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Our Changing Spirituality…
In A Post-Industrial Age

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 107 

 
Perhaps one of the reasons for changed spirituality heightened is the increased pace of change. Since World War II, western industrial society has gone through so much change of technology and culture that it has triggered a epochal change in spirituality as well.
 
Illness And Spiritual Transformation
 
No longer are the generations primarily concerned with having children die at an early age of appendicitis, pneumonia, typhoid, and other largely eradicated diseases. No longer are heart attacks necessarily immediately fatal. No longer is cancer the unbeatable harbinger of death it once was. More and more options are developed almost daily giving people second, third and fourth chances to deal with various formerly terminal medical difficulties. Sometimes such treatments result in total remission or healing.
 
The results? People don’t have to look death straight into the eye as they used to. Now they feel they can delay death…and prepare for it. And, when it comes, it can be escaped virtually painlessly if they so choose. Indeed, the spiritual shift may be characterized by an insidious denial of death accompanied by, what Scott Peck termed in his book of the same title, "Denial of the Soul."
 
No longer is it commonplace to have large families in which at least one sibling died before maturity. No longer is it rare to have the elderly enjoy longevity which creates what sociologists call "The Third Generation", i.e. a whole new generation of elderly who lived well beyond their 50s and early 60’s so typical just a few decades ago.
 
War And Spiritual Transformation
 
Another factor in this spiritual transformation is the transformation of war. With the advent of modern "surgical strike" warfare, ordinary civilians and their families are much less affected by the horrors of war directly or indirectly.
 
Indeed, western society is on the brink of nearly forgetting the horrors of war. As veterans of these major, global conflict die, the memory of the great honor and sacrifice of these war heroes of times past unfortunately also fades. And so does their witness of faith, their meditative recounting of horror, grief and tribulation, and their unshakable trust in a God whose power and love is so great as to wrest the world from the hands of tyrannical dictators and untold horrors.
 
It took a special kind of faith to patiently endure the pains of war. It took a faith which meditated, reflected and sought a quiet refuge for the soul in the presence of God.
 
The Resulting Spiritual Transformation
 
All these blessings of God have produced a remarkable transition in spirituality unprecedented in recent decades…or longer. The change has gone from a corporate faith centered in a unified meditation on God’s goodness and God’s direction in times of suffering, uncertainty and death—so desperately needed in the previous era—to a spirituality which emphasizes a personal spirituality to touch the lonely, disconnected "soul" plagued by divorce, rejection, family dysfunction, corporate isolation and a generally urban-based society.
 
"Burned" by a world which offers nothing but disconnected-ness and rejection, individuals have turned within themselves to find the right "chicken soup" to satisfy the existential barrenness of the human experience.
 
Addressing The New Spirituality
 
How do people address this vast T.S. Eliot-ian "wasteland" within their souls?
 
Not by using an industrial or pre-industrial spirituality. Instead, they seek individual—not corporate—encounters with God. Instead of asking God to come to them in a more passive manner, our more modern post-industrial spirituality aggressively looks for spiritual truth, aggressively runs toward God and releases itself in spontaneous bursts of joy and praise to a God who so real, so present, so imminent, that they can almost touch Him.
 
Such spontaneous praise may or may not be in the context of a church. In fact, in more than some cases, churches hinder, restrict or prohibit such expressions. Indeed, it’s often a cause of conflict for many, many reasons including the fact that spontaneous praise, by its nature, defies corporate, pre-planned, and programmed paradigms of worship created by an insensitive, out of touch religious bureaucracy.
 
A Spirituality Without Spiritual Symbols
 
Another spiritual transformation is a change from the emphasis on the permanent practice of God’s presence in one’s life to a more "When I need it I’ll look for it" mentality. One of the most telling aspects of this is the marked lacking of religious Christian symbolism in the post-industrial age Christian home.
 
Crosses, pictures of Jesus and saints, church calendars, family altars, devotional booklets, Bibles, etc. are generally less likely to be found in Christian homes. Formerly considered by many to be essential reminders and visual "coping mechanisms" to maintain a lifestyle of meditation with God, such symbolic underpinnings of the a passing spirituality are, unfortunately, less prevalent.
 
Spiritual Shifts In The Churches
 
Some modern churches, following the tastes of their members, have also incorporated this spiritual transformation away from the meditative aspects of Christianity toward a more contemporary manifestation. Instead of stained glass, churches have clear glass. Instead of high ceilings, they have been made lower. After all, it’s more "practical." Long, narrow church naves emphasizing the transcendent power and the magisterial distance of God now put God in the center of an auditorium for all to see, touch, praise, feel and experience.
 
Spiritual Shift In Ecclesiastical And Pastoral Authority
 
The pastoral office has also not been without its related spiritual transformations as well. Leaders, once respected and obediently followed in the pre-industrial and early industrial age, could command obedience of workers on assembly lines, in fields, in sweatshops, and other hostile occupational environments for hours far beyond the contemporary forty hour work week. After all, they had authority. No one could stop them. After all, who had the right to?
 
The influence of the labor movements, especially that of unions—and the more recent evolution of work-teams—authoritarian hierarchies have remarkably transformed an historically authoritarian, autocratic corporate world into a leaner, less bureaucratic organization.
 
Management and hourly workers are not so strictly defined and valued by obedience so much as by their valued participation on management teams on which all are, in theory at least, are to be viewed not as members of a hierarchical pecking order, but as equals. Especially in an environment where workers may have as much—or more—education as their superiors, it is no wonder that authority has taken a beating.
 
Spiritual Entitlement
 
Government regulations also have given workers special rights including the right to redress grievances with supervision. In a litigious environment, corporate executives and leaders of all societal organizations and entities now have to live with the reality that the organization they lead today could be drawn into the uncertainty of bankruptcy by one capricious law suit. Any body at any time for any reason can threaten authority at any time.
 
What's the net result?
 
Authority no longer rules unconditionally and autocratically as is once did. Does this affect spirituality? Does it affect society’s view of God and His authority? No doubt it does…absolutely!!!
 
It is a different, spiritual world. It really is!
 
Transformation And The "Third Generation"
 
When individual spirituality, corporate spirituality and spiritual authority are transformed, the result is sure to be dramatic change…and conflict. Of the above factors that make this transformation so conflict-engendering, perhaps the greatest is the "Third Generation" dynamic described above.
 
Hardly a generation ago, there was no major block of senior "Third Generation" church members—or societal groups –large enough to effect power, exert influence, or block and oppose changes proposed by younger generations.
 
In a society dominated by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), countless political lobbyists championing their cause, and giving preferential treatment to senior citizens in the form of senior citizen discounts, et al., this relatively new power block will also wield influence in the church as they do in society.
 
Their power, coupled with higher expectations of societies response to their needs, preferences, and demands, give presence to a conflict dynamic never experienced in an bygone age which knew of—and largely ignored the voice of—the "Third Generation."
 
Observations
 
In what ways may this change of spirituality affect congregational ministry and pastoral practice?
  1. The church is at a cultural cross-roads. Decisions as to whether—or how—to change or not to change dominate the agenda of churches.
  2. Decisions, especially in churches with a large representation of "Third Generation" will likely experience greater overt or covert conflict relative to all church-related issues in organizational structure, educational content, worship style, doctrinal substance, and pastoral authority to name a few. In many cases, those from a pre-industrial/industrial era will wrestle uncomfortably with the changes in the church.
  3. Pastoral authority will likely continue to follow the path of authority in society. Increasingly the ministry will be one of influence not mandate, team-directed not self-directed, democratic not autocratic.
  4. The change in spirituality is likely here to stay for the foreseeable future. "Normal" cultural dynamics will not and appear not to be poised to change or stifle the current individual searching sort of spirituality so prevalent. "Chicken Soup"--not Scripture--may become the major source of food for the soul.
  5. The spiritual transformation, already well on its way, has already affected the nature and focus of pastoral ministry in a post-industrial age. Whereas pastors in past times could minister to others on the basis of a commonly shared corporate representations and symbols of Christianity, post-industrial spirituality is virtually all but devoid of such meaningful incorporation of these symbols.

    To minister to such people may require either a) a re-orientation of the moorings of their spirituality by the pastor and congregation through various means of education and communication and/or b) the individual’s Spirit-induced spiritual transformation which may help them see their post-industrial spirituality may lack the substance and meditative depth of prior generations.
  6. Hymnals and other traditional spiritual resources, though evidently beginning to show signs of becoming obsolete and becoming less used in a growing number of churches, may need to undergo a shift in is use by Christians. It’s present major role as primarily a book for use in worship for singing and congregational participation may take a back seat to a possible elevation of its formerly secondary function as a prayer book and spiritual resource for individual reflection and meditation.
  7. Pastors, for the foreseeable future, will need to be prepared to a bi-polar spirituality. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each, perhaps it is even more critical for pastors to be in touch with the personal dynamics of spiritual in each individuals’ faith journey.

    No longer is the pilgrimage of faith a cut-and-dry "directed tour" with obedient tourists submissively following the clerical tour guide in a virtually unquestioning way. Instead, now more than ever, it’s a personal journey in which the pastor is expected to be more of a mentor or consultant as each individual goes their own way, in their own time, to follow their own unique spiritual road map.
  8. Inevitable conflicts will continue to arise in the church relating to the differences in core values, spiritual foci and spiritual needs the two spiritual approaches represent. The challenge for pastors and congregations will be to avoid legalism while avoid license, to avoid pious pronouncements while adhering to Scriptural principles.
The Challenge
 
Making the spiritual transition and ministering to it is, to say the least, a challenge. It will not be easy. Failures will certainly be encountered. But as pastors deal with the strengths and weaknesses of each type of spirituality—and teach their congregations of these strengths and weaknesses of each form of spirituality—they will have great opportunities to make spiritual inroads and soul-identifications with their members in some new and faith-enlivening ways.
 
The changing spirituality. How will you minister to it?
 
Thomas F. Fischer
Editor's Note: The spiritual transformation described above appears not to have occurred non-industrialized third and fourth world countries. This is likely due to the fact that many of the people in these countries continue to experience those things characterized by the pre-industrial spirituality (e.g. higher mortality rates, lower life expectancies, etc.).

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:30 PM