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Pastor challenges churches to be transforming agents

Scott Lovaas, interim lead minister at Community Congregational UCC in Pullman, shared insights on paradigm shifts for churches for the 21st century during an Annual Meeting 2016 workshop.

Scott Lovaas reflects on role of churches in 21st century.

Since the 1970s, mainline churches began declining with the UCC losing more than 48 percent of its members since 1974 while the U.S. population has increased 49 percent.

Parallel to it has been the rise of neoliberal economic policies as “the new dominant religion” with a clear doctrine on good vs. bad, spread by evangelical missionaries.  They espouse individualism, strong defense, family values, supply-side economics and anti-big government policies.

Scott said these changes have moved the Christian church into “its ninth iteration since its birth,” so he says Church 9.0 has three tasks: promoting intellectual and spiritual independence in community, developing local outreach and articulating new narratives through arts and storytelling.

Five components of neoliberal economic policies are deregulation to limit government power to regulate trade; privatization of state enterprises such as schools and prisons claiming the private sector is more efficient; reducing taxes on the wealthy in particular; eliminating trade barriers and reducing the size of labor unions, and financial liberalization opening currencies, trade and property ownership to foreign countries.

“These policies permeate every sector of society, but bring wealth and growth to just a small segment of society,” Scott pointed out.  “Inequality grows in job loss, wage stagnation and debt.”

Scott said that in churches neo-liberalism cherishes individualism over community, moving “us from a ‘we’ society to a ‘me’ society,” blinding “us to what we have in common.”

The result is the decline in churches and service groups.

In the 1990s, the new religious ideology accelerated with the market as the measure of self worth leading to life being a commodity and compassion, social responsibility and mutual obligations being antiquated.

“The hyper-individualism set off massive consumer consumption and waste,” he said. “Wealth and political power became concentrated at the top.

“People can work at Walmart and not make enough to live on,” he said.  “Americans compete for wages with people who can live on less around the world. 

People are “atomized,” each living in their own space and home, not gathering to talk about war and peace.

In Seattle’s tech boom of the 1970s, Scott said churches operated in a collective sphere. Then neo-liberalism began destroying companies that provided high wages, eliminated jobs, and destroying towns, universities, institutions and media.

The culture of violence has increased with more violent movies and TV, deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, suicides, more military spending, police violence and ending pensions.

“Violence is the elephant in the room no one wants to address,” he said. “America has always been violent with genocide of native people, slavery, attacks on labor, attacks on protestors, mass incarceration, video games, domestic violence and structural violence.

“How is the Church 9.0 responding to the changing landscape as wealth is increasingly concentrated?” Scott asks.

Some have adopted the language of individualism, so people go to church “to work on themselves” and churches follow technology changes.

Scott said for the church to help people do more than adapt and survive, it needs new tools, ideas and alternative voices.

“Professional clergy need to do more than just hold onto their jobs, he said, noting that “the rate of change is so rapid the church may be stuck by the side of the road.”

Scott lived in Colorado Springs early in the economic crisis when people stopped giving to institutions.  A community center near the church closed.

“To address the community center’s closing, I developed a broad-based partnership model that raised $800,000 from civic and business groups.  The church I was serving provided $30,000.  It was a great return on our investment in the community,” he said. 

“Churches used to be about transformation.  Now many are concerned about survival and maintenance,” said Scott calling for new models so churches can reinvent their polity, mission, language and leadership.

Given the gap between what media report and reality, he said faith communities need to speak “a language of truth, authenticity and hope” to convey the failures of neo-liberalism and communicate how to build something new.

He suggests that faith communities create new stories and narratives through art, because artists “see things others cannot and often see things before others.” Art and storytelling expose undercurrents that allow a shift in social consciousness. 

“Radio and print remain excellent low-cost media for articulating new narratives,” Scott said. “Authentic moral voices have the capacity to build relationships of mutual trust and understanding, and build social transformation.

He urges faith communities to start neighborhood programs that change lives, using member donations as accelerators, and multipliers of their limited resources to transform lives and the community.

“The church’s time has come to step forward once again to set a new agenda for this new era.”

Scott, executive director of Seven Bridges Institute, served seven churches and was a missionary in South Africa.  He also worked in mental health.

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Copyright © June 2016 Pacific NW UCC News


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