Friday, September 18, 2009

The Church: Freed by an Emerging Culture?

One of my first committee meetings at the church in France that I now serve lifted
up the challenging situation in which all of the church - at least in the Western Industrialized Church of the North - finds itself is the fact that we are a community of faith gathered by the common experience of a once spoken, long-time written Word yet we live in a world that is increasingly image-driven, decentralized and more SMS than manuscript. How do we navigate the challenging waters of emerging forms of communication, failing printing presses and transforming ways of inter- and intra-personal forms of dialog?

The church is based upon the written Word. We read the faith stories and testimonies that together compose what we call the Bible. We listen to a sermon. We sing songs that quote and reflect upon this Word. We experience God both in the natural world, yet in the Protestant culture we emphasize even further the way in which we experience God by hearing the word spoken, we are motivated and invited to action through sermons, homilies, newsletters, and tracts.

How does this work in a world in which classic "paper" newspapers are bleeding money and dying? In which their is no longer one principal authority, or metanarrative: master story, that binds o ur culture together, uniquely shapes our shared worldviews, and frames the way we make meaning in and through our lives? In the USA last year the average person supposedly read 4 books,
while 1 in 4 Americans read none at all. How does that translate to a church-culture based upon reading as the foundation for dialog, community action and faith experience? Sermons are the "main" way folks experience God. I like no more than 10 minutes (even though I usually do 15). Jean Calvinpreached for about 90 minutes. How does that translate in a world of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and SMS - where we're maintaining multiple conversations, that come and go in a more continuos organic way than a stop-everything-else-for-20-minutes way? Maybe it's the death of Christianity? Maybe it's the chance for a new birth, to rise like a pheonix from the ashes of the cultural trappings embraced in the Reformation (which maybe we're a tad too reactionary and extreme)?

Granted we have to make sure that all people have access to new forms of communication. Money, class, education, age - they can't be characteristics that determine one's participation or inclusion in a faith community and its ensuing and ongoing dialog. Yet the church seems all too often to let one sub-population, which doesn't or can't embrace an emerging change, hold everyone else back from addressing and assuming it.

In any case the church in Europe is in the same challenging situation as that in America. There isn't one authoritative models to lift up and emulate. There is no purpose-driven e-culture church communication model. Rather there are multiple models, diverse attempts at experimenting where our cultural paradigm shifts, faith experience and congregational traditions\history intersect. Maybe this is the exodus moment the struggling historic church has been waiting for. How do we as an institution empower such experimenting, experience and emergence, when it may seem as if doing so is merely pulling the plug on the life-support system enabling our continuing ecclesiastical institution?

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