14 August 2010
Follow Me: Our Changing Cultural Context
In August 2010 I attended Follow Me: Sharing the Gospel in a 2.0 World, a conference hosted by the ELCA for synod communicators and campus ministry pastors and students. You can find video, presentation slides, and other resources on the Follow Me webpage.
On Thursday we heard from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson andPastor Nadia Bolz-Weber from House for All Sinners and Saints(HFASS) in Denver. The Bishop preached at the opening worship, and then he and Nadia had a conversation about emerging church, pastoral care by text message, Lutheran theology and liturgy, social media, being clear about one's cultural context, and the cultural shifts that the church must engage if it is to be relevant and survive. A couple things struck me:
In his sermon, the Bishop preached movingly about the Call of Samuel and how his generation of the church must be willing to embrace the role of Eli, who was Samuel's mentor, the one who helped him discern God's voice and will and to follow it. The Bishop said that he and his generation must embrace and support the young Samuels (pastors and leaders) in the church, asking them, "What is God saying to you?" This was exceptional both for the heartfelt way he shared it, and because it is something I have rarely heard articulated by older pastors. Most times the reaction to younger leaders and their approach to ministry is suspicion, fear, and, in some cases, dismissiveness. In great contrast to this, Bishop Hanson expressed great trust and hope in the younger generations of leaders. Thanks Bish!
Nadia affirmed this later in her conversation. When asked about getting young adults (people in their 20's) to traditional church. She said, "They aren't going to come." She said the best thing we can do to engage those folks are 1) identify leaders from within that group, 2) give them excellent theological training, and 3) fund them.
Like many, I've been a fan of Nadia's ministry from afar. ·It was great to hear and see her in person. ·(I'm very excited that she will be the keynote presenter at our 2011·New England Synod Bishop's Convocation.) ·Here are some takeaways from her reflections:
- Technology has turned what would have been a generational shift into a larger cultural shift
- Nadia is very orthodox theological and liturgically, and called us back to the gospel, the liturgy, and the sacraments. ·These connect deeply with people, but they have been obscured by the "cultural wrapping" of the church, still largely shaped by church models from the 1960's. ·We must keep our core and put it in conversation with our new cultural context.
- Nadia sees herself as a parish pastor. ·She is very present in the community around HFASS and connects with many people that don't come to her church - and likely never will. ·She is a "God person" in the lives of people in that community.· The also does this with a larger audience through social media.
- Lutheran theology speaks deeply to millennials, who are comforted by mystery, who live with paradox, who recognize the failure of modernism.
- Nadia observed that the church inhabits a part of our culture that is shrinking.· It has become a marginal institution in a marginal part of society.
- HFASS is very clear about what it is about. ·They don't try to be all things to all people.·This seems critically important for the rest of us. ·For the most part, congregations lack the human and financial resources to provide every kind of ministry there is. ·We have to be clear about what's important for our community and context and focus in on those things. ·And we have to be upfront about that on our websites and how we present the church. ·This is really a basic of marketing: don't create something for everyone. ·Create something that people will either love or hate. ·The people who love it will support it more passionately and reinforce the vision and identity of the community.
On Friday morning, we heard from·Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, an·organization that builds engagement and understanding between believers of different religions.·First off, Eboo himself was amazing - a tremendous speaker - soft spoken, but powerful. ·He said that we must understand what it is in our own particular religious traditions that makes helping people of other religions as important and necessary. ·We must choose a theology of the bridge (religious understanding) as opposed to theologies of the bubble (isolation), the barrier (division), and the bomb (domination). ·If you ever have the chance to hear Eboo speak, do it.