This morning Alan Roxburgh sketched a historical perspective of the shift away from the local in modernity. Place and time no longer have the significance they once had. The result is that we no longer have individual or collective memories of our past. This impacts the way we do ministry. Here are some summary thoughts.
- After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 local territories began to consolidate into nation-states, the precursor to modern nations.
- From Decartes: “I think therefore I am” creates a dualism between the mind and body; the mind takes precedence over the material. From Kant: we all know normal ethical imperatives; place, geography and culture no longer matter. From Schleiermacher: Jesus came to give us a universal answer; time and place are discounted.
- London created the first suburbs as people moved to the edges of town. This was viewed as stately and cultured. In response to the industrial revolution people moved away from their places of work. On a related note, this is the first time women assumed a weaker role, staying at home while their protector husbands went to work in the city.
- The priest/pastor and cathedral/church were no longer centered in a parish. Geographic location was less important as people become more mobile.
- In the twentieth century clergy become professionals. Schools of theology gained in popularity and pastors began to study in the same way that lawyers and doctors did. In the 1970s and 1980s pastors primarily found their identity as therapists; their role became therapeutic. In the 1990s the dominant professional role shifted to “pastor as business manager.” The emphasis was on management, administration and “church health.” This represents the notion that universal professional skills are transferable and can be taught and learned without consideration for the local congregation.
All of this supports the idea that the local and particular are unimportant. We unknowingly yield to the false assumption that we can manage reality, predict outcomes and control our destiny. If we believe this we will not sense the need to interpret scripture at the local level and we will experience high anxiety when we can’t meet goals, can’t manage and successfully predict ministry outcomes in a time of massive discontinuous change, and can’t deliver when ministry no longer works like it “used to.” The corrective is to spend time in the local, corporately interpret scripture in a church’s context, and resist the impulse to find the one right, universal plan or solution.