Last month, I wrote about Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. In particular, I mused on the concept of cultural commute – having to operate in a cultural different than one’s own. As a millennial and as a Lutheran pastor, I find myself often operating in a Baby Boomer culture. And while this doesn’t compare to the struggle of making a language commute, an ethnic commute or even socio-economic class commute, making this generational commute is a struggle. And it is one of the reasons I think millennials find the church frustrating these days.
Since writing that last post, I have been wondering what would an ‘iPhone Church’ look like.
Part of me loves the idea of serving a church full of people who are social media addicts like me. Where the bulk of our community planning and organization could happen on our Facebook page. Where ‘Netflix Binge Night’ with discussion afterwards could be a legitimate study and fellowship activity. Where I could make reference to Grumpy Cat, Walter White, #ThanksObama, Donald Trump memes, Taylor Swift and Apple without explaining memes, hashtags, Ferguson, Netflix, Breaking Bad, Apple Music… basically without having to explain the internet.
But the more I think about the ‘iPhone Church’, simply replacing the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ references with Kanye West “Imma let you finish” references doesn’t really solve the issue of the cultural commute.
One the one hand, the Church absolutely needs to be culturally savvy more than ever before because our society is more up to date and inundated with the latest news than ever before.
Just a few weeks ago, the denomination I serve in – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) – worked hard to bring our denomination up to date on current issues facing our country and our congregations.
At the ELCIC’s National Convention, our church live streamed our gathering and many delegates were using social media to share the very relevant work we were doing:
- We addressed issues of right relationships with Indigenous Peoples by having a Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner present to us only months after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report with much national media attention.
- We adopted resolutions on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW), Climate Justice, Restorative Justice in the Canadian Corrections System
- We talked about decline and adapting to current cultural realities through constitutional and bylaw changes.
- And we embarked on an ambitious 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Challenge to: Sponsor 500 refugees to Canada, Provide 500 scholarships for Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land schools, Plant 500,000 trees, Give $500,000 to the Lutheran World Federation Endowment Fund
I have to admit, that at the end of the 4 Day convention, I was feeling like my church was working hard to address issues that are important to me and to my peers (most of whom are not church members but are very socially conscious).
So yes, on the one hand the church absolutely needs to be more culturally savvy and up to date.
On the other hand, ‘Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church’ really doesn’t fully express just how cultural commuting is inherent to the life of the church.
Really the tag line should be ‘Being an iPhone Pastor to Typewriter members of a Papyrus Church.’
The Church has always been demanding a cultural commute of its people.
500 years ago Martin Luther was a ‘Printing Press Reformer for a Hand Copied Books Church.’
2000 years ago Jesus was a ‘Papyrus Saviour for a Stone Tablet Temple Religion.’
As church people in the 21st century, we have to realize that the good news is constantly being transmitted to us through the cultures of our forebears. Our stories of faith are told in a book that represents a whole swath of Ancient Near Eastern culture and history spanning thousands of years. Our manner and symbols of worship come from Ancient Israelite roots into Roman customs and symbols adapted by medieval culture and readapted through enlightenment, reformation and modern eras.
Our sacred stories and histories have been constantly reframed by political and secular influences. The Church has been coopted by the rise and fall of empires.
The church has been dealing with cultural commutes for 2000 years… maybe longer.
So yes, it seems trivial that the fact that Boomer pop culture references makes it hard for this millennial pastor to sometimes feel understood and at home in the church. But our post-modern world is changing so rapidly with technology that generations living today are taking in the same amount of information in a day that most people would not have access to in a lifetime even just 100 years ago.
The effect, I think, is as significant on church as the Roman Empire coopting the church for its imperial bureaucracy, as significant as printing presses making bibles and other writings widely available, as significant as scientific and scholarly advancements challenging the way people of faith understand the world and their history.
The good news is that the church will survive. It might become an iPhone Church for a while, it might then become something else. But the church knows how to survive cultural commutes.
The challenge is that knowing that the church will adapt. The challenge is knowing that we have to adapt. Boomers will have to speak Millennial. Millennials will have to speak Boomer. Gen Xers, Silent, Builders, Boomers, Millennials, Generation Z, we all have to learn to speak to each other, just as we speak with Ancient Near Easterners, with Medieval Christians, with Reformers, with moderns and more.
As an iPhone pastor, finding an iPhone church won’t really solve my issues of cultural commutes. It will just change my role and experience in the problem. Some version of Typewriter churches and iPhone pastors will always exist. The real issue will be to recognize the ways in which the dominant cultures that exist in our churches keep us from connecting with people from outside of our own experience.
And in the same way that we work to understand the cultures and speak the languages of the bible, of the ancient church, of the reformation and of our forebears in faith, we will need to work to understand the culture and speak the language of a rapidly changing world and the variety of people that make up our church communities and congregations.
Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church requires a cultural commute… but that is simply being a pastor and being the church.