Moving from cosmetic to fundamental change in the laity

Each year I attend conferences and read books about the future of the church. I hear about how the future of the church will be smaller and more missional. The church will need to shift from making congregation members to Disciples of Jesus. The church will be more lay driven and rely upon bi-vocational ministers. I hear about the house-church movement, the Emergent movement, the Mega-church movement, the Neo-Monastic movement, and even those hinting at a “bowel movement” to flush out their disliked theology/philosophy/generation/leaders.

In all this conversation about all the different movements that the church is experiencing or needing, there is a bit of doctrine that clergy publically affirm but privately call into question. The past few years more and more clergy are beginning to speak out against this false teaching but it still is defended by many.

What is this doctrine? It comes in many variations but the gist is this:

The clergy are just not beginning to see what the laity have known and have desired for a long time – we need to change the way we are the Church.

Of course the Church of the future will be different than the Church of the past or present. No one knows what the Church will look like, although that does not keep many of us from speculating. The idea of a changing Church is not really up for debate any more.

What is up for debate is the first part of this doctrine – the laity know and desire a change in the way we do Church.

 The Diffusion of Innovation Curve. How do we get over the tipping point with our laity to have an early majority of lay members embrace fundamental change?

The Diffusion of Innovation Curve. How do we get over the tipping point with our laity to have an early majority of lay members embrace fundamental change?

Lay members of the church are not dumb they know that change is needed. However, the number of laity who understand what type of change is required is much less than what is needed to create a change that we all agree needs to happen. The laity that I have encountered, even those who acknowledge change is needed, express only cosmetic change.

When we talk about a fundamental change to the way we do Church we are talking about willing to close our beloved Church in order to birth new communities. We are talking about willing to personally engage in a lifestyle change to integrate the spiritual practices/disciplines. We are talking about willing to set the spiritual formation of our children at the same priority level of the educational formation of our children.* We are talking about willing to disentangle the American Dream and God’s Dream, Capitalism and the Beloved Community, patriotism and support of “the troops” from one another. We are talking about willing to see the Creeds not as litmus tests for “orthodoxy” but as poems penned to describe the indescribable. We are talking about addressing the social issues of human sexuality and identity, war, and income inequality. We are talking about addressing the theological issues of the atonement, theodicy, and the authority of the Bible.

These are some of the questions of fundamental change that we need to address.

And these are not the questions that I hear laity asking. Questions of fundamental change are not questions that keep laity up at night. But I can tell you, they haunt this clergy person every day.


*Why there is a culturally acceptable parenting approach to let our children choose if they are going to attend a faith community but do not let them choose to attend school is beyond my understanding.