Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sermons Part 2 The Local Church in the Postmodern World

This is part two, please read the post which appears following this post first. It's a Blog thing!

The Local Church in the Postmodern World

We as human beings tend to not like change. We resist change until we make a change and find we like the change. Then it is embraced, if it works then change is good but our fear is that it won’t work so change is often feared in some way. The Postmodern world is a world which has seen vast amount of change in the 20th century change has lead to the postmodern philosophy which questions our underlying foundational ideas. These are called in the jargon of philosophers meta-narratives.

A metanarrative can include any grand, all-encompassing story, classic text, or archetypal account of the historical record. They can also provide a framework upon which an individual's own experiences and thoughts may be ordered. These grand, all-encompassing stories are typically characterised by some form of 'transcendent and universal truth' in addition to an evolutionary tale of human existence (a story with a beginning, middle and an end).

That covers pretty much everything it seems to me, in other words we are at a stage where the old axiom “question everything” is becoming part of everyone’s experience. Of course we know that is not true, we know that there are millions of people who don’t bother to question anything, they don’t want to think enough to question they want to be entertained and let someone else do their thinking for them. Then there is the political correctness which holds that some things cannot be questioned. For instance there has been a call to remove scientist’s credentials or remove them from their jobs if they question the concept of human caused global warming. In the scientific world theories can rarely be proven but are rather subjected to falsification. The idea is to question the theory, yet because of political correctness the theory is not to be questioned. This means, for the Christian church we have to deal with a wide range of questioning and/or non-questioning.

Frankly to most of us the post-modern worldview is the same thing we have had all our lives, just in recent years it has been granted a more determinative status. Most of us grew up in a post-modern world .That actually fits in well with what the philosophers were saying, as they talked of the post modern philosophy well before I was born. Now that I have used the jargon I can move on to the substance. The human needs have not really changed in the last 50 years nor are they likely to change in the next 50 years but the way the local church deals with people needs to change and probably should have changed over 50 years ago, not all churches of course but many, maybe most.

I began this series by mentioning my Pastor’s sermon. What he appears to want is that the church members take up some or much of his pastoral responsibilities. The presentation was somewhat confused but it seems he wanted to know who would like to be trained to take on some of his responsibilities and he would start some type of training for them.

The problem is that he should have never gotten into that situation. The spiritual gift of being a pastor was never meant to refer to one guy taking care of one hundred to five hundred people. It is about people caring for other people. Granted it is probably not any more abundant then the gift of teaching but we don’t just have one teacher in a church why must it be one pastor. The answer is our tradition has made it that way. No doubt there is a control issue involved with all this, which dates back to the 4th century when one Bishop per city was begun and no doubt it is also a control issue within each denomination. I won’t get into that here because I think in many ways it is irrelevant because the denomination will only change from the ground up. The local church is not only the front lines of the denomination they are the leaders of the future of the denomination. (I use denomination because this is a problem throughout the Christian world and is not unique to the SDA denomination).

If you look at what the New Testament church did you see that it was run by the Bishops, which many denominations call the Elders. These Elders were responsible for the organization and overseeing the operations of the community of Christians. But it was the community of Christians who were told to take care of each other as well as those who had no one to care for them such as the widows. The issues of the New Testament church may not even be too similar to our own circumstances. Even so we don’t have a lot on how they did things and we know that the structure changed pretty radically in the centuries that followed. It is quite possible that there is no Biblical example or historical example for the modern or postmodern local church. This should not be too surprising considering the number of cultures in the world; one method may not work in every culture, or for the education level of any particular society. We have to look to our own needs for solutions especially now when Christianity is on the decline through most of the Western world.

Our tradition of using the pastor as our spiritual caretaker has prevented the local church from developing into the multilevel care that would seem to be more useful. We don’t care for people near as much if we don’t know them. We don’t know them because we don’t have occasion to talk to them in meaningful ways. We don’t know what is going on in their lives or their families lives because we don’t talk to them. Asking someone you don’t really know about their family is today about the same as saying “how are you doing”, it is used as a greeting but most of us know that the proper answer is “good”. We know very well that they don’t really want to know anything in detail. Even if we did want to tell them something about our lives if we don’t know them we are not likely to trust them with such information.

As we are now, we are left with a majority in each local church who don’t know each other. Rarely communicate with each other and therefore don’t particularly care for each other. What is often heard is that we have a great desire for a caring church yet we have been promoting an uncaring church by our tradition of isolation and passive church attendance. My feeling is that a church that cares for her fellow members will then take that caring out into the community at large. That kind of caring inside the church will also attract people to the church, as well as stimulate people to want to involve others from outside into their church. Because the church will then have something to offer, something more meaningful then a good praise band or high church music or a possibly entertaining sermon. Our tradition has told us that we have “the truth” and we have assumed that is all that is needed. It never was “the truth” and today the postmodern questions claims about some group having all “the truth” and we have to address the reality versus the tradition. The local church is not only theological it is sociological and we have in general failed on the sociological perspective.

I am not a very outgoing person, so my perspective is certainly different from the extrovert but I think my perspective is represented in many and maybe even the majority of people within the SDA church. Here I have to get more specific because I am dealing with my experience. Of the friends I have had through my life in the SDA church I got to know those people through the Sabbath School discussion classes or through someone that was in the class with me. (This is opposed to the Sabbath School lecture classes such as Doug Batchelor does, that are mere sermons). Having friends in church is an integral part of the goal of the local church. Or rather it should be the goal, numbers in attendance is often the goal but numbers are misleading the world of religion. A Recent Duke Study says:

Americans’ circle of confidants has shrunk dramatically in the past two decades and the number of people who say they have no one with whom to discuss important matters has more than doubled, according to a new study by sociologists at Duke University and the University of Arizona.

“The evidence shows that Americans have fewer confidants and those ties are also more family-based than they used to be,” said Lynn Smith-Lovin, Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology at Duke University and one of the authors of " Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades."

Most sociologists consider these “discussion networks” to be an important social resource, providing counseling and other valuable help in people’s lives.

My experience does not mean Sabbath school is the answer, it is rather a useful tool and maybe it would be wise to consider something similar for the time which is now wasted in sermons. Unfortunately with our high regard for traditions we have not built our churches to serve the congregation’s needs. We spend millions on large sanctuaries which don’t offer many possibilities for doing other things besides “passive resistance”. A term here by which I mean sitting silently in church resisting the call of God to be an active Christian, to actually share our thoughts and feeling with others. Certainly other denominations have taken the lead in this area by building churches with multipurpose buildings and furniture. The Latter Day Saints with their inclusion of gymnasiums and even outdoor picnic areas or shelters have realized the need for the social aspects of church.

With the limitations of each local churches building facilities it is likely that each church would have to make changes in stages should they decide that there should be change. I would like to encourage people to think about making changes. Areas of theology are not the only traditions that cause limitations in the Christian churches, our very local church practices should be reconsidered.

It may be that I have taken too many words as Solomon would say, though my goal is not just to present information or my opinions but to persuade. But if I were to sum up my position it would be: “create a church that creates friendships, friendship lead to teamwork and teamwork to outreach and outreach creates friends.”


Bruce Justinen said...

I don't necessarily agree that sermons need to disappear but I agree with the premise of your blog. Actually I think it is brilliant and needs to be shared.

Ron Corson said...

Sermons as we know them should disappear I think. That does not mean that the concept has no use. For instance a possible method for congregational participation could be as follows: Someone gives a 10 minute presentation, preferably the subject announced before hand (handouts or internet). People divide and get together in smaller groups to talk, discuss things and reveal themselves to other members of the group under the direction of a facilitator using the subject presented. At some interval (4-6 months)groups reform with different members to insure that people get to know more people.

The problem with doing anything new is that you have to convince the congregation to try something new, it has to be explained well and it should have their input. The other problem is that we have to teach people how to deal with diverging opinions. That people can agree without being disagreeable and that we all don't have to think the same way.

It would be nice if there were some easy solution, maybe a sermon by a brilliant pastor that just changes everybody and everything. But it will never happen and has never happened.

Ron Corson said...

That should be disagree without being disagreeable. I hate it when when people agree with me disagreeably though too.

Ron Corson said...

I should point out that there are many variations that could be used to get people to know each other. Another method could be offer a couple of discussion groups during the time that others may attend the music and or sermon. the point is that we have to think past the uniform sitting in a sermon concept of Church.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion. It always amazed me to watch one of Rob Bell's NOOMA DVDs. In 10-13 Minutes he can put a lot into a presentation. I would baulk at tossing out sermons, there should be a time for corporate leading/guiding/or whatever. That said we all experienced those countless hours trying to stay awake. There are so many odd things about church services, like someplaces that insist that everone stand for the whole long song service. Nobody is considering that maybe someone just wants or needs to sit and listen or rest. And all that business, that planning, the getting there early, the pronouncements that all need be involved and the guilt. Then the proclamation that nothing should be done half-ass. Excellence becomes the anthem. And I feel I am just dying. Where is that Sabbth, that ceasing, that rest. Well we know our rest is in Jesus, so let's bluster on.
But what to do. If anyone thinks they can go in and change a church....
Another aspect of all this is our theology of where God resides. We have the Most Holy Place as our church auditorium. Even if in our small group we feel God's presence and we share, we break at 10:35 and then enter into worship. We enter into God's Presence, and if anyone should forget and where a hat or feed their children raisins or cheerios they may be reminded that they are in God's House and maybe asked to leave. And then at the end, (at least here in the local SDA Church) people will not be allowed to loiter in the "sanctuary" because their conversation may stray on to secular themes. What I am saying, is when we stray from the New Testament (New Covenant) idea of God dwelling in people not in "temples built by hands", we can commit all kinds of abuses under the guise of honoring God.
So in the end, Jesus declared the Sabbath was made for man and I wouldn't be suprised to find that when we care for others we are entering in to the high act of worshiping God.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to sign my name again to the above comment.

Dick Larsen

Anonymous said...

Ron, You know me very well, and we seldom have agreed. However this is one area in which I "vehemently" agree!

In my experience we have a skilled pastor. In a recent conversation, I mentioned that in our SS Class, small group sessions, and other venues, we sit around and have discussions -- sometimes interesting!

We pray for the Holy Spirit, Revival and Reformation.

Recently I made presentations in several of these groups that we must plan something before the Holy Spirit has anything to bless!

We should stop praying for illnesses, surgeries, needed jobs, etc. Such prayers are basically selfish! We need to follow the example of "Brother Andrew" (God's Smuggler) and pray for the city which is the local mission field for most churches. And follow up those prayers with a plan to help or to influence the city.

Each time I made this presentation, the people listened politely, then when I finished, they took up where they left off -- another sterile discussion!

Please keep this letter anonymous. I do agree with you here, believe it or not!

Hubert F. Sturges

Ron Corson said...

Hubb I can't really keep it anonymous if you post it on my blog. But let me know if you want me to take it down. Oh the horror to actually have us agree on something.