Embracing the Mixed Ecology

Diverse ecosystems thrive when different kinds of organisms share life and energy together in a particular place. In western European nations with a long legacy of state churches such as the U.K., the inherited system of local, geographically based congregations no longer connects with the vast majority of neighbors in a meaningful way. While most of those neighbors don’t mind that a historic church building is part of the cultural landscape, they have no interest in participating in what goes on there.

Over the past few decades, churches in those contexts have developed a vision for a “mixed” or “blended ecology” of inherited and new forms of Christian community coexisting together. The word “inherited” is deliberate. Like any inheritance, traditional forms of institutional church bear a wealth of gifts but also sometimes a complicated legacy. 

Read the full post on Faith+Lead here.

From the Age of Association to Authenticity

August 2021

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Will the ELCA Be Gone in 30 Years?” that mapped out some ominous institutional affiliation and participation trends facing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The impact of the pandemic on congregational affiliation and participation is not yet clear, but it will likely only accelerate the disintegration already taking place, not only for mainline denominations but many other religious institutions more broadly in America. This is not to say that Christianity itself is going away but rather its dominant institutional forms of the past two centuries. In this piece, I want to offer a bit more context on an underlying cultural shift taking place that helps explain the trend and invite leaders to reexamine the focus of their energy and work.

Read the full post on Faith+Lead here.

From Performative to Formative Ministry

April 4, 2023

In many congregations today, there is a basic social contract that goes something like this: clergy and staff (the “ministers”) are expected to perform Christian faith for congregation members, and congregation members are primarily expected to express their discipleship by supporting the institutional church. Clergy and staff are the ones expected to read the Bible, pray, evangelize, and perform public witness. Congregation members are expected to donate, volunteer, and show up at church activities and programs. 

To ask regular church members (what we at Faith+Lead call “everyday disciples”) to pray aloud, interpret scripture, talk about their own spiritual lives, or share their faith is uncomfortable because little in their experience of church has formed them to do these things. They are happy to defer to the professionals and experts because they have been conditioned to do so, often over a lifetime of church attendance. Their experience of church has not been oriented around equipping them to embody Christian discipleship and witness in daily life. 

Read the full post on Faith+Lead at this link.