Amid some continuing unemployment and rampant underemployment, we hear continuously discomforting news from the working world. One analyst says: jobs are never coming back; companies have learned how to produce—and even grow—with fewer employees. Another says: robotics and computers are radically changing how we manufacture; thus companies need fewer humans on the job. Now, more recently, a commentator said something like this: Employers today are looking to hire persons who can renew, invent, and reinvent their job, their position and/or themselves.
Surely, that is one formidable challenge! For anyone! You are longing for a new job. After a long and arduous search, you finally step into fresh employment. It is less than you had hoped; but it will provide income. Then you are immediately told that your sustainability on that job depends upon your ability to reinvent yourself and the job!
For somewhat differing reasons, the same issues of the secular world confront the clergy and lay leadership of the local church. When I retired from local church leadership a few years ago, someone told me the reason I lasted 27 years in one church: I reinvented myself three or four times over the years! If that is true, I doubt I was fully aware that I was doing so. Now we are hearing that such reinvention will be expected and must be intentional.
We do not yet quite know what that “emerging” church will look like. But a responsible guess is that even any new situation or setting may not be stable and enduring. In other words, leaders in the church must be constantly reinventing themselves and how things are done. “Adaptability” may be a key new word.
I was ordained and appointed to my first local congregation in 1964. In many ways the congregations in most denominations were pretty much like other congregations in that same denomination (organization design, worship services, hymnal, wedding liturgies, etc.) Such is no longer the case. The Spirit is leading the church in new directions and new forms of ministry. That same Spirit is prodding and prompting new ways of leading.
Book titles are interesting these days: The Great Emergence (Phyllis Tickle), Everything Must Change and A New Kind of Christianity (Brian McClaren), The Emerging Christian Way or Days of Awe and Wonder (essays and sermons by Marcus Borg), UnChristian (David Kinnaman), or Mandate to Difference (Walter Brueggemann).
I see all of this as hopeful, contagious, even exciting. We may not be what we have “always” been. But we are a part of a new and contagious flow of Christian formation. Stay encouraged. Stay tuned. Lead with confidence. The local church remains God’s best hope for a sane and stable world.