Monday, April 29, 2013
The Parish is Perishing (PART IV)
The Parish: A Spider in Disguise
Because St. Louis is predominately made up of Catholic and mainline churches built in parish-style fashion over 100 years ago, the way of the typical St. Louis parish was to attract and serve its surrounding community (consisting of several blocks or miles). They served the influx of German, Irish, and Scandinavian immigrants that were calling St. Louis home. The churches simply built their parish and the community attended. This went on for years. The members came to hear from the Priest or Pastor, and understood that he was the spiritual authority of their given Parish. This mentality of outsourcing their faith experience meshed within Modernism.
This Modernist-Outsourcing mentality fully embodies itself within St. Louis by what Shenk names in his lecture, “The Long Shadow of Christendom,” as: the common belonging, belief, and behavior paradigm, as it puts the onus on the shoulders of the paid professionals and spiritual elites (Shenk 2011, lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary). Over time, the paid professional’s faith became the faith of its congregants. The highly traditional styles, preference, and liturgical setting of the early 1900’s, which was determined by the paid professional, now was the future setting of the community. Likewise, the kids programs, education, and discipleship that worked in the early 1900’s became the standard for the future of the St. Louis church.
The Pastor and Priest as the Spider’s Head
Shenk discusses the common belonging was that of the paid professional’s dictation. The pastor determined the leadership model, the initiation of citizen to members, and the overall size of the congregation (Shenk 2011, lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary). He would control all methods and models that worked with or, conversely, threatened his understanding of what “church” should look like.
Shenk argues that the common belief determined what was to be believed of all things – civil, state, and religious. The notion of a common belief created a rudimentary approach to what was understood – that we all knew it to be true (Shenk 2011, lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary). Because churches in St. Louis had placed this role of determining these sets of rudimentary knowledge on the paid professionals, it is now up to them to define the belief of all of it’s congregants, and also to protect it, by calling whatever belief’s that threaten his rudimentary belief as heresy.
Shenk also argues that a common belief deems what is both appropriate and enforced. The church can act much like a civil court when disciplining behavior (Shenk 2011, lecture at Fuller Theological Seminary). When the Catholic and mainline churches decided to outsource its local influence to the paid professionals, the Priest and Pastor is now the chief enforcer for all things behavioral.
In The Starfish and the Spider, entrepreneurs Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom show how traditional organizations, which have rigid hierarchy and top-down organizational structures, are fading in the new post-modern world. They analyze a number of organizations and corporations that have resisted changing into more “starfish,” or networks-based and user-generated structures, and find that the traditional model is ending and is no longer efficient. Just like the spider, once the head is removed from the body, the organism perishes (Beckstrom and Brafman 2006, 6-74). So it goes with the traditionally structured church. When the paid professionals no longer are in congruence with their communities, the belief, behavior, and belonging also dies. This is the diagnosis of the typical church in St. Louis.