MINISTRY STRATEGIES IN A “FLAT WORLD” John E. Johnson Part of our responsibility as Christian leaders is to be keenly aware of our cultural context. The life of the church is inseparable from the world around it. The world is changing—the church must also change—SO LONG AS IT IS RESPONSIBLE CHANGE. When we don’t, we distance ourselves from the world we are trying to reach. We must step boldly into the present, for if we do, we might have a chance of creating the future. This means paying attention to movements, voices that speak to them, writings that impact policies, shape thinking, and sorting out the implications for ministry. A contemporary example is a book written by Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs writer for the New York Times. The title is The World is Flat, and its main focus is the impact of globalization. What follows is a brief synthesis of the book, along with implications for ministry in a global context. 1-A FLAT WORLD SEES BEYOND ITS IMMEDIATE CULTURAL CONTEXT Friedman sees three critical “flattening” movements over the course of history, movements that have broken down traditional barriers: -the first took place in 1492-COUNTRIES GLOBALIZED-Columbus discovered the new world—and the world went from large to medium -the second took place in 1800-CORPORATIONS GLOBALIZED-and with the emergence of multinational companies and a global economy-the world went from medium to small -the third movement occurred in about 2000-INDIVIDUALS GLOBALIZED- technology has made it possible for individuals to access any information they need (whole libraries are moving on to Google)-the world went from small to tiny We now have the technology to speak to the planet. What was once closed access is now internet access. We are glocalizing-absorbing the best practices from each other, moving beyond our cultural context. IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY A world with reduced barriers means— 1-that we become more strategic, collaborative, forming global communities that synchronize purpose, vision, and values so that ministry might be effective—for now we have the capacity to interact immediately with most everyone. The world is now just a click away, allowing us to become more interdependent, collaborating together on how to advance God’s kingdom—do worship, preach relevantly, reach the lost—sharing ideas, research, practices in ministry on a regular basis. In an article in the Monday NY Times (Missed Church? Download it to Your IPod), we now have the capability to download services on our IPods, making it possible for churches to have their own radio show, heard on every continent. Some believe podcasting (Godcasting) will have an effect on the church as profound as the printing press. The point in all of this is that much of the ministry of tomorrow will belong to the collaborators of today. 2-the rise of globalism has led to more and more cultures coming to study, settle in our midst. The church must take advantage of the cross cultural ministry in front of us. Missions today is about going—and staying—becoming intentional with the cultures next door. 2-A FLAT WORLD SEES BIG AS GOOD Forces are joining together to make for ever expanding multinational corporations, global forces are synchronizing in order to take advantage of each other’s strengths, all leading to greater dependency and greater efficiency. We now live in a “shared universe”, where the Wal-Marts of the world can come in, and, because of their size, offer a vast diversity of goods and services at the best prices. IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY 1-In a global world, a world of supply chains, of innovations, of bigness, of choices, the church must be prepared to relate to those who will bring a similar expectation into the church—who will want to see their church as a place that honors creativity and diversity, that dreams boldly, and that aspires to do ministry with excellence, that is intentional about using mass and focused energy to create incredible momentum. Doing this, while biblically addressing the real issues of materialism, and false assumptions of success, is and will be a huge challenge 2-On the other hand, the church must also be prepared to minister to those who have reacted, who see small as good, big as not so good—reacting to that which is large, corporate, and often impersonal. We also live in a postmodern world, where a generation longs for community, authenticity, and is cynical towards commercialism, consumerism. The key in a changing world is to let God grow His church, stay fixed on being intentional, visionary, focused—and aim to make the church smaller (more personal) as God makes it bigger. 3-A FLAT WORLD ADJUSTS TO DIFFERENT LEARNING In a world that is digital, mobile, virtual, search engines—learning is changing. The world is becoming less vertical down, hierarchical. Searching for information on the web is the antithesis of being told. It is the ultimate expression of the individual. IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY 1-Our teaching will have to change to what it should be in the first place—a facilitation of learning. There will have to be a shift from simply telling people what to know, what to believe—to empowering them to learn, think. More than a dissemination of ideas—we will have to show a greater respect for the hearer. And this will demand more thinking— to engage is to take risks, is to open up the environment for questions. Will we be ready? 2-Our preaching will have to become more dialogical if we hope to engage the next generation. Otherwise, sermons may feel like “another piece of heavy weather that children have to endure”1 Given the world of today, people will become quickly bored if they are not involved—if they are subjected to purely a monologue experience. And yet, we will have to know the lines—where preaching no longer becomes preaching, and becomes something else. 3-Given the technology of today, people are becoming more and more image driven. They are increasingly trained to experience, feel, react. We will have to continually think through our methodology. 4-A FLAT WORLD WILL DEMAND MORE INTEGRITY It will be harder to hide in a flat world. There are less barriers to take cover behind. Mistakes will be found out, often immediately. In the world of Google, your reputation will follow you. Type in a name, and you will find out more than you realized. Friedman quotes from one executive, who describes Google this way--“Google is like God. God is wireless. God is everywhere, and God sees everything. Any questions in the world, you ask Google”2 IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY-Our world has always demanded integrity. Whether we hide from each other, whether we fool each other, does not matter so much. God sees far more than Google, and unlike Google, He understands. Unlike Google, He does not wait for us to enlist Him into service. In a postmodern generation that places a high value on authenticity, and in a flat world that is eliminating the rocks we can hide under, or behind to mask our reputation, it will be that much more important that everything we do is done with integrity. The church is out there for all to see—as it has never been seen by the world. And that includes our lives. 5-A FLAT WORLD WILL HAVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE AT THE CONTROLS Friedman sees a changing world. There are voices that influence from the West—the Bill Gates’ and the Michael Dells’. But there are even more important voices emerging, Indian voices like Nandan Nilekani of Infosys, and Viver Paul of Wipro. In other words, the world is increasingly driven by those other than Americans and Europeans. There is no guarantee that those in the West will be driving tomorrow’s car into the future3. The 1 Plantinga, Dancing the Edge of Mystery, B&C, Sep/Oct 99, 17 2 TWIF, 159 3 Friedman puts it this way—if the regions of the world were like the neighborhoods of a city-Western Europe would be an assisted living facility, with an aging population attended to by Turkish nurses. The US would be a gated community with a metal detector at the gate, though allowing immigrants to do their work, while Latin America would be the fun part of the town, the Arab street would be a dark alley where outsiders fear to come, and India and China and the Far East would be the other side of the tracks, a big teeming market where everyone is working to get to the other side, and Africa is that part of the town where the businesses are boarded up, and life expectancy is declining (316-17) world of tomorrow may be driven by Indians or Chinese—what some refer to as zippies (young city residents, zip in stride)4 IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY— 1-the church of the future may be driven more by what is happening in theological education in Asia and other regions of the world other than in the US or Europe, as more and more scholars emerge, and more and more seminaries rise up and do serious scholarship. 2-the church of tomorrow may be shaped more by what churches are doing in regions where the Spirit is obviously at work, moving in churches that are intentional and determined to be a movement—not an institution preserving the past. Whatever, it will look more and more international and less and less Western. 3-the influencers of tomorrow will belong to the passionate, the inquiring, those who easily adapt to change. The church must be ready. The question is this—will we aim to reach these “zippies”, whose energy and drive should be tapped into, or will we see them as a threat? They will require a sophisticated church that demands excellence, relevance, creativity, vision, and risk-taking--while at the same time being wholly committed to the essentials of Biblical truth. 6-A FLAT WORLD MAY LOSE SOME IMPORTANT THINGS In a flattened, frictionless world, there is the real potential for things to get lost. Friedman admits to this. Where things flatten, the distinctions of culture flatten. What is distinctively Austrian or Indian might tomorrow be lost to a global community filled with MacDonald’s arches and ABN-AMRO banks and Wal-Marts. In a flattened world, the world can become less personal, less a village, less a world filled with human touch. Family bonds will be disrupted as kids go after high-tech jobs. Call centers demand hours that turn a family rhythm upside down. Yes, it is cheaper to have computers talk to us, or speak to call centers where the person helping us speaks our language, even our accent, though is 10,000 miles away.5 But we lose something in the process—contact with real people, with our neighbor. And this can only create greater friction. There is a growing reaction, a drive to reinforce what has been lost—insurgent movements that are calling for tribal resurgence, autonomy and independence. IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY-The church has the God-given mandate to love one another. The need to carry out this mandate will grow in a flattened world. There will be a more noticeable void in peoples’ lives, a need to provide a deep sense of the personal. Pastoral ministry of care will become even more necessary. It may be cheaper to have a computer dispense a phone number, but it will only bring greater frustration, alienation. Will the church be ready to counter this with a voice that is personal, that points people to 4 In India, 54% of the 555 million are under 25, seen today as a country of brainy people and computer wizards (459) 5 All of this in a quest to be more lean, but as Friedman notes—there is a place for some fat. Fat is what gives the flavor to the meat, fat is what keeps us warm (219-20) a personal God—that says—I care? The church will have to be the friction that the flattened world tends to flatten out. In the process, it might be what attracts the world to Jesus. 7-A FLAT WORLD WILL HAVE A HEIGHTENED EXPECTATION FOR EXCELLENCE The competition between different peoples is becoming more intense. Education is no longer viewed as a past preparation for a singular profession. In a global, shifting, hyper- culture, education never stops. More and more, people will spend their lives in multiple professions. Lifetime employability will require constant personal growth—less fat, more muscle. And the expectation will be for excellence. In a flat world, mediocre will not make it IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY-The church that attracts tomorrow’s global community will have do things with excellence. It will have to be a place maintaining a “radical minimum standard”.6 That means being a place where every believer has the hope of experiencing the fullness of the life for which Jesus died, where believers can find transformation, where prayer is done in such a way history changes, all in a context where worship is done with careful preparation, the preaching comes out of diligent and faithful study. It will refuse to drift into status quo, for it too will see life as one of life- long learning, its leaders committed to maintaining excellence in all they do. 8-A FLAT WORLD WILL SEE THE WEAK GET FURTHER AND FURTHER BEHIND Globalism is not necessarily a bright new world. As it levels some inequalities, it creates others. As it becomes more flat, it is also becoming less flat. Friedman admits that in a world where the new will become old much faster, and the train gains increased momentum, it will be harder to get on. The flattening of the world will bring a certain amount of disruption. The traditional will feel the force of modernization—the gap between the developed and the undeveloped will widen. Those already behind will get further behind, becoming the true untouchables. IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY- 1-the church will have an even greater responsibility and challenge to reach the poor, the hurting, the left behind. Those left behind will see gloom and despair and darkness. The only thing that may shine for them is the church. 2-ministry will have to be ready for those increasingly alienated—not to give hand-outs, but to help people find solutions, restore hope, help people find their calling from God and enable them to do it. 3-the church will have to be the voice of the dispossessed—the factory workers and street vendors who see the reality of a world growing in hunger, poverty, and disease. 4-the church will also need to intentionally become a voice within corporate capitalism, bringing a moral conscience to it, steering it to narrow rather than widen the gap. And 6 McManus, 200ff some times it will have to speak out against mass consumption and the lies associated with a world view that says happiness is found in wealth. 9-A FLAT WORLD WILL REQUIRE MORE AND MORE LEADERSHIP A global community has a lot going for it, but one of the missing pieces is leadership. Who controls this global community? Who has the authority to control this cyber realm? The flatter the world becomes, the more a system of global governance will be required, that keeps up with the legal and illegal forms of collaboration, ownership of software, internet regulations, etc. IMPLICATION FOR MINISTRY- 1-while globalization can spur human advance, the church will have to speak to the issue of human retreat. Voices like Friedman espouse a world view that is reductionistic, that measures success in economic terms, technological advances. In reality, the future of the world rests upon the state of the soul, not the state of the economy. 2-the church will have to be vigilant--pay close attention to what direction the world is going, what standards it wishes to impose on all. In a world that increasingly requires a one world kind of governance, it will demand stricter controls, uniform systems. This could lead to reduced freedoms. Is the world becoming more and more a Tower of Babel, inviting God’s judgment, or a world defined in Revelation as a one world system led by an Antichrist? The worst thing the church can do is put up its walls and wait for the flood. 3-the church will have to be opportunistic This is a day to take advantage of technology—along with the ever increasing human need for relationships, for something of the Spirit—and go out and engage. It could be the precursor to the anti-Christ—it can also be a time for ministry at levels never before accomplished.