In his most recent blog post, Fuller Theological Seminary President, Richard Mouw, offers some perspective on the struggle within many churches today regarding being "seeker sensitive" vs. "traditional". Both Reformed and informed, Mouw draws upon the work of Robert Bellah for a better description and more insightful question: "Should we attempt to be communities of interest or communities of memory?"
That is to say, which is more important: restructuring churches to appeal to the outsider who is searching for God and responding to the missional opportunities and challenges present in the culture or insuring that churches remained focused on the liturgical, doctrinal and sacramental elements that keeps the church anchored in it's core beliefs and practices?
Mouw, drawing on John Calvin no less, answers (with characteristically Mouwian wisdom): We must focus on both. I won't restate what Mouw writes so well here, but I will make another point that I want to spend more time on in the days ahead:
If this is so, (as I believe it is) then once again, the challenge of church leadership is inherent in the complexity of serving a community with (supposedly) unchanging core convictions in an (absolutely) ever-changing world. In the phrases of some leadership experts, the church must be both "built to last" and "built to change" at the same time.
Personally, these thoughts come out of an experience I am having of moderating a task force in our Presbytery that is working on restructuring the goals, and systems of our Presbytery to fulfill our long stated vision to be a "missional presbytery." As my colleagues and I talk together about the inherent conflicts when deeply held "competing values" are at the core of a community, we find ourselves searching for ways to articulate and formulate a path for transformation of our Presbytery and our churches to better equipped to face the challenges of our changing culture without losing the "soul" of what makes a church, well, a church.
Somewhere amidst the "both/and" of our ecclesial identity and the hard choices that we must face in expressing those identity markers for the sake of the world is our mission.
And in my next post, I'll offer some thoughts that have been milling around in my head since I visited a big group of Maine Methodists last fall.