Friday, October 13, 2006

the world is flat / denominational dreams

Last night I finished reading the mind expanding The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. It is truly a must read for every literate person in the country. Its not a spiritual book, but a book that describes the world that we live in today. I had no clue how the world had changed in the past five years. We truly do live in a global community now more than ever.

In the last chapter, Friedman goes into a more motivational tone. I was moved by it. This passage especially challenged the way that I see our United Methodist denomination:

"Analysts have always tended to measure a sociey by classical economic and social statistics: its deficit-to-GDP ratio, or its unemployment rate, or the rate of literacy among adult women. Such statistics are important and revealing. But there is another statistic, much harder to meausure, that I think is even more important and revealing: Does your society have more memories than dreams or more dreams than memories?

"By dreams I mean the positive, life-affirming variety. The business organization consultant Michael Hammer once remarked, 'One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don't want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.'" (pp.450-451)
Questions I'm thinking about:
- Does the United Methodist denomination have more memories than dreams?
- Are we willing to abandon what made us successful and start afresh? Would that be faithful?
- How can we be faithful to our DNA and move into this new global community with zeal?
- Is the itineracy what made us successful in the past (allowed us to move west and plant a church in nearly every town in North America)? Is that one thing that we need to abandon in order to start afresh?


Holy Pirate said...

I don't hear a lot of United Methodist memories or United Methodist dreams in my congregation. The old-timers remember growing up EUB or Methodist, not United Methodist. And their memories are tied up in people and places, not denominational affiliation. The same goes for their dreams -- to the extent they voice any dreams about the UMC they talk about wishing the local church was set free from some of the connectional bonds (apportionments, itinerancy).

The question about abandoning what made us successful... I think we have to be careful with trying to apply secular organizational theory to the church. That starts with defining "success." Success is measured by progress toward the goal. The mission (goal) of the UMC is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, success. Making disciples of Jesus Christ depends on the Holy Spirit's movement within and among a community of believers. There is no "fresh" way of being successful as a church.

Sure, we can take on new trappings and play different music, but ultimately a successful church has always been and will always be a place of authentic community where people are genuinely pursuing closer relationship with God. And that can happen in a highly liturgical setting, an emergent setting, or anywhere in between. It can also most definitely not happen despite adopting the freshest of trends and styles. Quite frankly, just as there are no new heresies, there are no new ways of doing church.

I'm sure the "being faithful to our DNA" thing is packed with meaning, but not having read the book it sounds like a bunch of "who moved my cheese" management theory hoo hah. Being faithful to what I was created to be means modeling my life after Christ, and I don't really see how the "new global community" has anything to do with that.

As for itinerancy... it is not responsible for the decline of the UMC and getting rid of it will not cause a rebirth of the UMC. Denominations without itinerancy and guaranteed appointments are going through a lot of the same struggles the UMC is.

Jason Woolever said...

hey pirate. thanks for the comments. this is really not a book about management, but a book describing globalization.

i would say we have to be honest about the change in the world's landscape. methodism actually rose to the occasion and created the itineracy as a fresh way to share God's message of salvation with people. before that it had been a parish system, which was totally ineffective.

i would say that ingenious recognition of the crisis and adaptation is what created the system we have.

i'm not talking about worship styles, when i say fresh ways of interacting. obviously sharing Christ and having Christian conversation through blogging is an adaptation that we've already embraced.

Stephen said...

Another must read from Friedman (We had to read it for a class in Seminary) is The Lexus and the Olive Tree. He talks about globalization and religion. What it means for the church to espouse the world is my parish!

Jason Woolever said...

hey stephen. my wife has that book but I haven't read it. would it be out of date by now, or still current?