"The patterns and processes of the past will not lead to a successful future." Loren Mead, Transforming Congregations for the Future.
This paper attempts to outline the mission directions for the church, taking into account the large social and cultural changes in our communities. It is a large subject and much more could be written here. Deliberately, I have limited the length of this report so that it can be read in about an hour. However, I provide an extensive Bibliography so that you may source further reading and gain greater detail.
Other factors affecting future life of the Church include:
- Few volunteers, as most women now work while those who have had a lifetime of volunteer work along with a family responsibilities are ageing and have less energy and health.
- Globalisation and competitive market forces placing extra financial and time pressures on people resulting in longer and staggered working hours and often without additional income.
- Less discretionary money due to student loans, children's tertiary education, greater health costs and planning for a longer retirement without government support, along with increased life expectancy. Longer retirement may also increase volunteers so assisting churches
- Increasing search for a spiritual dimension in life along with a rejection of established church structure. Down with the old to embrace the new! Institutional Christianity may die but gospel values will live and expand their influence. Jesus personifies compassion, love, kindness, and tolerance, which often cannot be seen in the Church.
There is a range of views about how the church will develop in the future. In Tomorrow's God, Lloyd Geering outlines one view in this brief paragraph:
"The meaning of human existence will increasingly become one of caring for the earth. Care of the earth entails caring for all life on earth and caring for one and other."
It saddens me greatly that our church gives scant regard to environmental issues. They will be some of the largest issues to be faced in our lives and yet "care of creation" is the least regarded of the five faces of mission, accepted by our church as the ways "to make Jesus Christ known" (General Assembly 1994). Surely Christians have a significant contribution to make in attempts to sustain God's creation.
However, I see the role of the Christian Community as more extensive than that outlined by Professor Geering. I think it also includes elements of awe and majesty in relating to a higher being in some form of individual or corporate worship. I understand that the "kingdom of God is within us" and so believe in a God closer and more personal than the source of all creation. However, the forms of worship are likely to undergo major shifts so that we may not even recognise them as different attempts at satisfying the same deep human need.
Perhaps the link between the present church and that of the church in, say, 2050 will be like photographs displayed at 50th birthday parties or in the newspaper. Photos of the birthday boy as a two year old! Nobody would pick it as the same person but the older family members recognise the continuity. The church now will be unrecognisable by 2050 Christians, but its development through the decades will be clearly observable, particularly in retrospect.
Soren Kirkegaard, the Danish philosopher, has a helpful saying: "you can only understand life backwards but you must live it forwards" May we continue to seek meaning as we go forward, encouraging each other to live the life into which we have been called.
"Listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches."
Together then, let's live our Christian life, for our grandchildren, assisting them in their search for life's meaning!