Archive for May, 2013

A Great Temptation for Churches: Worthiness, Purity, Access

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

One of the most significant temptations a church faces is the gatekeeper mentality.  As Fr. Richard Rohr phrased it, that gatekeeper mentality seeks:

“to sell worthiness, purity, and access to God (Luke 19:45-46), just as the Catholic Church did later with indulgences and stipends of various sorts.”

Such is the great temptation of all religion.

The subtleness of the temptation is that as a church matures – a beautiful process – people start to get it.  They get what the spirit of service means.  They get what it is like to join together as brothers and sisters.  They get what it is like to follow Christ and model our lives, as best we can in our smallness, around what he calls us to.  And that feels good … actually it feels GREAT.  And  hence the temptation….

We can grow to love that  feeling in such a way that we come to believe our job is to protect it vs. share it.   That is not our job.  Our job is to share!  God is so true that there is little we are called to protect except those who suffer.  God is so immense that there is nothing we are called to hoard, only countless blessings to share. Gatekeepers need to open far more doors than they close.



Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

We have gone from being “connected” to being “hyper-connected” in a blink.   This is how Thomas Friendman, author of “The World is Flat” captured that shift in a recent NYT’s article

We went from a connected world to a hyperconnected world. I’m always struck that Facebook, Twitter, 4G, iPhones, iPads, high-speech broadband, ubiquitous wireless and Web-enabled cellphones, the cloud, Big Data, cellphone apps and Skype did not exist or were in their infancy a decade ago when I wrote a book called “The World Is Flat.” All of that came since then, and the combination of these tools of connectivity and creativity has created a global education, commercial, communication and innovation platform on which more people can start stuff, collaborate on stuff, learn stuff, make stuff (and destroy stuff) with more other people than ever before.

What’s exciting is that this platform empowers individuals to access learning, retrain, engage in commerce, seek or advertise a job, invent, invest and crowd source — all online. But this huge expansion in an individual’s ability to do all these things comes with one big difference: more now rests on you.

If you are self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you. The boundaries are all gone. But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings and floors that protected people are also disappearing. That is what I mean when I say “it is a 401(k) world.” Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. There will be fewer limits, but also fewer guarantees. Your specific contribution will define your specific benefits much more. Just showing up will not cut it.

I can’t say it strongly enough – these are the waters in which we swim.  I remember a dear friend, Rev. Frank Rose, saying that churches cannot ignore demographics.  This is a key demographic shift.  We ignore it at our peril.  I believe that the shifts the above portends will impact churches far more than gay marriage or debates around divorce.

In this new era, churches do have a unique voice.  Churches need to speak “wisdom among the mature but not the wisdom of the age or the rulers of this age.”  (1 Cor. 2:6)  That voice must then be unique and it must be a caring voice as well.  As Emanuel Swedenborg noted in identifying sin, “The evil that is sinful is simply evil against our neighbor, and evil against our neighbor is evil against God.”  (TCR, 525)

Many will find themselves empowered in this new era.  Many will find themselves disenfranchised.  Churches need to serve both.  Could that mean the following will be true?

  1. Partnership: Clergy and Laity used to exist exist in a hierarchy.  Successful churches will quickly “flatten” themselves organizationally where the pastor becomes more of a partner than an expert.  Think marble cake more than layer cake.
  2. Art:  If you have not started reading Seth Godin, now is a good time to start.  He notes that people now posses the freedom to offer their “art”, whatever that might be, instantly to thousands.  Like the blog, it takes little and gives instant access to great swaths of the globe.  Churches will be part of that art.
  3. Service: “Charity unites.  Doctrine divides.”  This well worn New Church perspective will become increasingly true.  Denomination lines, outside of  select cadres who make division their reason d’être, will continue to blur.  Churches can offer their unique voice and perspective to the world.  Just don’t expect that to be what unites people.  Churches will find people searching more for connection than information.  Service in its many forms gives the most meaningful connection.
In closing, anticipate as well churches finding new footing in quieter spaces well, as guardians of the silence in which God often speaks.
This era will have good and bad.  What is known?  That the hyper-connected world is here!