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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
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

What follows is a brief synthesis of the book, along with implications for ministry in a
global 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

  Plantinga, Dancing the Edge of Mystery, B&C, Sep/Oct 99, 17
  TWIF, 159
  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

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
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.

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

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

  In India, 54% of the 555 million are under 25, seen today as a country of brainy people and computer
wizards (459)
  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

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.

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.

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
    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.

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.

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.

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