Amy Butler is one of the most authentic and gracious people I know! I was so honoured to be present for her installation as Senior Minister at The Riverside Church in NYC. I’m more honoured that she’s my friend. Her installation was a historic moment for the church, and I’m sure that Amy will prove what Diana Butler Bass has said, “When history of this time is written in another 50 or 100 years, it might look like the women actually saved these denominations.” Learn more about Amy through this PBS special.
My story of shifting theologies and changing beliefs is hardly unique. Like many friends I have had the privilege of getting to know over the years, I have, for a good chunk of my life, explored what church, faith, and discipleship look like in contemporary contexts. While we may not hear nor use the word “postmodern” anymore, the idea that we find ourselves in a new world continues to be widespread among clergy and laity.
My journey into postmodern faith, a faith that is innovative, relevant, and forward-leaning, has been parallel to another journey—a journey into ministry with children and youth. For years, I assumed that these journeys were intimately intertwined. By discussing and reflecting on faith in a postmodern world, I thought, we are helping the church to remain faithful to the Gospel while at the same time traversing into a world that is more in touch with young people. Whether I knew how to say it or not, I figured that modeling a postmodern faith would naturally appeal to younger generations.
It’s been a decade since I began this journey (although it sometimes feels like yesterday that I first read books like A New Kind of Christian and Postmodern Children’s Ministry). And much has changed as I have continued this quest. A generation of children who helped me experiment with postmodern approaches to ministry with young people have reached adulthood. And behind them are younger generations of kids and youth who weren’t even born when I started my explorations into postmodern faith and practice.
While I have written about faith formation in a postmodern world (and continue to be asked to speak about it in conferences and classrooms), I recently realized that the word “postmodern” isn’t really part of my day-to-day vocabulary as it used to be. It was only recently as I was having a coffee with a colleague at an airport Starbucks that it suddenly hit me that, for whatever reason, “postmodern” seemed to me to be a passé term, an old adage that once spoke of a brave new world but now reminded me of graying churches desperately trying to keep their doors open by becoming more appealing to young adults and teens.
As my friend told me about his denomination’s initiative to explore church in postmodern contexts, I blurted out, “That’s it!” He looked at me inquisitively and graciously paused as I collected my thoughts into something vaguely resembling coherent sentences.
I continued, “I wonder if all this talk in churches about postmodernism is actually having the opposite effect that we envision it will have. You and I weren’t raised in a world that was thoroughly postmodern. We are immigrants (or refugees, perhaps) to this postmodern world. But the young people in our churches are native to this world. They don’t debate the virtues and vices of postmodernism like we adults do because for them it just is. So I wonder if by talking about whether or not and how we want to embrace postmodernism in our churches, we aren’t actually telling young people that they aren’t part of our churches. After all, by making it seem like postmodernism is an option for the church to reject or embrace—a view that we hold by virtue of having not been raised in a postmodern world—we subtly tell our young people that, because postmodernism is the only world they’ve even known, they aren’t really part of the church. For them, after all, there is no choice. Postmodernism simply is.”
I’m still not sure what this all means for those of us who continue to explore new approaches to ministry, faith formation, and Christian practice in our contemporary world. Perhaps it reminds us to be cautious about the words we use. Maybe it calls our attention to the importance of including young people in these explorations instead of just talking about them. But the conversation my friend and I shared in that airport terminal was a wake-up call for me, one that makes me more attentive to the ways in which my experiments with contemporary faith may actually be pushing young people away from the very faith in which I wish to walk alongside them.
Did you miss Faith Forward 2014 in Nashville? Can’t wait until our next gathering in Chicago (April 20-23, 2015)? Then fear not! You can listen to presentations from the 2014 gathering at http://faith-forward.net/media/audio.
Four podcasts have been released so far (with 6 more still to come!):
- Dave Csinos and Ivy Beckwith, “Megachurches, Dark Nights, and Wonder Bread Communion: Our Stories of Doubt, Disillusionment and Hope on the Journey of Re-imagination”
- Brian McLaren, “Framing a Conversation, Launching a Revolution”
- Bonnie Miller-McLemore, “Christian Constructions of Children and Youth: Gift, Task, and Agent”
- Andrew Root, “What is the Theological Turn in Youth Ministry? And What Does this have to do with Children’s Ministry?”
…get it right in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. I have been (slowly) making my way through their book and came upon a fantastic quote that’s helpful in understanding a role that scripture can play in the life of congregations.
Scripture shouldn’t be a sword we use to jab at each other or smite our neighbors. It is instead an improvisational aid, which as we begin to engage as a congregation helps us understand the meaning of our life together (page 220).
For those of you who follow my writing, you may know that I grew up in northern Ontario, in a small city called Sudbury, about 5 hours north of Toronto. With plans to move to the Maritimes at the end of the summer, I decided to take a road trip with my dad to my old hometown once more before I’m farther away from it.