4 Trends for Churches to Consider

When I first saw Ed Stetzer’s original article titled, MissionTrends: 4 Trends for Churches to Consider, I had some points of difference. But I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to write about them because, overall, I think we should all think more about the future.

But the article crossed my sights again in “Charisma News” post titled, 4 Trends in Christianity That Could Scare You, According to Ed Stetzer.

I don’t know why this was in my feed, but there it was. So, I decided to look at the article again. I think what tipped me over was that Charisma News added “That Could Scare You” in the title.

We should not be scared.
We should seize our moment.

For those of you who did not read Stetzer’s blogpost, here are his “4 trends”:

1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”
2. The nominals will increasingly become “nones”
3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics
4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Here are some of the ways my take differs from Stetzer’s “4 Trends”.

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1. The word “Christian” will become less used and more clear”

The first trend, according to Stetzer, is “less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously.”

A trend can be described as a change in a variable over time. In this sense, I’m not sure I would classify any of these 4 as “trends.”  These “4 trends” seem more like forecasts based on experience (or hopes)  rather than extrapolations based on data. Ok, too nit-picky and this isn’t my point anyway. Let’s move on to the good stuff.

Stetzer goes on to say, “In the future, the word Christian will mean more to those who would be considered convictional Christians. However, it will mean-and be used-less to those who were nominal Christians in the first place. The word will be less used and more clear.”

In contrast, I think, that in the future, the word Christian may also be used less by those to whom it means more. In other words, those who follow Christ out of conviction, rather than simply because of culture, may use Christian less as a self designation because they recognize the cultural, political, economic acculturation of Christianity with modern culture.

In other words, they will use the word Christian less

  • in an attempt to be less syncretistic in their faith
  • in an attempt to be able to express their faith with less baggage
  • and because they honestly sense that their experience of faith is not represented well by the word

Those believers who are more attached to the status quo, who have less cognitive dissonance between the Modern era, America, and Christianity will be more likely to use the word Christian.

So, it may be Stetzer’s “squishy middle” —those who, according to Ed, were “nominal in the first place” — along with the keepers of the status quo who will actually more frequently use “Christian” as a self designation.

2. The nominals will increasingly become nones

Stetzer’s second “trend” is “The nominals will increasingly become nones.”

Stetzer argues that nominal Christians — those who are Christian in name only but not out of conviction — are becoming the “nones.” For those of you who may not be familiar with term, the “nones” are those who do not identify with any religion.

Ed notes that 30% among college students now count themselves among the “nones.” It’s true that many thoughtful and motivated young people are choosing against Christianity. In some cases it is because they have failed to be convinced by the evidence and by experience. In other cases, it’s because they can’t distinguish between the Christ following faith and the Christian religion as represented by some cultural artifact such as the political right wing or left wing. In yet other cases, the young may be leaving Christianity in a sincere attempt to follow Christ. So here I totally agree with Stetzer, but even more emphatically, when he writes, “we should change the way we think about engaging culture.”

However, the “nones” is not the new designation for nominal Christians. In contrast, I think that the “nones” may also be the new designation for the most zealous Christ followers. (For my post on the “Nones” click here.) I think the “nones” may include precisely those believers who are changing the ways they “think about engaging culture.” And, it’s not just about engagement, it’s about authentically feeling their way forward towards a new way of following Christ beyond Christianity.

I know many devout believers who would say they are a “none” when asked about their religious preferences because they do not believe their relationship to Christ is a religion.

Others refrain from using Christian as a self designation because being Christian is often perceived (depending on the listener) as belonging to a certain political party, or being anti-science, or having a particular attitude, etc. Perhaps we should consider returning —and perhaps will— to the days when others accused us of being Christians, rather than us resorting to self proclamation.

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3. Christians Will Increasingly Change Cultural Tactics

I agree with Ed here. He argues that “convictional” Christians will advocate less for the legislation of traditional values and be more focused on protecting religious liberty.” Again, while this may not yet be a trend, this is a good tactical suggestion, as Ed states.

But focusing on “religious liberty,” as tactically correct as this might be, is not the gospel. We must focus on embodying Christ in the context of community as a way of announcing that in Christ God will make all things thrive. To exercise religious liberty will mean to live out, in our own faith communities, a new politic, economy, and society.

Stetzer argues that we must “hold the Word of God in high authority” and that “we should also wisely discern the present culture…”

I would say it this way: we must know our story and live in it and we must know the competing narratives that surround us.

I would add that we must start new communities of faith that embody this story. Starting new communities of faith is a way of creating the future. And these new communities are the greatest evidence of the trustworthiness of our story.

4. More Robust Churches will Result from the Death of Nominalism

Again, this is not a trend based on data, but something akin to “hope” and more along the lines of “prophesying the way forward.” Stetzer argues that “Churches that are preaching the gospel and are focusing on biblical truths are going to become more clearly distinct from the culture around them.”

Well, first, I think nominalism will survive. There have always be those who say, “Lord, Lord…” (Matthew 7) and I don’t see that changing. And, if more robust churches emerge, it won’t be because of the death of nominalism. It will be because robust churches continually choose to die to themselves and give birth to new communities of faith. If this happens, the spirit may move, regardless of what happens to nominal churches and christians.

I do agree that new unique and distinct communities of faith will arise. But I also think that many new communities will both embody Christ’s resurrection and meld with culture as opposed to “be distinct from” culture, if by this we mean separated/ isolated from culture.

So What is the Way Forward?

There will be the stream that seeks to accommodate the new culture. They will lose a large part of their narrative. There will be the stream that runs counter to culture. They will disappear into antagonistic irrelevance. There will be the stream that retreats from culture. They will have no impact. There will be the stream that tries to educate the new culture. They will leave the will untransformed. There will be the stream that seeks to become the new culture, the future culture, the culture that follows wholeheartedly after Christ. And they will create the future.

What is MAKERS OF FIRE about?

BASIC IDEA

Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future  provokes readers to ignite change through their own creativity by using the analogy of Making Fire.
book pic banner
In order for fire to happen, three ingredients must be present:

fuel

oxygen

heat

By analogy, in order to create a “burning event” of social change, we must be

(1) fully present in the moment

Exponential change characterizes our world. Being fully present includes developing an awareness of the “weak signals” of change that are all around us as well as the events and trends that are shaping our present world. This is the Fuel.

(2) shapers of meaning

People are shaped by stories. Shaping meaning means telling the story of the human journey in ways that capture the 21st century imagination. We must engaged and expand our ability to think about the future. This is Oxygen.

(3) dream whisperers who are willing to step into the fray

Creating the future doesn’t begin with a plan. It begins with a dream. But dreams must become acts by which we step between the Fuel of culture and the Oxygen of meaning and ignite a spark of change. This is Heat.

When You bring this three ingredients together, you become a Maker of Fire.

BOOK STRUCTURE

The book is divided in three sections: Fuel, Oxygen, and Heat.

(1)

Fuel turns its attention towards our rapidly changing 21st century culture. It touches on the trends and events that are shaping our world. But not for the purpose of trend spotting or forecasting. Instead, Fuel focuses on our orientation towards futurity for the purpose of understanding and engaging the present.

(2)

Oxygen focuses on a timeless element of the human heart: our search for meaning. This second section explores the ways both theists and atheists, mystics and materialists, are tied together in a search for meaning in life. This is the human religion.

(3)

fireHeat gets practical. This is where dreams become deeds, genies come out of bottles, the imagined materializes into the experienced. This is where you apply your genius, creativity, and initiative to the Fuel of culture that settles like tinder at our feet and the Oxygen of meanings that swirl around us all. This is where you become a maker of fire.

The book is about the spirituality of leading from the future, a much needed corrective for those overly focused on the past and much desired perspective for those trying to be more engaged with the present.

The book releases on November 15, 2014 in Print, eBook, and PDF formats. An interactive PDF is available now at a special price and with special benefits, if purchased before August 31, 2014. We hope you purchase and enjoy the book.

Purchase

MAKERS of FIRE: the spirituality of leading from the future

Welcome to the Anthropocene

Look carefully at the photo. What do you see? Those of you who have experienced the beauty of the California coast line will need to brace yourselves. You’re looking at the floor of the Monterey Bay.
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A recent study revealed that 33% of the debris on the floor of Monterey is plastic. Over time this plastic solidifies into a new “rock” called plastiglomerate. This is not just trash. It’s an artifact left behind by us. On hundred thousand years from now a future archaeologist may find the debris in our photo as they burrow through the geological deposits and they will seek to know us through that which we left behind. In my book, Makers of Fire, I discuss the “future” artifacts which we are creating. Think of them as the stories we’re telling future generations.

lush earth

Welcome to the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is an informal moniker of geological time. It means the “time of man”. The formal name of our epoch is the Holocene which began approximately 12,000 years ago. The anthropocene demarcates the point at which humans began to mark the earth. The beginning of the anthropocene is variously dated. Some date it very recently to the time of the industrial revolution. Others take it back a bit further to emergence of cities some 10,000 years ago. I think of it as beginning some 2 million years ago around the time we discovered fire. 

Genesis chapter 1 contains a creation story that, in the end, portrays God as the One who makes living things thrive. Thrive. That’s the word. In this creation story humans are created in the image of God. We are most like God when we make life thrive. Now look at the photo again. Every person that reads the Genesis story in seriousness and couples this with what we are learning about our Earth needs to make a sharp turn back to the earth on mission… a mission to co-create the world with God and make it thrive.

That’s the story we want to tell future generations. 

PS If you want to know when my book, Makers of Fire, comes out,  subscribe to the list through the link below. Thanks!

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Also, join me…
Strategic Leadership Immersion
July 14-18, Orlando, Florida
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One Thing You Should Know about the Future

After reading an interesting and helpful post over at Forbes titled, 6 Things You Should Know About the Future, I was left with a question. The author writes:

The future isn’t what we thought it would be. We don’t walk around in silver suits, travel to colonies on Mars or drive in flying cars. Instead, we dress casual, take selfies and communicate in 140 characters.

Yet in many ways, we’re much better off than we imagined. Rather than a Mad Max dystopia of war, famine and disease we are safer, richer and healthier than we’ve ever been. As I’ve argued before, in a very real sense 140 characters are better than a flying car.

That’s the funny thing about the future. It’s never as fantastic as we hope nor as horrible as we fear.

jetsons

What do you think? Has the future lived up to our expectations? Perhaps it depends on where and when you are.

While I enjoyed the entire post, the last line in the quote above stayed with me. I wondered, Is that really the funny thing about the future? Could these words have been written In Germany in 1945 or NYC in October of 2001 or in early 21st century North Korea? Is the future “never… as horrible as we fear”?

My grandfather was never fully convinced that we had traveled to the moon and back. Too fantastic. Is the future never as fantastic as we hope? I wonder if these words could have been written in the labs where they created the first synthetic life forms in 2010? What’s more fantastic? A flying car or the creation of life in a lab?

True, Our experience may not match Bladerunner or the Jetsons, but 2014 is both fantastic and fearsome. We create life. Soon we will exercise the power of resurrection and bring back an extinct species. Fantastic. The global slave trade thrives and human slaves populate the dark corners of human civilization. Terrifying.

The real sticking point, I think, is the word “never”. It brings to my mind one thing we should all know about the future: We cannot predict it.

There may be coming around the corner something even more fantastic than we’ve ever dreamed and/ or something more fearsome than we have ever imagined… or not. Keep your options open and stay alert.

What do you think?

PS If you want to know when my book, Makers of Fire, comes out,  subscribe to the list through the link below. Thanks!

Let me know when Makers of Fire is released:
http://eepurl.com/TJlxf

Strategic Leadership Immersion
July 14-18, Orlando, Florida
More info…

If it Exists, Would’t Heaven be Boring?

A blog post from humanity+ makes the assertion that a future in which Artificially Intelligent entities take care of every human need and want will be boring. I couldn’t agree more. Image Imagine a future in which AI does more than perform all menial tasks for humans. They also do all the challenging tasks. They innovate, create, invent, discover. In that future there is no risk, no failure, no adventure. Let’s call it the boring future.

It’s also a reaction I’ve had when listening to theists talk about heaven. What would an eternity with no adventure, risk, and reward be like? Traditional images of heaven are scary boring. More recently, Christians are gravitating to the idea that heaven is not created by God for humans. God created the Earth for humans… and perhaps by extension the Universes too. Perhaps there’s an implication that we have lots more adventure ahead of us.

I find it interesting that both techno-utopians and Christians have some of the same misgivings about the future.

Both, I think, are pondering the question about our nature, human nature. Can there be happiness for us in an existence that is perfectly free of success and failure, predator and prey, evil and good, search and discovery? Or are we designed to be happiest when pursuing the ideals?

What do you think?

 

PS If you want to know when my book, Makers of Fire, comes out,  subscribe to the list through the link below. Thanks!

Let me know when Makers of Fire is released:
http://eepurl.com/TJlxf

Also… Join us…
Strategic Leadership Immersion
July 14-18, Orlando, Florida
More info…

On Preparing for Change…

In 2008 the Pew research group asked a group of us how much change we thought there would be in the 21st century compared to the 20th century?

We were given three options. How would you have voted?                                                           

UnknownChange in the 20th century was rapid. Think of the fact that at the beginning of the century, we could not yet fly. The Wright Brothers had their first successful flight in 1903. Then, 63 years later in 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. That’s blazing fast change happening. How many of you remember the world before email?  How many of you have actually used a landline to make a call? How many of you used to read an actual newspaper with your morning coffee? Those things all seem so long ago. When it comes to change, the 20th century was a blur. How fast will change come in the 21st century?

I think that “We will see more change in the next 100 years than we have in our first two million” as a species (from Makers of Fire, June 2014). The technology behind drones is outpacing the technology behind mobile phones. (And think about how they changed in the last five years). Soon, UAVs (think flying robots) will take to our commercial airspace. The race for genetic enhancements will be for the 21st century what the space race was for the 20th. And much, much more….I’m not sure that we’re prepared for the changes we will see in the next 10 years much less 100. How are you preparing for change?

What do you think?

(PS. I’ll post the answer the Pew Research Group gave us on the follow up post, On Preparing for Change – 2.)

On Becoming Human

human-body-leonard-da-vinci

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1.26)

Three Ideas to Ponder on Becoming Human…

There’s a saying you’ve probably heard: God’s not finished with me yet. What if that were actually true species wide? What if the creating God began in Genesis 1 is still ongoing? Perhaps the whole of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is a creation story pointing towards the goal to be accomplished far in the future: to give birth to the human. So, this short post is just a brain twister, the kind of thing I think about late at night.

Here are the three ideas:

1. We are not human yet…

To be human is an aspiration, not a present reality. Think about this word, inhumane. It means “not human like.” Why do we even have a word that expresses the negation of what we are? When a lion makes a kill, we don’t think, how inlione. That’s just not lion like. When they maul another animal, they’re acting according to their nature. But when we are inhumane, are we acting according to our nature or contradicting it? Whichever way you answer, the result  is pretty scary. We are both “human like” and “not human like.” Perhaps somewhen down the road we will actually become human.

What do you think? Chime in on our survey below.

2. Neither are we human beings

Every now and then I’ll hear someone say, we’re not human doings, we’re human beings. Probably they’re trying to emphasize our identity, the priority of who we are, over our works, the value of what we do. However, this term human being doesn’t sit well either.  We don’t have “being” in and of ourselves. We’re not immortal “beings.” The term human creature is closer. Whether you’re a theist or not, you recognize that humans had a beginning.  Whether through an act of God or through naturally occurring evolutionary forces or both,  we came into existence. We are creatures just like all the other life forms that populate the eco system.

3. We are human becomings

Still even human creature sticks a little. How can we emphasize our creatureliness and the fact that we are not yet human? We are human becomings. We had a beginning and we are on a journey towards that which we aspire to be: human. We are a story in the middle of the telling. There is value both in what we aspire to “be” and what we “do.” Both are necessary for “becoming.”

So rejoice. God is indeed not yet finished with you. And, as I’ve often said, Jesus did not come to make the world Christian. We can set our sights higher. He came to make it (and us) human.

Two Mysterious Human Behaviors

Bobo_women_carrying_children
Every now and then we hear reports of whales stranding themselves on shore. Why they do this is a mystery.

Moving from whales to humans, two human behaviors seem to me to be equally mysterious. First, the loss of a desire to have children. This is not too common but it is more and more visible, especially among the more affluent. Second, the loss (among the young) of a desire to have sex.

Our world is full of children and explorations of sexuality run rampant and often destructively among us. The desire to have children and to have sex (with or without thought of children) are biologically embedded instincts. Would not the loss of these desires run counter to our biologically derived instincts? If these attitudes and behaviors continued and expanded, what kind of future would we create?

THE FUTURE OF CHILDREN

What is the future of children? I don’t mean the future of the children in the world. I mean the future of having children.

One of my favorite movies is Children of Men. The premise of the movie is that couples, for some unexplained reason, stopped having children. It is a dystopian vision of a future with no children and, thus, no hope. (For an interesting take on this thought – http://nyti.ms/1c0HoEp).

An essay I read in the New York Times, Opting out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind, made me wonder if the reverse is also true. Is the loss of hope tied to loss of a desire to have children?

The essayist, a married, affluent, and urban young woman, writes about the economic sacrifices of having children. According to her, when she explained the article she was writing to other mothers, their words to her were: “good for you”. Not exactly the kind of mothers I’m used to.

What stands out to me from her essay is not the economics of having children. What stands out to me is that she could find no good reasons for having a child. Ironically, I could not escape the deep sense of poverty in her view of life.

I’m sure the essayist is a fine, loving, and healthy person, but this article made me ask a dark, dark question about the worldview it suggests. I have to ask, What if children were free, a dime a dozen? Would she and her husband (who is very concerned with the way humans tax the planet) find a reason or the space in their lives for a child?

I wonder, how similar is the worldview of this essay to that of Toni Vernelli who aborted her child to save the planet and about whom I wrote in an earlier post?

This question is not about the authors of the articles in particular. I’m sure there’s a world of difference between them as individuals. But there seems to be larger cultural questions here. After all, there is a culture wide decline in births. Somewhere around midcentury, the world’s population will plateau and then decline.

children_of_men

Demographically speaking, the single most important measurement of humankind is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). The magic number in measuring TFR is 2.1. That’s how many births per household a population needs to replace itself.

Many of the western democracies are experiencing birth rates lower than 2.1. In other words, our whole culture seems to be stepping into a worldview similar to the one mentioned above. Is our culture concluding that having children just isn’t worth it?

If demography is destiny, then is it the destiny of the west to disappear? Are we having our very own “Children of Men” moment?

Earlier generations delighted in the birth of a child. I wonder, has the loss of a religious view of life so disoriented us that we cannot be bothered with even the most basic evolutionary compulsions? (The irony of that last sentence does not escape me.)

Or, do the young somehow intuit that they live at the twilight of their society and from this deep lack of hope feel nothing worth sharing and passing on to a new generation?

Is it a good thing now to not have children? Since we seem to have lost the natural instinct of it, perhaps it is better to stop. At least until we discover a reason to live, to enjoy life, and to love it enough to want to be part of expanding the experience.

This is HUGE.

THE FUTURE OF PROCREATION
Here’s another even more mysterious symptom of the same malaise. Not only did Japan have fewer births in 2012 than any previous year, young people in Japan have stopped having sex.  Just in case you read what your brain thought should appear in the text, let me put an emphasis on the key word: “Stopped.”  You can’t even get to the question of should we or should we not have children, if you despise physical contact.
Japanese man and woman lean away from each other

Just when you thought the impossible never happened. Here it is.
The article stated: “A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 ‘were not interested in or despised sexual contact’. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.”
It feels weird to ask this but, is not having sex becoming an epidemic in Japan?

What’s going on here? Is it a positive? Are we finally gaining mastery over our naturally evolved instincts?

Or, Is this a surrender to the meaninglessness of it all? Are these attitudes symptoms of the dis-ease of hopelessness that can attack all humans anywhere at anytime? Both situations mentioned here are a manifestation of their own context and culture. At very least, we can say that not having children and not having sex are, biologically, dead ends. Are they the human equivalent of diseased whales beaching themselves on the shore? Something about life stops working. And we run counter to the most basic drives within us.

In the negative, we can postulate that human societies start by dismissing Spirit or Meaning which leads to hating life and evolves to despising each other. In the positive, we can experiment by breathing faith, hope, and love into a culture that can’t seem to figure out why humans are worth saving, worth bringing into the world, or even worth touching.

What do you think?

See you in the mystic…

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Creativity, Spirituality, and the Future

Creativity is a clue that we are not locked into a purely predetermined system of cause and effect.  While all human choice is preceded by causes and followed by effects,  and the variety of choices may be limited, there is still room for surprise.

I once asked someone if they believed God had the capacity to laugh at a joke. I added that if God knows everything then he could not be surprised. And surprise is what makes a joke funny. If this is true, and God cannot laugh at a joke, then God is poor. To not be able to laugh is poverty.

But I think God can laugh… and be surprised.

God has made man, like himself, creative. Since the early days of our species when we domesticated fire, we have continued to master the world. We have released the power of the atom. We suck the world dry of its energy. We create robots that will go to war for us. We topple trees and the natural habitats of many other of the Earth’s creatures. We have created a technological environment that is changing faster than our ability to adapt. That’s a prescription for extinction.

Mark Twain wrote, If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?”

It has been said, “The level of thinking which got us into the problems we face is not the level of thinking that will be able to get us out.”

If our technological powers continue to grow, and if we continue to try to master each other and the world, we may destroy the earth, our womb. In this next century, our species will need to reach a whole new dimension of creativity and spirituality. New ways of thinking, being, and living are essential if we are to overcome the problems we’ve caused and if we’re to create a human future.

I think God has designed a universe that has both stability and chaos, predetermined cause-effect and randomness. One of the biggest variables in the cosmos may be us. How will we choose to use our ever growing technological power?

We have entered the era of DIY genetics. Natural selection is not the only driver of evolutionary change anymore. There’s a new kid on the block that can reach into the fundamental fibers of life and create new forms of life.  That new kid is us and the possibilities are unimaginable.

This could be a disaster about to happen. But we could also be in for a surprise. I would like to think that we still have time to do something so wonderfully startling that it would make God laugh a deep laugh from the stomach.

What do you think?