By: John O’Keefe
1. how do you define the postmodern movement?
First, let me say that I have the “gift’ of disorientation as I travel. I have had some wonderful adventures being lost all over the world. Some who read these ramblings may well feel that my “gift” has also influenced my writings as well. But in any case I am very much looking forward to the conversation around some of John’s very provocative questions. I hope you find some of my answers equally provocative. For more info on our unusual views check out our web site: https://web.archive.org/web/20100806071722/http://www.msainfo.org/
Second, I am deeply concerned that numbers in leadership fail to take the future seriously regarding how the culture, the economy and the church are changing and how we will need to creatively engage these new challenges. Business as usual is a dead end. I am even more concerned that leaders aren’t emphasizing the importance of taking the scripture seriously… not just for the spiritual compartment of life but for all of life including our lifestyles, our response to modern and postmodern culture and even our economics and politics.
The postmodern movement? Young leaders in England have helped me distinguish between postmodernity as an intellectual movement determined to deconstruct modernity’s pretenses and assumptions and postmodern culture that shares certain p.m. values such as tolerance and moral relativity. In Retrofuture Gerard Kelly indicts the established church for working overtime attempting to create a rational prepositional faith in order to become acceptable to modern culture. Young postmodern leaders no longer feel obligated to dance to modernity’s tune and I think they are right.
2. how does the church need to change to more effectively engage a postmodern generation?
First, the bad news. The church in all western countries including the US is losing the under-35 at an alarming rate, which has ominous implications for the future of the church as the boomers retire from 2010 to 2030. While there is a growing spiritual hunger among the under -35 they are not beating the doors of the established church down to satisfy it. They don’t seem to be attracted to what we are offering.
Now, the good news. In the eighties God began raising up a new generation in the UK that began re-inventing the church in a way that much more fully engages a post modern generation. This movement began in Australia and New Zealand in the mid- nineties. And in the past five years young leaders in Canada and the U.S. have also joined this movement. Check out the cutting edge description of the postmodern church and their alternative forms of worship in The Prodigal Project by Mike Riddell, Mark Pierson, and Kathy Kirkpatrick published by SPCK in the UK.
To understand how the church needs to change to more effectively reach a post modern generation allow me to offer my contrast between what I call the “established church” and the “emerging church.” This brief sketch is a generalization but I believe it contains some sense of not only how the established church needs to change if it serious about reaching a younger generation…. but it also suggests how we will need to support the young as they seek to create some new church plants that connect more effectively with a younger generation.
- More of a rational propositional gospel
- More of an institutional character
- More traditional worship
- More conforming to modern culture
- More focused on in-house needs
- More inclined to cookie cutter programs
- More of gospel as story or narrative
- More of a relational or organic character
- More experimental worship
- More questioning of modern culture
- More focused outward in mission
- More inclined to create options for their context.
In many established churches you have to be 40 and male to be taken seriously. One of the reasons we are losing our under-35 is that they are not willing to hang around middle aged congregations until they are middle aged and their ideas are finally welcomed. The key issue we need to address is how to invite the young into ownership in our churches much earlier. Frankly there are very few models that represent a positive direction. Let me share one.
Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends is one of the few groups that take their young people seriously. They offer a leadership training camp for junior high kids run by high school students. When they reach high school numbers of them are put on both local church but denominational councils. For example, two high school people who are on the denominational Mission Rally totally re-invented the annual gathering and blew the older adults away with their multimedia presentation on their global mission thrust.
3. what is the difference between doing discipleship on a two-legged and a three-legged stool?
This question shifts our attention from the challenges of inviting the young into leadership to examining how to raise the bar for all generations concerning what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We are not only losing our young from our churches at an alarming rate but we are also seeing a serious hemorrhaging in levels of spiritual practice… including time for prayer, scripture reading, church and witness and service. Declining per capita giving also concerns us. While per capita incomes increased 90% from 1968 to 1998 for American Christian per capita giving declined almost 20% during the same period according to the Empty Tomb. I am convinced that a major reason for these serious declines in levels of spiritual practice and Christian giving is that many of us operate from a seriously flawed notion of what constitutes a biblical view of Christian discipleship. Let me explain the problem.
Anyone who has milked cows by hand know that you can use a three-legged stool or even a one legged stool but a two-legged isn’t very stable. Most of the discipleship offered by the church is, I believe, based on a two-legged stool. One leg on the stool is getting our spiritual lives transformed which is essential. The second leg is getting our moral act together… also essential. But the missing leg on the stool is my belief that the scripture teaches God not only wants to transform us spiritually and morally but culturally too. I don’t believe it is possible to do biblical discipleship over the top of the individualism, materialism and consumerism of American culture and wind up with anything that looks like biblical faith. It is time we put a third leg on the discipleship stool and call all believers to whole life discipleship and stewardship that challenges modern culture instead of conforming to it.
In other words, I believe, the established church has largely settled for a very compartmentalized faith in which we allow modern culture to define our sense of what is important and of value. For too many of us the real focus of our life has little to do with our faith and much more to do with getting ahead economically… getting ahead in our careers and in the suburbs. Too many of our churches tend to sanction this kind of compartmentalized accommodated faith and are content with discipleship on a two-legged stool. What kind of discipleship is taught in your church?
In light of the horrific events of September 11 many Christians do want to put first things first. The only problem is because of the kind of compartmentalized discipleship many churches teach most Christians have no idea how to connect their Sunday faith to their lives seven days a week. We believe that one way to help believers to make the connect and begin the journey towards a whole life faith is to help them draft biblically shaped mission statements. Then serious disciples can use their mission statements to reinvent their timestyles and lifestyles to create a more festive whole life faith that is more concerned with making a difference than a dollar. We want to help people discover how God can use their mustard seeds to actually impact the lives of others. Any takers???
4. what are two things that Christians need to keep in mind in terms of worldview?
Thing one… I am very concerned that many American Christians operate as though all the important theological questions have been asked and we got all the answers right… decades ago. I seriously question whether many of the answers we operate from are as biblically grounded as we assume they are… from our assumptions about what it means to be a disciple of Christ, be the church and do the mission of the church. I am convinced we need to spend much more time reflecting on “why we do what we do.” We need to re-visit our fundamental theological assumptions to insure that we are working from assumptions that are clearly biblical. We need to particularly assess the extent to which we have allowed the values of modern culture to define our sense of what is important and what is of value. My central passion is to enable Christians to rediscover the kingdom of God not only as doctrine we embrace but as an alternative cultural vision of what is important and of value to the one offered us by the modern global culture of consumption. Anyone interested in reawakening this kind of biblical imagination? Let me suggest a few books to help us revisit important questions that still deserve much more reflection and discussion. To re-discover a biblical Jesus who isn’t singularly preoccupied with the comfortable but is focused much more on unleashing subversive movement destined to transform our world check out Tom Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus. Instead of accepting the implicit assumption of many churches that they exist primarily to meet our needs of the flock, take a look at Rodney Clapp’s Family at the Crossroads. He contends that the scripture teaches that the church is intended to be “the first family” to share God’s love beyond the church with others. Beyond mission that focuses almost exclusively on evangelism and church planting in the 10/40 window, take a look at a new biblical call to the integration of word and deed mission called the “Micah Statement on Integral Mission” formulated last fall at Oxford by a group of Christian leaders from all over the world at: www.micahnetwork.org. If you share my frustrations with a “Left Behind” eschatology check out my article entitled “Who is Tim LaHaye?” in Sojourners Oct. 1, 2001:[email protected]
Thing two… I am very concerned that a number of American evangelical Christians not only fail to question the assumptions underlying faith and culture issues but our political and economic views as well. We are seeing a growing reliance on nationalism, political and military power and the pursuit of empire to set the world right. I am concerned that so few American believers are questioning the assumptions underlying this new effort to shape the global future. I believe that we need to ask questions like: “are the aspirations of empire and the goals of the kingdom synonymous?” If American believers are open to discussing these important questions from a biblical view point I suggest we begin by seeking the view point of Christians in other countries. I would urge that we ask our friends in other countries how they view the most urgent political and economic issues in our world and how they believe scripture calls us to respond to these issues…. and really listen. You might take a look at a new controversial release by Joseph Nye, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone.
5. as we look at our world we see vast human need, how can the mustard seed possibly make a difference?
We are rapidly moving into a new global economy which has high pay off for the upper 20%. In fact, more millionaires and billionaires were created in the past ten years than in any decade in the history of the world. The upper 20% have increased their percentage of global income while the bottom 20% have actually seen a decrease in their share. In a recent conference in Mexico on global poverty leaders concluded that the new global economy wasn’t nearly as effective in bringing prosperity to our poorest neighbors as advocates had hoped. Neither North America or Europehave responded to Kofi Annan’s challenge for Western countries to increase their current level of foreign aid from .22% of national income to .70%. Oxfam predicts if Annan’s goals aren’t realized by 2015, 56 million children could die of starvation, malnutrition and preventable diseases. Those of us who are committed to issues of life, justice and mercy must do much more to change our lifestyles and our church priorities to free up much more of our resources to help the poor to develop the assets to successfully participate in this new global economic order.
Can the mustard seed make a difference? Visit the shalom community built on a garbage dump in Mexico and you will discover a church helping the poor to start small businesses. In Haiti you will find a group of people in the Plaisance Valley, who were a part of a Christian development project sponsored by World Concern, pooled their resources and bought a truck to take their own coffee beans to market. By bi-passing the middle man they increased their profits 250%. Which mean more kids could have a better diet and more kids could go to school. It also meant some of the poor earned enough extra to start their own small businesses. Phil Wall, a young leader in the UK deeply concerned about Aids orphans in Africa created yet another mustard seed. He talked his wife, Wendy, into taking their savings out of the bank. And several other families in his youth church did the same. They held their first banquet for aids orphans in which they didn’t ask for money but they gave away their savings $15 per person and invited them to test out the parable of the talent and invest the $15 and bring back the increase in two months to support aids orphans. They had a ten-fold increase in their investment. Last year at a major Christian event in the UK they gave away over a half million dollars and the return on this investment is making a huge difference educating tens of thousands of aids orphans in Africa so that they have a future and a hope.
It is never too late for any follower of Christ to discover the remarkable ways that God can use their mustard seed to make a difference in the world just like Phil and Wendy. Christine and I recommend, in our new book, that the way we can find the potential of the mustard seed is to discover how God wants to use our lives to make a difference and then reinventing our timestyles and lifestyles to put first things first. Are you ready to explore serious whole life stewardship for God’s kingdom?
6. how can the church contend with some of the challenges of modern and postmodern culture?
The only battle that the evangelical church has with modern culture is personal morality issues like porn on the internet. But we tend to treat the other values of modern culture as though they are values neutral. Naomi Klein documents in the important book, No Logo, how the marketers of this new global economy stepped up their efforts to shape the values of the young in the nineties to derive their sense of identity, purpose and even sense of meaning from what they consume. Also check out Adbusters at www.adbusters.org . I know of no Christian curriculum to help the young decode the fraudulent messages that their self worth is derived from their extreme cool purchases. Any one interested in working on this project?
I hear a lot of alarm among evangelicals about post modernity because of their opposition to all metanarratives and their contention that all things are morally relative. Many don’t seem to realize the opportunities that postmodernity presents the church. I grew up in a world in which modernity had insisted that everything was scientifically explicable. We were told if science couldn’t explain it, it was nonsense and superstition. Postmodernity on the other hand is open to mystery, wonder and the spiritual. Young leaders in England see this as an opening for the gospel and I think they are right. But it will require new ways to tell the story… relying more on the arts, image and narrative than rational preachings. Any imaginative ideas?
7. what are some of the most important things the church can do to minister to a new generation?
There are 13 year olds who are starting their own web page businesses…and yet numbers of churches run very large youth activity driven programs for the young as though they are incapable of running them themselves.
Older adults in Megachurches are running gen X & Y worship services for them in a sincere effort to reach them. But again I am convinced that instead of doing for the young we need to invite them to start their own alternative worship services and let older folks come and learn. Again the operative word is ownership.
For example, Jonny and Jenny Baker have planted a church within a church in St. Mary’s Ealing in the UK. Older people can come to this service run by 20 year olds but they can’t mess with it. The focus for worship one Sunday night was one Jubilee 2000… forgiving third world debt. At the center of this very ornate Anglican church was a huge block and tackle supporting an enormous block of ice representing the cold hearts of Northern Europeans and North Americans. As a part of liturgy 20 and 30 year olds brought candles and placed them under the block of ice.
A group of Christians have just created the first Christian co-housing community in Oakland California. They built nine units in an inner city neighborhood near their Methodist church. They have solar paneling on their roof which supplies 85% of their electricity, they have an organic garden and a common dining hall in which all 22 of them share meals together twice a week. They are seeking to move from a compartmentalized faith to a 24/7 faith. They put on neighborhood block parties, art installations and seek to be the shalom of God in this neighborhood 24/7. We need this kind of fresh creativity from a new generation in all areas of life including alternative housing. In other words, instead of simply accepting without questions the living situations handed us by modern culture, the pursuit of whole life faith requires that we re-examine all aspects of our lives in light of the values of God’s kingdom… including how we house ourselves. Since a troubling number of the under-35 spend over 50% of their income for rent or mortgage we advocate that older more affluent Christians start revolving no-interest mortgage funds for young people who want to make a difference with their lives. This will enable them to construct less expensive co-housing communities and get in and out of the mortgage trap in 7 to 10 years instead of 30. Anyinterest… check out www.cohousing.org and contact us at [email protected]
The best way we can help a new generation is to solicit their ideas and invite them into leadership. This will not be easy for many older males of my generation. Many of them keep talking about passing on the bat but don’t seem to want to let go of the handle. They certainly aren’t inclined to invite a new generation of young men and women to share their ideas on how to reinvent their churches and organizations to engage the changing times. The leadership of the Mennonite Central Committee came up with the idea of inviting a small group of twenty year olds to plant a new MCC within the existing MCC to use their own imagination to create a whole new model of how to empower the poor. I don’t think they followed up on the idea but it is still a great idea.
It is time for all of us who are older to recognize that God is doing something new through a new generation. We should also to bring together groups of young women and young men from our multicultural faith communities and invite them to share their ideas and concerns. We need to not only invite them into leadership and serious collaboration but encourage them to create new models of churches and Christian organizations that more effectively engage the challenges of our changing world. We in Mustard Seed Associates are eager to support what God is doing through a new generation and find others who are willing to join in this venture.
Tom & Christine Sine live in Seattle and they work with churches, Christian organizations and with young leaders in a number of different western countries through their ministry… Mustard Seed Associates. They are also part time instructors at Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle. You can reach them at [email protected] and check out their website www.msainfo.org
Their newest book Living on Purpose: Finding God’s Best for Your Lives outlines a step-by-step process to create a whole life faith by drafting personal or family mission statements to put first things first. It is designed to be used as a study book for small groups in the church. Tom has also written a book on new challenges that the new global economy presents the church entitled:Mustard Seed Vs McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future. You can order these books directly from Baker Books at 1-800-679-1957.