What Have We Learned?: Lessons for the Church in the Twenty-first Century [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Declaring himself an unabashed optimist, Lyle E. Schaller looks back at four decades of observing religious life in North America and concludes that the church has far more reason for hope than for worry as it charts its course into the next forty years.
Acknowledging that the roles of parish pastors and leaders have become increasingly complex, he also points out that these leaders can be far better equipped to contribute to congregational vitality and growth than were their predecessors a generation ago.
Schaller draws on his own work, as well as that of others, to point to crucial lessons learned in evangelism, multiculturalism, stewardship, worship, communication, and other areas. He concludes that, armed with these tools, the lay and clergy leaders of congregations can be more faithful and more effective in leading their churches in the path God has chosen.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2002
To make it easier to comprehend the world in which we live, we all divide that complex environment into smaller units. One system divides it into air, water, and land. Another into the earth, heaven, and hell. A third into children, youth, and adults. A fourth into Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. A fifth into books, magazines, and newspapers. A sixth into God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. A seventh into Protestant, Catholic, and Jew. An eighth into lower class, middle class, and upper class. A ninth into for, against, and no opinion. A tenth into alive, dying, and dead. An eleventh system divides the stages of a pregnancy into three trimesters. A twelfth divides the sermon or speech into three parts.
Hundreds of these systems for dividing the world into categories exist. Many use three categories.
In introducing the contexts of this book, I will divide the population into only two groups -- optimists and pessimists. I will examine the institutional expression of the Christian faith in America, but will look out of two different windows.
As an optimist about the future of the Christian churches in America, I look at a glass that is more than half full. The pessimist sees a glass that is half empty.
The pessimist points to the numerical decline and aging of the membership in several mainline Protestant denominations and in a majority of Protestant congregations founded before 1960. As an optimist, I am impressed with the vitality, relevance, appeal to younger generations, and energy in so many of the new missions founded in the last quarter of the twentieth century (see chap. 1).
The pessimist points to various polls and surveys that report a decrease in the proportion of American adults in church on the typical weekend. The optimist (a) points out that these polls tend to provide less than an accurate picture of reality and (b) cites reports from congregations that actual worship attendance in Protestant congregations in the United States nearly doubled in the second half of the twentieth century.
The pessimist is discouraged by the difficulties encountered in renewing the old. The optimist is delighted with the successes in creating the new (see chap. 11).
The pessimist looks out and is distressed by the continued racial and nationality segregation in the churches. The optimist, who may be a white integrationist at heart, sees a society that affirms the right of self-determination (see chaps. 4 and 18).
Instead of lamenting the continued racial segregation in the churches, the optimist rejoices in the recent rapid increase in the number and variety of African American and Afrocentric megachurches. The pessimist points out that only a few of these are related to one of the mainline Protestant denominations with a western European religious heritage.
The pessimist is distressed by the ever increasing demands younger generations bring to the church. The optimist is delighted to see so many young adults in church and rejoices with those congregations that are both able and willing to offer people a range of attractive choices. The optimist also is pleased that these younger generations apparently believe the churches can be responsive to their needs (see chaps. 1 and 3).
The pessimist looks out and sees the continued increase in the number of small congregations in the denomination. The optimist looks out and sees that increase in the number of large churches and points out that two dozen of those very large congregations include more worshipers on the typical weekend than a thousand of those small churches. What do you count? Institutions? Or worshipers? (See chap. 16.)
The pessimist is convinced that secularism and consumerism are ruining America. The optimist agrees with Robert Fogel that the United States is experiencing a new religious reawakening.
The pessimist looks out and sees a decline in the moral standards of American society and concludes that the devil is alive and at work in this world. The optimist looks out at the transformations in the lives of individuals on a personal spiritual journey and celebrates the fact that God is alive and at work in the world. (See chap. 10 for one model.)
The pessimist points to the surveys that report that despite recent sharp increases in personal income, churchgoers still contribute the same proportion of their income to the church as they did a decade or two earlier. The optimist points to the large gifts from accumulated wealth that Christians are contributing to religious needs (see chap. 9).
The pessimist laments the declining interest in the churches in classical Christian music. The optimist is impressed by how enthusiastically younger generations are responding to this new Christian music and to the creativity expressed in participatory worship (see chap. 13).
The pessimist is discouraged by the number of youth who drop out of church shortly after confirmation. The optimist is thrilled by the teenage "radical Christians" who are having such an impact on the student body in so many high schools.
The pessimist feels threatened by the rapid growth in the number of churchgoers who are on-line. The optimist is delighted with the opportunities the World Wide Web has created for congregations to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to a larger constituency (see chap. 14).
The pessimist is depressed by the inability of the traditional women's missionary organization to attract women born after 1960. The optimist is surprised and delighted by the large number of young women who are enthusiastic and regular participants in those ministries tailored to address the personal and spiritual concerns of adults on a religious pilgrimage.
The pessimist feels threatened by the growing influence of marketing and laments the resulting competition among the churches for future constituents. The optimist perceives competition to be a healthy stimulus to creativity, innovation, and accountability (see chap. 8).
The pessimist sees the rising level of demographic diversity as a challenge to uniformity. The optimist declares that the concept of federalism has taught Americans how to enjoy the benefits of diversity (see chap. 2).
The pessimist bemoans the growing impact of entertainment on American culture. The optimist responds by pointing out that Christianity is by definition an experiential religion (see chap. 7).
The pessimist laments the failure of congregations to cooperate in community outreach ministries. The optimist celebrates the community ministries of that growing number of strong congregations (see chap. 5).
The pessimist bemoans the increase in obesity. The optimist responds, "Replace those pews with chairs" (see chap. 12).
Finally, the pessimist and the optimist, while viewing the American church scene from two different perspectives, do agree that the role and responsibilities of the parish pastor are far more demanding today than was the case in the 1950s. The pessimist questions whether theological seminaries are equipped to prepare students to be effective parish pastors in the twenty-first century.
This optimist declares, "Let us not place unrealistic expectations on the seminaries.
"First of all, let us rejoice in the expanding role for the laity in what formerly were clergy-dominated religious institutions.
"Second, let us rejoice in the rapid proliferation of resources in recent years that are designed to help congregational leaders define what God is calling their church to be and to do in the years ahead. These resources include teaching churches, parachurch organizations, entrepreneurial individuals, publishing houses, and those regional judicatories that have concluded that their primary role is not to do ministry, but to help congregations succeed in their ministry" (see chap. 17).
While the task of serving as a parish pastor is far more demanding today than it was in the 1950s, the good news is that we have learned a lot during the past few decades on how "to do church better." Most of these insights and lessons were not available to the congregational leaders of 1955.
This book represents an attempt to summarize a few slices of the wisdom, insights, and lessons that have been earned and learned in the past several years. They have been drawn from my working directly on their turf with approximately 4,000 congregations over a period of four decades, from 1960 to 2000. This optimist hopes that these illustrations will be of help to congregational leaders, both lay and ordained, to be more faithful and more effective in leading their church in the path God has chosen for that particular called-out community.
-- Lyle E. Schaller Naperville, Illinois May 2000
Copyright © 2001 by Abingdon Press