The New Reformation: Tomorrow Arrived Yesterday [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Of Lyle Schaller's twenty-one signs of the New Reformation, here are five: a new era in Christian music; hundreds of new information resources for congregations, from theological seminaries to retreat centers; market-driven planning; a new level of trust in the laity; and the flattening of hierarchical structures....
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2004
At a retirement celebration, a young and imperious pastor addressed a question to me: "As you look back over the past several decades of your professional life, what have been your biggest failures?" The audacity of the question filled the room with absolute silence. My immediate reaction was that this is an unbelievably rude interruption. My second was that this is an inappropriate question. My oral response was "That's a subject I have not reflected on sufficiently to offer a thoughtful response at this time."
Subsequently, I concluded this was an exceptionally wise and appropriate question. We all should seek to learn from failure, both our own failures and those of others. The only way to achieve that goal is to be able and willing to identify failure. In my normal and predictable manner, I began to build a list. To my surprise and dismay, I found that this soon became a long list. Eventually four items stood out as a group at the top of this long list of professional failures. (The list of personal failures is even longer.) What have been my top four professional failures over the past four decades?
One has been a failure to persuade church leaders (both congregational and denominational) that the automobile is here to stay. The easy availability of private transportation has transformed where people look as they seek a place to live. For many, for example, an excellent public school system or the quality of the residence or safety or seclusion or the opportunity to leverage their financial investment or the amount of the monthly payments or the overall quality of life ranks far ahead of geographical proximity to the place of employment or kinship ties as the most influential factors in making that decision.
The automobile has made the very large regional church with a staff team the natural successor to the small neighborhood parish served by one pastor. The automobile, combined with the erosion of institutional loyalties, has made it easy for millions of churchgoers to switch their congregational affiliation or to become concurrent and regular participants in the life and ministry of two or three congregations.
A second has been my failure to persuade church leaders, again both congregational and denominational, that television has transformed parish ministry. Television enables one to "be there without being there." Television has introduced new criteria for the evaluation of worship and preaching. Television has transformed the teaching ministries of the churches, especially with children and youth. Television has shortened the attention span of millions of people. Television has taught us that 100 percent of the responsibility for grabbing and holding the attention of the listener and viewer rests on the speaker. Television has become the most effective tool for inviting people to church. Television has altered younger generations' perception and definition of a "good" church.
My third biggest failure of the past forty years was partly a result of (a) my pro-small church bias and (b) being tone deaf. For many years I greatly underestimated the power of music. The basic generalization that only recently I began to grasp is that (a) the larger the number of people in the group and/or (b) the greater the level of anonymity and/or (c) the weaker the ties to yesterday and/or (d) the greater the degree of uncertainty about what the future will bring and/or (e) the stronger the emphasis on oral communication and/or (f) the younger the median age of those present and/or (g) the fewer the points of commonality among the participants, the greater the power of music.
That generalization can be illustrated by military organizations preparing for battle, by large evangelistic rallies, by football games, by worship in most megachurches, by denominational rallies and conventions, by parades, by festivals like Woodstock 1969 and Woodstock 1994, by presidential nominating conventions, or by victory celebrations following the winning of a war.
My fourth, and most serious, failure is a product of a combination of (a) age, (b) thirty-five years invested in consultations with congregations, (c) personal bias as a denominationalist, (d) excessive optimism about the usefulness of old wineskins, and (e) a natural tendency to study the trees rather than to see the forest. To be more precise, I was focusing on the renewal of the old and failed to see that a new reformation in American Christianity already was well underway.
This book is a belated effort to affirm that new reformation in American Christianity. To be frank, this book represents an effort to run and catch up with a train that already has left the station. Another way to state the central theme of this book is to ask a simple question, "What year do you believe it is?" For many of us, it is later than we thought.
This poses two questions for the reader. First, is it really true that a new reformation is well underway? The safe answer is to wait and see. By the year 2075, we will know for sure, one way or the other.
Those who cannot wait that long may want to review a few of the signs of the new reformation. That is the theme of this book in general and of the first chapter in particular. The signs are there for those who can read! For those who want a short list of a few of the signs, here are twenty-one of the most highly visible to mark the coming of the new reformation: (l) the arrival of a new era in Christian music; (2) the emergence of hundreds of new sources of resources for congregations, including parachurch organizations, teaching churches, independent entrepreneurs, theological seminaries, profit-driven businesses, retreat centers, and independent mission-sending agencies; (3) the change in public worship in thousands of Protestant churches from a dull and boring weekly obligation to an appealing and exciting worship experience; (4) the adoption of market-driven planning to replace tradition-oriented planning in congregations; (5) the redefinition of the role of the regional judicatories in American Protestantism; (6) the arrival of a new level of trust in the laity; (7) the emergence of approximately 4,000 Protestant megachurches; (8) the increasing number of congregations that include a minister of prayer or a minister of spiritual formation on the paid staff; (9) the need for pastors to earn and re-earn both authority and trust--they no longer automatically go with that office; (10) the shift from denominations to pastors and congregations as the basic building blocks for ecumenical endeavors; (11) the replacement of the superstar preacher by staff teams in larger churches; (12) the flattening of the hierarchical ecclesiastical structures, but this is not happening as rapidly as people are demanding that change (though this trend is more advanced in Canada than in the United States); (13) the increase in the number of independent congregations from 1,080 with 75,000 members as reported by the United States Bureau of the Census in 1906 to at least 20,000 churches and more than 15 million adherents in 1995; (14) the change from asking the laity to "pray and pay" for missions to challenging the laity to be fully involved in doing missions; (15) the growing rejection of the concept that the primary role of denominations is to serve as regulatory bodies over congregational leaders who simply cannot be trusted (this is a reenactment of the Reformation of the sixteenth century); (16) the impact of television on how "we do church today"; (17) the huge number of books on the bestseller lists that carry a clear religious message (one bookseller commented, "The laity come in and buy books on spirituality while the pastors buy books on church administration and on computers"); (18) a slow but consistent acceptance by church leaders of designated second-mile giving; (19) the gradual erosion of anti-Catholicism as a central organizing principle for several Protestant bodies; (20) the tendency of more and more churchgoers to affirm relationships over reason as the way of the world in the new reformation; and (21) perhaps most important of all, the decision by tens of millions of teenagers and adults to place a high personal priority on weekly participation in serious, in-depth, lay-led, and continuing Bible study and prayer groups.
While far from a complete list, those are some of the signs that the new reformation is well underway.
The second question for the reader is the same as the one faced by this author: Do you want to devote your time and energy to patching the old wineskins, or do you want to help shape this new reformation? God is great! God is good! God also gives you that choice! For those who believe the introduction to a book should include a road map to the contents, the first chapter of this volume describes several components of the new reformation. A speculative second chapter suggests some of the implications and consequences for the next half century of congregational life. The third chapter contrasts some of the old operational assumptions that led to the call for a new reformation with a few of the operational assumptions for a new day.
The fourth chapter chases an attractive rabbit. Is the megachurch the central component of the new reformation or simply one of many signs that the new reformation is well advanced?
Every religious reformation creates a wave of opposition to new ideas and new ways of "doing church." That was a pattern in sixteenth-century Europe that is being repeated in the last years of the twentieth century in North America. One recurring theme is whether the laity can be trusted. The new focal point for acrimonious debate can be summarized in the word marketing. The fifth chapter assumes that identifying and responding to personal and spiritual needs of people outside any worshiping community is one of the legitimate marks of the new reformation. A large and exceptionally articulate group of sincere Christians argues that this is why the new reformation proves the devil is alive and at work in today's world. This issue ranks up there with contemporary Christian music, trusting the laity, the megachurch, and television as among the most divisive facets of the new reformation.
A far less controversial sixth chapter reviews the changing patterns in staffing congregations. This is followed by a relatively innocuous seventh chapter that suggests the most effective way to secure the money to finance the new reformation is to ask for it.
While the first seven chapters focus on the word reformation, the eighth chapter addresses the word new. The new reformation is still in its early years, and many questions have yet to be answered. Twenty-one of these are raised in this chapter.
One mark of American agriculture during the 1980s was that a large number of farmers made a lot of money. Another was that literally tens of thousands of farmers experienced financial failure. Change produces both winners and losers. The new reformation is bringing change--and those changes are creating new generations of victims. A few of these victims are identified in the ninth chapter.
As you read on, please remember that the recognition that life is relational has replaced the old hope that reason would become the way of the world. That also will help to explain at least a few of what may appear to be internal inconsistencies. Jump on the train. We know the direction even if most of us are unsure of the destination. Enjoy the ride into the beginnings of a new reformation in a new millennium!
Copyright © 1995 by Abingdon Press