Saturday, September 25, 2021

Institutional Ability to Change

Many who've tracked culture & generational change have suggested we'd be in a time of institutional shift. The pandemic accelerated this movement. 

Ryan Burge recently offered a graph on Twitter showing generational institutional confidence from General Social Survey data. 

We already know at the local church level the challenge of reaching younger generations. In North Georgia most of our communities have an average age of 38, yet the average church will look much more like 65+. Being out of step with the different generations or our communities didn't occur overnight. 

The other levels of Church life may be even slower to grasp the new realities. Specifically for the UMC, & likely for other mainline denominations, the challenges of denominational decline, plus the fracturing along social/political issues, on top of the issues of an aging denomination & diminished funding, are all exacerbated by the pandemic. 

A decade ago, Lovett Weems wrote about the impending death tsunami, yet in many ways we did little to prepare adequately. Where some institutions may have taken steps of financial preparation & reset for this reality, I'm not sure that we've made as many organizational changes driven by vision, or even generational realities, as much as by financial need. The pandemic has shown our weakness of imagination & adaptation. 

Many mainline denominations are theologically & historically complex, yet are also super-institutional. We are often heavy in form & function, keeping the older generations satisfied, while continuing processes from 50+ years ago. From congregation, to annual conference or regional organization, on to the national & international levels, this poses a significant challenge. 

I'm reminded of this again as research once more shows that younger generations are spiritual, yet not institutional. I recall Ken Callahan advising our church back in the 90's that the younger crowd are sprinters, & not marathoners like the older gen, when it comes to church involvement, commitment, & institutional loyalty. We were hard pressed back then to develop church programming for sprinters. Today we're still confronted with the need to be a church for sprinters.  

What will church, & Church, look like in the US as we imagine 2025-2050? 

I'm sure the under 50 year old crowd- especially those recently outside church coming into the faith family- are the best ones to define worship, discipleship, & witness that help them to follow Jesus. If the church & Church can prioritize substance, & not get hung up by particular style or process, we'll be able to adapt. Relying on more voices to bring life back to our institutions, & create a vitality that meets the needs of today & tomorrow, will be our great task. I'm excited for the younger crowd to take a lead in these matters. That is, as long as they continue to adapt & flex in response to the times, & don't make the same mistakes we've made of creating institutional processes set in stone for 100 years. 

If the last 2 years are any indication, then these "Roaring 20's" will continue to be volatile. Unless your  prognostications from December 2019 have held up well through pandemic, we do better to reorient church & Church toward essential priorities which excel in engaging the next generation & those outside the church in the whole life of faith. 

Church will probably look more like a hybrid blend of both in person & virtual worship, discipleship, & approaches that build up faith conversation & community. Church will look more like a local & global movement of people following Jesus who are adaptive & relationally organized-- or some more chaotic, creative, transformational descriptor of religion than "organized religion" -- which matches with historic, apostolic faith while also flexing to modern generational life. 

This will be an exciting time for church despite the challenges of this necessary generational shift!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Pandemic Life & Work Catch-Up

 Ha, sweet mercy, I forgot about the old blog!

Anyone else streamline your life since COVID-19 swept across the globe? For most of us it's been enough to stay healthy, navigate the chaos, & take personal & professional care. With a blog that had fallen to neglect due to all my travels & schedule BC (before covid) I was afraid I may be locked out. 

I've got lots of thoughts rumbling & need this outlet again. Perhaps it will be helpful for some others as well. Some of this was stirred up the other day when a former member of the youth group of a church I served 25 years ago was surprised I'd previously served the church she now attends in a distant city. 

A quick recap as a number of things have changed since March 2020. I live on the family farm, as we've moved in with my wife's 92 year old dad some years back when I was a traveling church consultant/ circuit rider.  After many years serving local congregations, I was invited to join North Georgia Conference of the UMC staff in 2014 assisting with mission, disaster response, & community engagement, & with UMC Global Ministries. My primary focus has been with North GA on consulting, training, networking, & leadership assisting 800+ congregations around the Atlanta region including beyond metro into middle Georgia & up into the mountains. My title has changed a few times, & we've been into various reorganization over the years as we adapt to the times & needs. In July 2020 I went half time with North GA Conference & half time pastoring a congregation in Augusta. In July 2021 I added a smaller mission congregation to my work. 

So, I serve at the local church level, and I work at the conference level & in relation to the larger Church. Over the years I've also worked with our UMC Global Ministries. If you know & love denominational acronyms, know that I'm CSGM & C-DRC for North GA conference. That's Conference Secretary of Global Ministries & Conference-Disaster Response Coordinator if you want to know. :) Over the years, in these various roles, I've seen the church movement alive & at work in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Russia, Portugal, Togo, Kenya, India, & the Philippines. Experiencing other cultures in very local ways, with the local church as guide, has been transformational for me in my faith & work. In the US my experiences in a dozen states in varied communities serving in mission & disaster response has added other layers to my faith & practical work. 

I'm a UMC deacon clergy with one foot in the church & one foot in the community. That usually translates as a specialty in mission & discipleship, though at times I've been a utility player, or a pioneer, or a college campus minister, or a big systems helper. I especially enjoy helping church outsiders find their way into faith & the institutional church as that's my story as I didn't grow up a church kid & came to faith while in college. I also survived the 1980's fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, thus my shift from SBC to UMC, and surprised that those lessons from one Holy War are relevant once again as the UMC lurches forward in fracturing. 

Living on a farm, & with long time interest in agriculture, creation, & church, I tend to have a systems approach and way of thinking. If you are into enneagram, know I'm a 5w4, so I like investigating, sleuthing, & figuring out practical, actionable responses. Is actionable really a word? :) I love ideas & action plans, & hope you'll sometimes enjoy the lack of awkward grammer or odd word as we swap thoughts & stories. Oh, and sometimes it may just be a photo or something that catches my fancy. 

Here's a little more on my wild 37+ year vocational journey if you enjoy an exotic resume:

  • grew up on a farm, plus "enjoyed" jobs including bagging mattresses, stocking a Sears warehouse, working sheet metal, & in the old days assisting with ink drafting before CAD. 
  • summer missionary Central Baptist Church, Syracuse NY
  • worked at Claxton Fruitcake Company, Ace Hardware, & FBC
  • pastoral assistant Silver St UMC, New Albany IN
  • supply preaching around KY & IN
  • pastor, Caneyville KY BC
  • family preservation therapist, Lexington County SC
  • director of Christian education, Lyttleton St UMC, Camden SC
  • program director/ church development, Trinity on the Hill, Augusta GA
  • pastor, Macedonia UMC, Thomson GA
  • associate pastor, Greensboro GA FUMC
  • mission pastor, Trinity on the Hill UMC, Augusta GA
  • mission strategist, North GA Conference UMC/ UMC Global Ministries
  • associate director of connectional ministries, North GA Conference
  • mission specialist, North GA Conference UMC, plus pastor of Mann- Mize UMC & St Luke UMC, Augusta GA

That's all for now as I look back in order to look forward. In the days ahead I'll share some ideas from the missional, discipleship movement that might be useful in a pandemic world.