Confluence: the place where things come together.
It happens frequently. You read an article online, and it is reinforced by a news story on TV. Then someone sends you a YouTube video that focuses on a similar theme. Integrating these three elements produces a new insight or strengthens a perspective. Such is the power of confluence.
Recently, I read two provocative articles about the future of Christianity in the U.S. and the descriptive observations about the future viability of the United Methodist Church in the U.S. And a YouTube video sent to me by a relative added the catalytic element. When such examples of confluence occur, it is bound to produce food for thought.
Let's consider these elements individually and then combine the salient features they express to see what insights they generate for us.
In just a few minutes, one quickly gains clues about the shape-shifting influences happening in our world. While the presentation may seem cast in an apocalyptic mood, even if only one-half of the presentation is inarguably true, it challenges us to think about the world emerging before us.
Second, Peter L. Steinke writes:
"The loss of members, influence, and a sense of mission-the church's misfortune of the moment-resembles the experience of Israel's exile. The lesson of the present dislocation is clear, if still not learned. The era of Christendom is gone. No longer is culture subsidizing and supporting churches."
This comes as no surprise to many of our sisters and brothers in other areas of the world. It is, however, a change for many in the U.S. Steinke challenges the Christian Church:
"The process of thinking, testing, and exploring contains the lessons. Churches need to remember that no handbook is available on freelancing mission. Only by going out, being there, and seeing from a fresh angle will the process lead to learning. Discovering how to respond to shifts and changes is the learning. Self-confidence is a byproduct. But growth is in the struggle, the push, and the journey."
Finally, Tom Nees offered a post in his Leading to Serve blog asking the question, "Will Others Follow the Methodists?" In his essay he notes the conclusion drawn from their self-study that indicates a problem in leadership development. Put simply, the study concludes, in the words of Bob Smietana of The Tennessean, the United Methodist Church needs, "Better pastors. Healthier churches. Less bureaucracy."
Lost in all this is perhaps too strong a condemnation. However, it seems that we must balance the impact of this confluence with the introduction of something familiar yet sometimes just beyond our grasp. The ancient prophet Zechariah surely summed it up for our times as well: " 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord Almighty" (Zechariah 4:6). We need not fear the challenge of the future if we are anointed by the Spirit in the present.
David J. Felter is editor in chief of Holiness Today.
Steinke, Peter L., "There Once Was a World," (Alban Institute)
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2011