By Anna Cooke, a student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
I do not intentionally eavesdrop, I promise! Having said that, consider this my advisory notice to each and every one of you. Even if you think you are out of earshot, I can probably still hear you.
The umbrella term for this is central auditory processing disorder, a medical diagnosis that is used to describe a variety of disorder that affects the way the brain processes information that is heard. For me, this means I hear everything, and when I say everything, I sincerely mean the whole kit and caboodle of sounds that exist in our world, I hear. I joke that it is my super power, but there is no other way to explain it. I can even hear a dog whistle!
Whether I am studying at a coffee shop, listening to a lecture in class, or just meandering through the Carytown district of Richmond, I encounter numerous conversations in which my neighbors share new exciting joys, struggles, and occasionally painful challenges currently transpiring in their lives. In the midst of all of these moments, I marvel at the needs and the gifts that the people of this community embody.
These overheard tidbits of conversation, and glimpses into the lives of my neighbors continue to stay with me as I consider the scarcity of jobs in established churches, and a reality that my seminary peers and I will need to engage ministry differently than pastors who have come before us.
We are moving into a post-Christendom environment of fewer congregations, shrinking memberships, and limited jobs in established churches, and in some ways, we are already there.
In the book Tribes, Seth Godin defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader and connected to an idea.” This simple formula of a tribe can easily be applied to the body of Christ as we strive to redefine the church and create a home for spiritual leaders to be present with people beyond the walls of the traditional congregation.
Individuals are not connecting with congregations in the same ways. There are intrusions and cultural changes taking place both within and beyond local churches, and these are creating the shifts we are continuing to observe.
Godin encourages his readers to destroy the status quo and states that changing it, whatever that status quo may be, creates the opportunity to create something remarkable. (36)
As spiritual leaders, by embracing the movement away from the traditional or current status quo inside the church, we are able to passionately discern, focus, and welcome in what God is doing in that place, and within that community.
What I do NOT think is that this is the end of Christianity, and I REFUSE to presume this is the end of spiritual communities… but they are definitely changing.