Part of my summer reading has included this book by Gil Rendle.
It's a full and rich read. The first three chapters review much of what many readers of this blog already know. It outlines the last forty years of the mainline protestant church in the US. That early section concludes with a report on a 2000 study funded by AAL for the Lutheran Churches in North America. It found that many of the various programs of the previous 25 years had little impact on congregational growth and vitality. But, what it did find, and this book then spends the remaining 65% exploring, is that the congregations that had their own clear sense of identity and purpose were the ones that were healthy and vital communities of Jesus.
Rendle also spells out the challenge of helping established congregations and denominations discover and claim their sense of identity and purpose.
Where the book really gets helpful is in chapter four and following. For the first time, someone has outlined the dilema of change and continuity. Gil's writing style is clear and thorough, albeit a bit too thorough at times. (Is there a Cliff Notes version available?)
Much of what he articulates, we are already engaged here in the New England Synod, chiefly around the theme of experimentation and finding our way as we stumble forward. He centers his works around congregations needing to go deep into these questions:
Who are we?
What is God calling us to do, and not do?
Who are our neighbors?
Yet, he is clear that this is not about developing mission statements. No, Gil Rendle wants us to go deep into these questions, and explore them in the context of being a Wilderness people. Indeed, we are like the people of the Exodus. Some of us want to back to Egypt where the good old days can be found. But, as TOm Wolfe wrote, 'you can never go back home'.
My sense is that this is a book, primarily for pastors and denominationally leaders, though I do believe some lay leaders who are especially motivated would find this helpful as well. I plan to use it in my thinking and conversations with staff, synod leaders and fellow bishops.
"Stumbling is moving ahead faster."
For those of you who prefer to watch a video of Gil's presentation, Part one of a two part lecture is below. You can then find part two if you wish by searching Vimeo.