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Thinking About the Church of the Future

The Opening Doors to Discipleship organization asked our own Beth Hayes to reflect on a recent event she attended and its implications for the Christian Church. 

I had the distinct privilege of being invited to a dialogue experience between well-known theologian Phyllis Tickle and pastors and educators about the role of the church in the future and how culturalchange change is affecting the traditional way of doing Christian Education and spiritual formation in the emergent church. Tickle challenged all of us to rethink church culture as we minister and respond to folks outside the church.

It is a known fact that many persons in the under-35-group no longer trust the church as the place to seek meaning and purpose in life. Persons today who haven’t been brought up in the church or who aren’t familiar with it are not convinced of the church’s value. Some who were raised in the church have become disaffected. The church is not necessarily people’s choice for finding meaning and purpose in life, which the decline in attendance makes very apparent. The questions are: How do we connect with these people? Where do we go to meet them? The conversations that will happen as we make these connections will broaden our world view of how younger folk find meaning and purpose in their lives. What can they teach us? What can they gain from us? How will the internal culture of the church need to change? It was a fascinating experience to deal with these questions, not only with Tickle but other pastors and educators.

Tickle briefly walked us through church history and the influences of some history-making events such modern inventions, and modern technology changes. These things have influenced the world and thereby the church. She then took us to the future with a vision for a new transformation in the church based on her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. She talked about the fact that every 500 years, the empowered structure of Christianity must be shattered in order for renewal and new growth to take place. Three things then happen:  First, a new, more-vital form of Christianity emerges.  Then, the organized expression of Christianity, which had been dominant, is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its old self. Thirdly, every time the incrustations of an overly-established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread—and been spread, dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas thereby increasing exponentially the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a corollary of its time of unease and distress.

Not all change is bad. Tickle’s follow up work, Embracing Emergence Christianity, has a study workbook and DVD component where Tickle poses questions such as “What are the implications of this Great Emergence both culturally and spiritually?” “What are the key questions and issues that need to be addressed?” “Where is this leading the future church?” There is a small group model for addressing these questions in a group. Hew newest book, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, Why Does It Matter, has been recently published. By reading the book, you will become aware of fascinating insights into the concerns, organizational patterns, theology, and most pressing questions facing the church today. It gives us all a chance to assess where we are in the church, where we are going, and be prayerful of what God is doing in our world.

Beth Hayes-Beth Hayes is Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources for the Board of Cooperative Ministries, Moravian Church in America, Southern Province.

opening doors to discipleship

Opening Doors to Discipleship is a training website sponsored by Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Moravian Church in. North America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Presbyterian Church in Canada, and Reformed Church in America. Opening Doors is a series of four courses to help train and support teachers and leaders of the church so that they might be better equipped to share the good news with others. Moravians are eligible to “attend” these valuable online courses. If you would like register with the website and gain free access to this great resource, simply contact Beth Hayes for the Moravian registration code. To find out more about it, visit the website: http://openingdoorstodiscipleship.com/about.php