There are five crises facing Americans today, according to a California author and seminary professor.
“The church as we know it is calibrated for a world that no longer exists,” said Scott Cormode, Hugh De Pree professor of leadership development at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. “We need to change, but sometimes we don’t want to change.”
Cormode was guest presenter at an Oct. 9 “Innovative Church” seminar sponsored by the Center for Congregational Resources of Samford University in Birmingham. He recently published a book of the same name.
“We have five crises today,” Cormode asserted. “These are medical, economic, political, racial and educational. It’s like enjoying riding the waves in the ocean, but all of a sudden a big wave comes crashing down on us. We’re facing things today that surprise us.”
A number of changes have impacted churches in recent years, Cormode noted, including the invention of the smartphone in 2007, the economic downturn in 2008, the election of 2016 and COVID-19 in 2020.
“Accordingly, we don’t change the gospel, but we must change the way we talk about it,” he said.
World of change
Cormode said it’s often the case that churches in a world of change look back to plans and programs that worked in the past, sometimes with faulty recollection. And often church leaders look to instigate new and bigger programs with great fanfare.
“I encourage church leaders not to fall prey to the temptation to jump into the latest programs immediately,” Cormode said, “but have what restaurants call a ‘soft opening.’ That way we can make our rookie mistakes and work them out and then have a better ministry when this is done.”
He noted soft openings are not giant steps, but “the next faithful step,” adding that many are tired and fearful due to the pandemic.
“We can’t scold people for their fears; we must try to understand and listen to them.”
Church leaders should teach people the language of lament, Cormode said, especially in these days of pandemic, since lament can bring spiritual cleansing.
“Forty to 50% of the psalms are laments,” he noted. “These are the psalms we usually don’t read in church. But we’re exhorted to ‘weep with those who weep,’ so laments help us vocalize our feelings to God. He invites us to do this as part of the grief process.”
Cormode said his favorite is Psalm 139.
“This is a majestic psalm declaring God knows all about us, and that we can never be away from His presence,” Cormodee told the audience. “But in the middle of the psalm the writer tells about hating his enemies and wanting God to kill them. Then he concludes with the familiar words, ‘Search me and know my heart … and see if there is any wicked way in me.’
“So in effect, David said, ‘This is how I feel, God, and if this is wrong, help me.’ This is a great model for us.”
Cormode said encouraging people to be honest in their prayers is a good step, reminding them that God cares.
“The laments are a complaint God invites,” Cormode said. “The lament is from a heart of faith. We believe He engages in our lives, though sometimes we may not see it clearly.”
Wise leaders model the heavenly Father’s approach by listening to others, Cormode continued.
“Leadership begins with listening. People are entrusted to our care, and we must assure them we hear them.
“Listening transforms, and we must develop empathy for others,” Cormode explained. “We listen for their losses and longings. Rather than responding with, ‘Yeah, but … ’ we ought to respond with, ‘Tell me more.’ We listen with grace and without judgment.”
He suggested questions to ask of church leaders: “Who have you listened to this week?” and “What did you hear?” or “Who will you listen to this week?”
Another positive step the church can make today, Cormode suggested, is to reinterpret and encourage Christian practices such as prayer, sabbath-keeping and hospitality.
“We’ve talked about being honest in prayer,” he said. “A proper Sabbath means we have a healthy rhythm of labor and rest. Of course this has been disrupted during COVID. And hospitality means we treat outsiders like insiders. It’s just the opposite of saying, ‘Come in if you want to be like us.’
“Jesus taught in the parable of the unjust steward that we who have received the master’s grace must live his grace.”
For more information visit samford.edu/congregational-resources or contact Cormode at firstname.lastname@example.org.