Doug Pagitt calls it the “Inventive Age”. Rex Miller refers to it as the “Digital Age”. Thomas Friedman calls it a “flat” world. Our Mid-Council Commission uses the language from “adaptive change” theory and calls it ‘giving the work back to the people”…err…pew.
Whatever it’s called, it’s happening. I encountered it last year at the Next Conference in Indianapolis. Perhaps the most important conversation about the future of the church was not happening on the platform but literally in the pews. It was not the conversation that was being broadcast through the microphones, but was being engaged through the twitter feeds. It was the conversation of the “Next Church” that was already happening. One famously said, “The Next Church looks a lot like the Last Church”. And by all accounts, the platform and voices this year at Next is very different.
The same thing happened at the Fellowship Gathering in Orlando. But this time, it wasn’t a tweet, but a text. A pastor who was in the “under 45” gathering sent me messages while I was across the state speaking for another gathering. He told me that the energy amongst the younger leaders was NOT primarily about changing ordination standards, but about whether the PC(USA) was too stuck in its old forms to really change.
Across the theological divide there is a growing generational consensus. An ‘emerging generation’ wants a different conversation and even more than that, they want the opportunity to actually try something different.
Our Mid Council Commission Report suggests a flattened hierarchy and a season of reflective experimentation. It seeks to create the conditions for exploring the ‘adjacent possible’ (a term I first learned at NEXT last year) and re-engaging the pew to the presbytery. It mostly seeks to give the ‘emergent generation’ room to create the kinds of ecclesiastical structures that will serve the emerging forms of church that we need in a changing world.
An brief excerpt from our report:
At the heart of adaptive change is the requirement to “give work back to the people most affected.” We believe that the constitutional changes we propose are an expression of the conviction that health and vitality, faithfulness and fidelity will only come about through more congregational engagement, more personal responsibility-taking, more passionate convictions, more freedom and creativity within safe, clear shared boundaries than ever before. We must have structures that encourage adaptation toward health and faithfulness, toward those who are willing to keep maturing, who are motivated to take on the mantle of calling and personal responsibility by continually re-engaging and re-committing to each other, and who are from start to finish utterly committed to the missional principle of the local congregation as the primary locus for participating in the mission of Jesus Christ in every context.
This week, John Vest is at NEXT looking for conversations. Next month I’ll be leading up one at the Fellowship Gathering on the West Coast. Our Commission members are eager to go anywhere, speak to anyone, start a conversation and stimulate a new one. We believe that our report is a conversation starter, and if adopted, could create a wildly wonderful season of creativity and collaboration, of missional experiments and worshipping communities, of neighborhoods and ‘networks’.
And it all started with a tweet.