Friday, September 26, 2014

“Change, innovate, improve, or die!” But how?

In an essay in Liturgy in 2013, Michael Pasquarello asks church leaders to consider carefully what it means to follow the dictum “Change . . . or die!”––especially with regard to worship. 
 A popular pastor of a large congregation was addressing a gathering of clergy and laity on the topic of sparking new life in churches. To make his point, he offered a brief story of communication media—with props included. He began by showing an old 33 rpm phonograph record, moved to an eight-track tape, to a cassette CD, and then to an iPod, finally exhorting the crowd to learn the “art of evolution” in order to offer new and better products in their ministries: “Change, innovate, improve, or die!” [Cross Connection: A Texas Annual Conference Publication 158, no. 6 (June 10, 2011): 1, 7.]
This apocalyptic call to action, “Do this or die!” expresses a kind of successful yet rather conventional cultural accommodation which begins by focusing on a problem and then seeks its solution through calculated ingenuity, choice, and skill. 
Absent in this process, however, is robust, confident trust in the abundantly generous and gratuitous self-giving love of God revealed in Christ through the outpouring of the Spirit that is the source and end of creation, and therefore of the worship and life of the church. Moreover, such expressions of popular apocalypticism, which presume to know just where we are and what needs to be done, the consequence of identifying our own expectations with God's plan, fail to get at the root problem: a relentless desire to master and control our life in order to fix things and make them come out right. [Charles Mathewes, A Theology of Public Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)].
Rather than succumb to what is so readily encouraged today as “best practices” answer to problems in church life, Pasquarello turns our attention to what is doxological. Doxa = glory or praise and logos = word or speech. The church’s needs rest in giving praise. 
[T]here is an urgent need for churches to recover a narrative connection with the Christian past in a culture dominated by faith in the power of self-mastery and control; an insatiable desire for salvation and happiness by producing and consuming the “newest and latest.”  [Brian Brock, Christian Ethics in a Technological Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010)].
Has your congregation been focused on its “insatiable desire for salvation” through the “newest and latest” of technological fixes? In order to explore that question, read Pasquarello’s discussion of the church’s eschatological base for doxology. 

Michael Pasquarello, “Doxological Reading and Eschatological Imagination,” Liturgy 28, no. 2 (16 Jan 2013): 58-67.

Michael Pasquarello III is the Granger E. and Anna A. Fisher Professor of Preaching in Asbury Theological Seminary’s School of Biblical Interpretation and Proclamation.

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