to the dock. I was visiting the Russian Whisky Class submarine from the 1970s, when I noticed a beautiful sailboat tacking against the wind in the harbor. What’s the difference between these two boats? The sailboat is dealing with wind and current. It is taking risks. The Russian sub is securely fastened to the shore. It is a museum piece. I find that when I talk about the church in the postmodern world, the image of the sailboat resonates with only a few church leaders. Most pastors and lay people would prefer to have their house of worship firmly entrenched in tradition.
Why did Kodak die? The simple answer is that people stopped buying film. Besides the world’s most famous film, Kodachrome, Kodak made darkroom chemicals and papers. Today, when photographs are printed people use inkjets. There are those who would fault Kodak’s leadership with not shifting full time into the digital camera market or becoming a leader in providing paper and ink. This is worst kind of Monday morning quarterbacking. Kodak has enjoyed great leadership. They would need a leader like Harry Potter to take on Canon, Nikon, or Epson.
Paul Simon and I are in mourning for Kodak Kodachrome. It used to be my favorite film. Until the mid-1990s, Kodak was a great stock to own. Jobs at the Kodak plant in Rochester seemed totally secure. The advanced emulsions and darkroom chemicals that Kodak produced were respected worldwide. I don’t shoot much film today. I have begun transferring my favorite Kodachrome slides to digital files. Kodak, itself, is in bankruptcy. Digital photography came along shortly before the new millennium and ate their lunch. This happened even though Kodak was one of the most innovative and best run companies in the marketplace.
A while back we had expensive stone work done on our church building. Water was getting into the decorative block and causing the face of each stone to flake off. The word for that is ‘spalling’ and I’ve applied it to the church ever since. Over the last century, the United Methodist Church institutional structure (conference boards, general agencies, and general conference actions) has aligned itself with other mainline churches, specifically the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.
Recently, I went to a burger joint that used the new Coke Freestyle vending machine to dispense my beverage. Instead of giving my drink order to the guys behind the counter or filling it up my cup at the fountain nozzles, the Freestyle vending machine presented me with a touch screen. After stabbing away few menus, and I had a drink made exactly to my individual tastes. It hit me that Freestyle had a few things to teach the church about our new postmodern world:
The theological concepts expressed in previous blog lead to three substantial changes in how churches will be organized in the future.
The church exists to help people in every place live better and more meaningful lives. God has given us a rich and transcendently ‘true’ text (scripture + church practice) or ‘Word,’ whose focal narrative is the acts and teachings of Jesus. The church invites all people to experience the Word as preaching, music, art, and ritual (including the sacraments). We value this Word because within it we have found personal healing, salvation, and eternal life.
The one fact that no one can dispute is that fewer people today are interested in organized religion. Most Americans don't want to pay for some religious monstrosity or attend a Crystal Cathedral. To put it in biblical terms, they have forsaken the Temple that Herod is building in the city, and gone looking for the burning bush. They are a generation like the one that met John the Baptist on the border of the wilderness and accepted his casual dress. They long to gather on the hillside and hear Jesus tell them about the Kingdom of God and how it is relevant to daily life.
Old technology doesn’t die, it just becomes irrelevant. Think about it, everything from the telegraph to the trebuchet still exists. When humankind moves on and leaves an old way of doing something in the dust, it doesn’t get rid of the old. Things that are irrelevant, are simply parked in a back ally. This is my chief concern as I write a weekly blog for leaders serving mainline denominational congregations.