This article highlights the conversation at a "Discovery Group" meeting between Gordon Macdonald, a pastor and the editor at large of Leadership Journal. There has been much written on the time of transition in which we live…a time when the dominant worldview is shifting from "modern" to "postmodern" and the challenges that result from the overlap of such contrasting views in society. Macdonald's article, however, provides a helpful image…one of a real-life conversation in a congregation that is becoming aware of, and trying to face the coming reality that the world and the church is changing. the church as it was, as glorious and wonderful as it may have been (or is perceived to have been) will eventually no longer exist.
Macdonald proposes to this small group of congregation members (all with varying degrees of experience with and understanding of this cultural shift) that there is a revival going on across North America despite, or maybe because of, the changing worldview. He says, that people today are more open to talk about spirituality than they ever have been before. For the past 250 years, he says, people outside of the Christian faith predominantly rejected the notion of a spiritual reality. The opposite is true toady, with the note that spirituality is not necessarily referring to a Christian belief system. He goes on to explain that part of the shift is that individuals are recognizing that they are part of a much bigger reality connected through community. There has been much critique of the postmodern notion that there is no predefined absolute truth. Macdonald clarifies that a postmodernist, "claims that truth is really only what we see or experience from our perspective. And when a big enough number of us see or experience something in a similar way, then whatever that is becomes truth for us."
Finally, the conversation shifts to the subject of evangelism. How does one lead someone to Christ in a postmodern world? Macdonald offers no easy answer, but encourages the group to consider that the "old ways" are no longer working. He says, we should follow the example of the apostle Paul. "When he ventured out beyond the world of Jews and began mixing it up with Gentiles and pagan oriented people, he found new and fresh ways to explain who Jesus was and why people shoul organize their lives around him."
For the modern pastor or church goer this article would likely be frustrating. It would strike a cord with their reality, but would be frustrating none-the-less. It isn't a practical guide with how-to steps to becoming adept at navigating what it means to be the Church in a time such as this. But I think that is the point. The step-by-step guides don't work, because the reality is that each context is unique and the shift to postmodernism isn't happening in an easily measurable, uniform fashion. Macdonald, even though he ends with a quip about how it's no wonder younger pastors prefer to start new churches, because changing one is tough, models a necessary conversation. many churches and small group communities are good at lamenting about how things used to be and the glory days of the congregation, but many are either unaware of the coming reality or unwilling to recognize the fact that things WILL NEVER BE THE SAME! No one expects change and understanding to happen overnight, but the conversation must begin somewhere and it must begin now. The article never really resolves. We don't find out what happens to this small group or what landmark changes they are considering or have made and the kingdom impact those decisions are making. The article simply ends with the end of the meeting and with a restless pastor scribbling reflections in his journal. What a perfect way to end such an article! The conversation must continue. The journey will be long, but for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the world we must keep talking with each other, seeking to learn and grow and understand who we are called to be as the Church.
Macdonald Gordon. 2008. Who Stole My Church? When the church you love tries to enter the 21st century, Leadership Journal Winter 2008. 89-92