As a pastor, one of the things I am privileged to do is walk with people (shepherd them) through the stages of grief. As every pastor has experienced, some people successfully journey through these stages over time, while others get trapped along the way, often leading to dysfunction in their life.
I would suggest that the church in North America is going through the stages of grief as it comes to grips with the end/death of Christendom. As the church grieves the loss of its once held societal power, cultural influence and moral authority, it needs guidance and direction. The church is in need of pastoral shepherds who will help guide it through these stages into health and effectiveness within its new reality – post-Christendom. The challenge of this generation is to lead the church through the stages of grief, emerging with health and the reengagement of mission within its new environment.
The fact is, all churches and Christian traditions in North America are going through this grieving journey; however, they are all at different places in it. Consider the five stages of grief:
- Stage 1: Denial – There are churches that are still stuck in denial. They believe that culture has not changed. They are still doing ministry in the same way they did at the height of Christendom.
- Stage 2: Anger – Churches in this stage are angry at the change our culture is experiencing and have focused their attention and energy at expressing that anger. These churches are often known solely for what they are against, rather than what they are for.
- Stage 3: Bargaining – Churches stuck in this stage believe that if they do ______ then things will go back to the way they use to be. In many cases, there is a focus on recreating past programs and ministries in a futile attempt to recreate past results.
- Stage 4: Depression – Churches in this stage believe all hope is lost. They are beyond denial, anger or bargaining but the weight of the challenge ahead has brought depression, manifested in hopelessness.
- Stage 5: Acceptance – Churches who have successfully journeyed through the previous stages end with acceptance, beginning to think through what it means for effective ministry and mission in our new post-Christian environment.
The church in North America is in a unique situation and journey. It needs men and women who are committed to God’s mission, seeing the whole Church bring the whole gospel to the whole world. The challenge ahead is for church leaders to be committed to Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, helping congregations, denominations and movements journey through these stages in order to begin meeting the unique challenges of our changing world. A post-Christian culture will need radically different ministries, need to ask profoundly different questions, and will need very different paradigms. The Church needs to move beyond conversations that simply grieve the loss of once was, to conversations of what could be, as it engages in God’s global mission. These conversations are why organizations and movements like Lausanne, Missio Alliance, etc. are vital and important for our time in history. The Church in North America is at the precipice of possibility and Jesus, the head of the Church, is leading His Church forward with hope and mission.
There is a select group of people in my life that, with a conversation over a cup of java, make me feel smarter and wiser. Randal Rauser is one of those people. I have had the privilege of sitting down with him on several occasions over coffee talking life, movies and theology and I have always left feeling smarter and wiser as a result.
Randal’s new book, The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails, is a unique project, inviting the reader to listen in on one of those types of conversations. Although it deals with weighty apologetic subjects, it does so comfortably and conversationally, making it approachable for the average reader. Using inviting language and playful prose, Randal invites the reader to eavesdrop on a thoughtful conversation over a cup of coffee.
If you are interested in exploring the current apologetic debate, this book will help introduce you to the conversation in an inviting way without compromising the content of the arguments. Randal demonstrates his unique blend of gifts through this book: his vast knowledge, his ability to teach and his writing skills. This unique blend creates an inviting aroma that warmly and inclusively invites the reader to join the conversation.
*Note: Although the good people at IVPress, as part of the book’s promotion, mailed a complementary copy of this book to me, at no time was I obligated to write a positive review.
The following is a recent letter I wrote to the Editor in regards to an article featured in a recent magazine. My comments in no way are disparaging to the organization the magazine represents. In fact, it is an organization that I proudly support. My motivation in writing the letter is to simply raise awareness of the language we can easily use without reflecting on the subtle message it can send. Because I do not want to disparage the organization (an organization and fully support), I have withheld their name to kept their anonymity. See my letter below:
To Whom It May Concern,
I would like to draw your attention to your recent edition of **** Magazine that features the story of Emily and her mother. In the story you use the phrase “who suffers from Down Syndrome” to refer to Emily. As an active ****[member of this organization] and as a proud father of a son who happens to have Down Syndrome, this statement deeply troubles me. Those who have Down Syndrome are not in suffering because of it. Emily might have other challenges in her life (that may or may not be related to Down Syndrome) but having Down Syndrome is not something one “suffers” from, no more than one can suffer because of their gender, race or hair color.
I am sure, and am confident, that no disrespect was intended but it is the subte nature of the comment that is a commentary on the subconscious view we can have on those with Down Syndrome. By using the term “suffer” it (although unintentionally) implies that Emily, or my son, is less than because of “who they are” and who have a medical condition that can be treated. Emily and my son, have Down Syndrome which is just as much a gift as it is something that can create challenges.
I am not trying to belabour the point, nor do I assume there was any intended harm, I simply want to raise awareness of the terminology we use and the message(s) it may send.
*As a follow-up, the magazine emailed me to apologize for their error and the implications it unfortunately sent.
About two years ago I ended my blogging journey; however, like the plot of a good TV movie, my blogging journey is having a comeback. I have been reading and reflecting a lot lately about the state and future of the Church, and about life in general, and need a place to pen those thoughts in a more open and, as much as possible, conversational fashion. Thus, I am resurrecting the Blog. If you followed me before, I blogged under www.incipiosermo.com (Latin for “Beginning Conversation”). This time I am going to make it easier on everyone, including myself, and go with something easier to remember: www.bryceashlinmayo.com. I was smart enough when I ended my blog two years ago to archive it and consequently, I have all my old entries (minus some links and pictures). I didn’t realize the importance of doing this but after having a nostalgic time reading through them, it is demonstrated how helpful it was to my thinking.
My comeback blog will be a collection of my thoughts, musing and reflections as well as a place to continue conversations about what I’ve been speaking and writing about. I am looking forward to taking up the journey again.