Please don’t read this on an upset stomach.
Another book from the business world. What could it possibly have to say to the church or those interested in Christian leadership? There is no denying that the 21st century represents a level of complexity unmatched by previous generations. The church would do well to consider some of the assumptions found in Berger & Johnston’s book “Simple Habits for Complex Times” and feel the freedom to consider the inevitable uncertainty of the future.
This week the United Methodist Church held a special General Conference to decide on the issue of same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBT pastors. While this might seem a ‘no brainer’ to those of us on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, it demonstrates the complexity of our times and the need to prepare for an unanticipated future. Whether you consider yourself a member of the Westboro Baptist community or a Congregational church in New England, all are currently faced with what the authors call VUCA; “volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.” The Abraham Lincoln quote used by the authors is apropos; “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” 
As should be patently evident by now I am passionate about emerging generations and helping them either maintain or develop a genuine relationship with their creator through Jesus. I am convinced that the Church of the future will have a very different structure to the Church of the past and present for I firmly believe it is not the shape of the Church that is universal but the message of the Gospel.
My students will tell you that I do minimal teaching and a whole lot of questioning. I want them to own their faith, not simply regurgitate my faith or that of their parents. I want them to develop their own ministry theology based on their relationship with Jesus and the calling they are discerning through prayer, meditation, discipleship and the reading of scripture. Like the authors I believe that “It is new and different questions that open up new and different possibilities.” Yes, this is a frightening prospect even for me who most of you likely consider some liberal nut job. But I am laser focused on introducing young people to the living Jesus and not really all that hung up on indoctrinating them into some form of faith with which I am comfortable. I found this quote incredibly helpful; “So instead of tightening the reins and controlling what others do, leaders in this space need to loosen up and enable others to find a helpful path through the unknown.” I am not suggesting some form of free for all that whatever one wants to do there is complete freedom in Christ to live as you please. However, I am suggesting that in this complex age I am increasingly less certain that what is promoted as the ‘Christian faith’ is in fact the faith that Jesus wanted in us his disciples. In fact, I am pretty sure that most Christians wouldn’t like Jesus very much if he lived in our own era, myself included. We like the ‘Jesus’ that has been developed in our Western culture, but I wonder if that is who he really was/is. (OK – feel free to kick me out of the program now, I’m ok with that too.)
My own denomination, the PCUSA, has been in catastrophic decline for decades (Much like the United Methodists and other mainline denominations. I think there are sociological reasons for the apparent stability of non-denominational and more charismatic denominations but there is not time for that discussion here. Call me if you want to talk about it.) Though I love my branch of the Church of Jesus I am not surprised at its decline. Berger and Johnston hint at a potential issue when they state; “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”  According to this statement the PCUSA denomination is designed to get the results it is seeing in the contemporary world. The same is likely true of your own branch of the church. Read into that what you will but I think arrogance at this point is foolishness and suggests that we may be succumbing to the misguided idea that the future is clear. Again, the authors are helpful here; “When we believe that things are clear and straightforward, when we believe we know how the next chapter will go, we are just telling ourselves a myth to bring us comfort.” 
My experience in New Zealand, and our lead mentor’s experience in the UK, suggest what is likely on the horizon for the church in the U.S. We still experience very high, by Western world standards, church affiliation and participation. If you think that the U.S. church is considered irrelevant now just wait for what is likely around the corner. Yet, all need to be mindful that; “If you’re in a space of real complexity, there is no being sure of what will happen next.” Perhaps all of my foreboding will be disproved. I hope that is true. However, even if that happens it is guaranteed that ‘VUCA’ will still be applicable and Christian leaders will need to be prepared to guide the church through, in whatever form it eventually takes.
I grew up in the United Methodist Church. My father is a retired UMC pastor. One of my very good friends is editor of ‘Good News’ magazine, a conservative publication in the Wesleyan tradition. LGBT issues were hardly even fringe discussions in that denomination during my youth. No one saw this coming then and now it looks as if it will split the denomination in a bitter and contentious manner all the while communicating to those outside the faith that ‘Christians are bigots’. I hear the arguments; ‘we need to hold the line of traditional orthodoxy’, ‘we cannot dilute the truths of the faith’, etc. etc. There will be no argument from me in that regard. Yet, at the same time I am greatly concerned that the church in the U.S. is painting itself into a corner all while excluding those who desperately need to know and experience the love of God. I believe this is particularly true with emerging generations and their belief that the church is narrow minded, exclusive, unloving, arrogant, bigoted and hypocritical.
Yes, the LGBT debate is currently very contentious, particularly within mainline denominations. I wonder what the issues will be in the future. This one will likely have been dealt with in one way or another, though in the more conservative branches this argument is probably still on the horizon. I find the conclusion of ‘Simple Habits’ both comforting and disconcerting; “The complex world will not get more simple to make us more comfortable. Now is our chance to grow as big as the world requires us to be.” I honestly do not know what that means but I do know that I do not desire to be a stumbling block for anyone seeking a dynamic relationship with Jesus, even if that relationship takes a different form than my own. If I am given the opportunity to utilize this Doctor of Ministry degree, I hope it will be in a way that seeks to empower others to bring about the Reign of God on earth regardless of the form that takes. I hope to encourage others as the text suggests; “The point of a leader in a complex world is to enable and unleash as many heroes and as many solutions as possible.”  Let’s work together on multiple solutions to present the Gospel in a manner that captures the imaginations and the hearts of a desperately needy world.
Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith Johnston. Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, an Imprint of Stanford University Press, 2015. P. 8
Ibid p. 7
Ibid p. 14
Ibid p. 149
Ibid p. 27
Ibid p. 226
Ibid p. 150
Ibid p. 227
Ibid p. 219