“The study of man unmediated by religion marked the end of the middle ages and saw the beginning of the modern world.” (Rebecca Fraser in The History of Britain) It is easy for historians to look back and see the end of one way of thinking and the beginning of another. It doesn’t happen at one date, with one mind-shattering event. But, in hindsight one can see the beginning of the end of the old thinking, and the end of the beginning of the new way. Or as the sports vernacular has it,”a shift in momentum from one team to another.”
You can easily see that ‘shift in momentum’ in Steve Jobs accomplishments. Due to his creativitiy, computing became truly personal, mobile and a part of life rather than a calculating adjunct. Historians will surely look back and see his accomplishments as opening up a new paradigm, as Thomas Kuhn called it, in not only technology but human life. We are at the beginning of an expanded way of living daily possibilities that will change our most fundamental concepts. Stay tuned.
What does this have to do with the transformation of local churches? I think you can guess. If our way of living daily is changing radically, surely this signals the end of one way of thinking about church and the beginning of another. Whether the momentum is with the new way yet will be left to historians in the future, but there is no doubt in my mind that the old way of thinking about local church doesn’t work anymore. There are too many questions and too few answers. This is a sure sign of an impending paradigm shift according to Kuhn.
It is too easy for Christians to answer all this by saying that there are eternal verities that do not change, and we must seek them. True, but our seeking is strongly shaped by our mental models, which are strongly shaped by the world in which we live. Ths is sociology 101. If churches are to change, surely they must find ways to relate to the hyper-expanding communities of the new techno-social world many people now live in. That goes way beyond ministries to young people, who are at the leading edge of this change. Shouldn’t we be looking at the ideas and boundaries that hem in our local church community, and keep it from influencing people as widely as Facebook and Twitter? Can we become as revolutionary as Steve Jobs in our view of our “customers” and our ability to bring them new “products and experiences” that will change their lives?
Are there any people in your local church even talking about these things?
© 2011, James Harlow Brown. All rights reserved.