“When we categorize,” writes Bob Johansen, “we contain our thinking and stop exploring alternative views of what’s really going on. We divide ourselves into echo chambers where we only hear voices with which we already agree” (Full Spectrum Thinking, 24).
Bob Johansen describes full spectrum thinking as the ability to see familiar situations in unfamiliar ways. It looks beyond the binary modes of categories and boxes and, rather, seeks to examine, explore and envision what is possible when we set those categories and boxes aside.
The challenge, as Johansen notes, is that we prefer certainty. We like neat and tidy categories. They help us think quickly and make judgments on the fly. Sometimes this is necessary, as when we see a bear crossing our path. We need to be able to respond quickly if we are not to get eaten. However, when it comes to human interactions and how we ordinarily move about the world on a day to day basis, labels and categories are often a hindrance to where we want to go or who we want to be.
For instance, it has become clear to most every church and church leader that the once very successful Christian formation offering known as “Sunday School” is dying or is already dead. It has died off in St. Michael’s, for instance. Now, we could work very hard to recruit teachers and children to re-establish Sunday School, but this would likely end with our becoming discouraged and exhausted. The cultural of learning has shifted, and what parents want for their children has shifted.
Some people blame sports for this. I think they’re wrong. It’s too easy a response. It has been and will always be that parents and children will make time and room for what matters. At the same time, just because Sunday School lacks the same resonance it had when I was a child doesn’t mean that parents today do not care about their children learning the faith. Actually, many families seem to be more interested, they’re simply looking for different ways of growing spiritually. They’re looking for habits and patterns that infuse their family’s day to day life with a sense of spiritual vibrance.
It is no secret that churches throughout the world, and especially churches in America, are in decline. More churches will close in America this year than will open, a dynamic that has been shifting for the past two decades. It would be convenient to say that it’s because of COVID. However, COVID has only made visible what’s been hidden from our eye for far too long, and that is this: our old ways of being Church have to change. How we teach, learn, give, pray, communicate, baptize, marry and bury must change.
What about these need to change? Well, that is yet to be determined. Full spectrum thinking, says Johansen—thinking without boxes, is about being clear where we are headed and being flexible about how we get there.
We have gained a great deal of clarity in St. Michael’s over the past several years, and we have a clear sense of direction and vision: we are becoming what we receive, the Body of Christ. And, we’ve made adjustments to how we’re becoming the Body of Christ that nourishes the people and communities where we live and pray. More adjustments will have to be made, and we will continue to be transparent about these adjustments.
Here’s what we know now: giving has increased in St. Michael’s and our numbers have grown. We are not a church in decline. Our investments have multiplied, including our real estate holdings, there’s money in the bank, and we have money committed for renovating the Parish Hall. Yet money, contrary to popular opinion, has never been our issue, even though pledge income was only two-thirds ten years ago what it is today. As we have refocused our attention on Christ and the purposes of God for us in Geneseo, we have grown together as a family, opening ourselves to better conversations, and giving and receiving care from each other. Money in the bank is merely a witness to our transformation in Christ and the trust people have gained in our commitment to mission and ministry in our church.
So, do not fear “change.” You’ve been changing your whole life. It is a matter of how we will change, not so that St. Michael’s will survive, but so that we all experience the fullness of life as the Body of Christ today. And if we are experiencing this life and living into our purpose in Christ, the future will be filled with the promise of the Gospel.
“I gazed upon the lovely face of Christ,” says Charles Williams, “and the dove of peace alighted on me. I gazed upon the dove of peace and it flew away.” Let us not mistake the dove of peace for Christ who makes peace descend upon us. Rather, let us seek the Kingdom with clarity, remaining ever open to the transformation God desires to work in us.