Earlier this week I had the chance to be a part of the Western National Leadership Trainingconference for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Jackson Hole, WY. Around 100 church leaders, mostly from the area of the Rocky Mountains, came for a three-day get-together of networking, Bible study, keynotes, and workshops. The theme of the event was leadership in changing times, and my workshop explored what it means to do ministry in a post-modern, post-Christendom, post-Christian, and post-denominational culture.
At the beginning of both workshops, I asked participants when the “good old days” were for them in their church experience. People had all sorts of answers. Some, like me, pointed back to their high school days with powerful youth ministries nurturing them. Others talked about when they were first ordained as a ruling elder. Others talked about the first, or alternatively, the most outwardly “successful” church they pastored. A couple talked about a new worshiping community on which they worked.
What I wasn’t expecting, however, is how many people said that today—right now—are the good old days—or, as we might say, the good old todays. It was surprising to me because I think in many ways our churches are still geared toward a culture which largely has disappeared in America. As much as we argue about issues of sexual integrity, my sense is a far bigger challenge is the fact that many of our congregations have not been able to turn the generational corner and engage young adults with the hope of the Gospel. (It’s one reason why one of the top priorities of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, where I work, is to connect with young adults in order to reform the church to connect with this younger generation.)
I had been expecting grief over the changes in American society which seem to make it more challenging for churches to do ministry—yet those participants in my workshops who value the good old todays reminded me that this is a great time to do ministry…that God has been preparing churches for such a time as this…and that churches can thrive like never before.
Participants talked about how now we can speak about our relationship with Jesus more confidently, because personal story is a valid way of interpreting the universe (compared to previous generations which valued logic over emotion and testimony). We talked about how those who come to church now are more likely to be making a purposeful decision rather than just coming because everyone else does. We discussed how our post-denominational worldview reminds people that they are Christians first, and then parts of specific denominations (or not). I told them about a conversation I had with a woman who was convinced that these changes make us better Christians in the same way that the more difficult environment for teachers means that they need to step up their pedagogical skills as well. (Read about this conversation here.)
It opened my eyes to the good old todays—that can sprout up anywhere, at any time. Do you not perceive it?