I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was about 14 years old when I experienced my first earthquake. It happened in Montreal, QC, an unlikely place, and it lasted just a few seconds. But that feeling that everything around you is shifting right before your eyes is unforgettable.
The same type of thing is happening as it relates to the church and the shifting culture around us. We've read about it, we've studied it, but now we are feeling it. Things are moving and changing, and yet where things will land when the shaking is over isn't quite clear yet.
I planted a church in Quebec which launched last fall and as I continue to serve as Lead Pastor, I wonder what it means to lead, teach, and pray in these changing times. The context of Quebec is a beautiful, messy place where, I believe, the future will start to appear. The same way muscles only grow in tension, my present milieu is ripe for new conversations concerning religious diversity, and opening up neo-secular spaces where people can listen to differing perspectives about faith and what it means to be human. Whether the church will have something meaningful to add to this conversation is still unclear. For too long, judgmental or authoritarian types of cultures have shaped Christian communities of faith that now find themselves in an unprecedented crisis. Sure, the church has always struggled to connect with a changing culture, but something much more complex is before us.
The future church landscape will require revisiting our leadership paradigms if we care about flourishing congregations. In fact, my experience in Quebec's secular and hyper-spiritual context continues to reveal that “flourishing” must entail both a vibrant and inspiring way of life that causes interest and intrigue. This way of life is formed by a renewed eschatology grounded in Scripture: new wineskins kind of stuff!
Novelist Robertson Davies wrote, "The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to an idealized past." For many leaders, the pressure in these changing times is encapsulated in this quote. If flourishing comes to mean looking back to a time in the distant past so as to minimize or avoid challenges, such challenges will only increase.
Having said that, flourishing cannot mean ignoring the past. The Christian faith is a historical one anchored in years of theological reflection and faithful obedience and this must not be lost. Yet, when the past becomes a type of idol, the essential path for flourishing communities is at stake.
For that reason, it cannot be overstated that today’s leaders must give clarity to what the future of flourishing churches will look like and help people to embrace the tension that will allow us to move towards that future. Without this we will be left with differing definitions of flourishing and an unbelieving world wondering when we'll get our act together.
Rev. Domenic Ruso, PhD
Founder and Lead Pastor of The One Eighty Church