Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. Genesis 1:14-15
Several years ago the sky fell.
The debris field of sky-pieces goes unnoticed until, tripping, one falls into a sky. Chunks of blue, fragments of lightning, drops of thunder clouds smeared here and there, scraps of cumulonimbus at your feet. Bits of sky, having fallen, confuse birds, sunflowers are anxious about which way to turn their sunny heads, trees grown vine-like upwards and downwards and sideways trying to find up. Up is gone. The sky has fallen.
It seems an apt description.
The famous fable begins with Chicken Little getting a thump from falling acorn. Fear turns to panic, turns to social movement in preparation for the end all things. But what if it were not just one acorn? Roxburgh writes in The Sky is Falling, “discontinuous change is an all-out acorn assault…the attacks seem to come from all angles and all directions.” And now Chicken Little is right, the sky is falling, or at least metaphorically, it all seems to be changing rapidly. Roxburgh goes on, “It exhausts our physical, mental, and spiritual resources by sheer magnitude…” these changes force us to “deal with changes on every front simultaneously…making it difficult to know which to pay attention to and what to do next (Roxburgh, 2005).
I had thought this awareness was pervasive, now a decade after Alan Roxburgh wrote that. However, today, Faith and Leadership promoted the idea that our expectations of clergy need recalibrating. As a stalwart of the mainline church, Faith and Leadership, the new home of The Alban Institute should not be surprised that the definitions, expectations, and measures of effective pastoring have changed. But now that they have, a list of issues emerges that many mainline churches are unprepared for. For instance, how do we educate clergy? How will they be mentored, coached, and shaped in professional ethics? Should we expect less because of the daily jobs, competing priorities, and need for balance and health? How is education for clergy to financed, who will pay the student loans? And what would content even be of such an education? Seeing how the ministries for which modern clergy prepared have changed so much that their education is partly irrelevant to today's ministry needs?
At a meeting several days ago, sitting with a number of judicatory leaders of mainline churches in our area, there was description of heaviness hanging over the clergy they supported. They told of clergy whose skills no longer matched the ministry needs of the context; how many of the things these folks had learned were no longer as meaningful, how generations of pastors and priests had been shaped as ministers for christendom. Now that christendom, like the sky, has fallen, these leaders are anxious. Maybe even desperate.
Reorient to a New Constellation
At The Missionplace, we have worked for over a decade to train and prepare people for ministry. Through Seminary Without Walls, we have prepared lay leaders for credentialed ministry in Lutheran, Mennonite, Evangelical Quaker, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Episcopal congregations and parishes. We have realized that we function best when learning from each other in an atmosphere of "generous orthodoxy" allowing for uniqueness of multiple communions to inform and form leaders. Seminary Without Walls has worked to provide three foundations for ministry: intellectual growth, practical skill development, and spiritual formation through courses, continuing education events, and spiritual retreats. Through Seminary Without Walls, we can provide training far below the cost of seminary, provide continuing education for clergy, and train new generations of bi-vocational and missional leaders.
So, the sky fell. We have known it has been coming down now for quite sometime. We have the experience and the resources to adapt to the new world of mission in which the older world of ministry doesn't work as well any more.