I have recently heard two speakers address the challenge of ministry with postmoderns: Karen Ward, Lutheran pastor of Seattle’s Church of the Apostles (a shared ministry with the Episcopal Church, USA) whose ministry embraces the alt worship paradigm, and Jim Kitchens, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN, whose former congregation in California had an emergent ministry, and who wrote the book The Postmodern Parish: New Ministry for a New Era. They both had a similar perspective:
Main line churches need to be generous and flexible with (or even willing to shed!) the non-essentials that are part of our parish practice, while embracing the essential gifts of our traditions.
Jim Kitchens yesterday used the Biblical image of wheat and chaff: we should separate the wheat from the chaff in our tradition for the sake of ministry with postmoderns. It is suggested that the wheat of our traditions – Jesus Christ, Word, Sacrament, communion with God and with each other, service to others – is appealing to postmoderns, but that the chaff of our churches – stiff worship practices, rigidly corporate structures, unwritten dress or behavior codes, us-vs.-them mentalities, etc. – is a major turn off.
Both Kitchens and Ward have suggested that each of our traditions has a charism, a gift, to offer the wider church and world. Our churches should identify the charisms of our tradition and re-evaluate how to best nurture and offer these charisms to a postmodern culture. I like that image. In fact, back in September I wrote a Why I am a Lutheran post could also be read as a list of Lutheran charisms. Perhaps I’ll rework that post later today . . .
I think that our churches need to reorient around our Lutheran charisms. Many Lutherans think our identity is wrapped up in 16th century German chorales, a particular style of liturgy, or that we’re simply a bunch of Nots – we’re Not Catholic, Not Baptist, Not Evangelical, Not Fundamentalist . . . But what the heck are we? I think our churches need to revist that question from time to time, in dialogue with the Lutheran Confessions, the broader tradition of the church, and the wider culture.