Today was a great day! We held a baptismal service at Lake Tapps and then went to Bob's house for a BBQ. It was a sunny day. 85 F. (29 C.) under clear skies. Cheryl and i decided to drive our classic 1968 Corvette. Sunscreen, top down, and lots of gas. i had a hard time keeping within the speed limit with this baby. It is just so responsive and powerful when you accelerate. i love fast cars!
Being rather new to the church, it was a great conversation starter. The most interesting dynamic for me to observe today was the interaction of two cultures that we are trying to bridge. Traditional Christianity and the younger emerging generations. i am sure we have all seen the relational polarizing that happens in a mixed group of teens, young adults, adults and elders. (even our language separates us) i saw it today but i don't think that it has to be that way.
Given that the church in an emerging culture is open to relationships, how do we bridge the gap? Not the generational gap but the mindset gap? As a youth pastor i always struggled with this one. It seems that the tendency in the IC is to polarize along generational lines. Those with the power and money usually win. But how can we change the status quo? i have been working toward an intergenerational ministry model for years now.
A holistic approach to community seems so elusive in North American culture. We seem to segregate everything on the basis of age. How do we transcend this state of affairs? While many pastors focus on teaching the bible, they often pay little attention to the culture of their own church. Those deeply embedded assumptions that dictate why we act as we do. These assumptions often tend to be located in the stablest parts of the organization. Ironically, they may hinder the vision and mission you espouse.
In the Corporate Culture Survival Guide, Edgar Schein notes that, "We tend to think that we can separate strategy from culture, but we fail to notice that in most organizations strategic thinking is deeply colored by tacit assumptions about who they are and what their mission is." Bringing about change in a system takes time as we need to understand the true assumptions we hold to. The tacitly understood values are usually not propagated via official communication lines. It is often the product of life strategies that work within the institutional church setting. These are learned by trial and error.
The strength of these assumptions comes from the fact that the entire church body shares them. They become a glue that holds a particular part of church culture together. To suggest changing a part of church culture is to ask a community to alter one of their shared characteristics. To remove the glue. To invite chaos. This will usually bring about resistance. So, developing a holistic approach to community is not just an issue of strategy (Like church BBQ's) as much as it is one of culture.
Culture is just as much a process as it is a product of tacitly understood values. A church culture is not an obstacle to be overcome. Working with that mentality will most likely doom you to failure. It lead to several of my past failures. Instead, think of your church culture as a resource to be shaped and worked with. Much like a lump of clay. Once the harmful tacit assumptions have been identified, reshape the clay. We begin to reshape them by changing the symbolic depiction of these assumed values.
As the symbolic understanding of their values is reshaped a culture changes slowly. The leader/pastor/apostle is to interpret and reinterpret the experience of the community. Church culture is shaped in the arena of symbolic representation, ritual, rites and ceremony. Don't just teach about an area of change. Reinforce it with symbols, stories, and examples. Embed the new values within the current cultural system.
For example. If you want your church to see themselves as ministers in the world and not just within a church setting. Set aside time in the service to recognize people in their various ministry outside of the church. Empower them, let them tell their stories, share their successes and failures then pray for them as a community. If you did this once a month for a year, you would begin to see an attitudinal change within the church culture.
The people you have recognized become a symbolic representation of a values you wish to reinforce. While doing this, find other ways to reinforce
s this new value. Make it as natural as breathing air. Once you have several symbols of the new value embedded with the church culture a tipping point will be reached and the culture of the church will change.
The church cannot mindlessly follow rituals like baptism as we have in the past. We must consciously reinterpret these rituals and symbols to reinforce the identity of our communities. In the emerging culture, we need to translate and reframe our symbols to become a Christian Tribe once more. To be a family and people of God. This is one step forward in bridging the mentality gap.
(Edited and expanded on 2 Aug 2004)
I should have clarified a few terms:
In the IC, our notion of what it is to be a church stems form a commonly held set of ideas that are often unspoken. That is a churches culture. The mindset gap consists of the difference between our institutional form and the free flowing spirit of God working within relationships.