Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Leaping Over the Pessimism Gap

By Rev. Dr. Philip Amerson, President and Professor of Sociology of Religion at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

The next time you hear someone say that mainline denominations are dying and no longer attract the young, tell them that they might want to stop by Garrett-Evangelical on October 27 and 28.
We are going to fill up the campus with people who have something different to say to those who are so filled with pessimism about the future. Can you imagine what it will be like to have folks like Walter Fluker, Diana Butler Bass and Mike Slaughter (pictured above) all in as conversation partners? This and so much more will be possible at the “Captured by a Compelling Narrative” Conference on October 27 & 28. The words of Mark Twain came to mind: “The trouble isn't what people don't know, but rather what they know that just ain't so!”

Take the “common wisdom” bandied about these days that mainline churches are struggling, and on the road toward death. Fluker, Bass and Slaughter all beg to differ with this common wisdom. Walter Fluker speaks of the potency of ethical leadership in inviting young people to consider lives filled with promise amidst the challenges of our time. Dr. Bass’s study on sources of Protestant vitality provides us with a future filled with promise and more than the care and feeding of declining congregations. In her book Christianity for the Rest of Us Bass contends that the old “neighborhood” has been replaced by a strip mall and so the idea of neighborhood churches functioning as they once had is nonsensical – but these congregations are learning new and lively ways to serve. Slaughter shows that even in large and “successful” mega-church settings it is possible to pivot in dramatic new theological and ministry directions.

There is an old sociological aphorism to the effect that “what we perceive to be real becomes real in its consequences.” Craig Dykstra has spoken much about the power of lively imagination in shaping effective ministry. If we can perceive that there is abundant space for ministry, even in old settings, amazing and real things can happen. We will hear some of this from Fluker, Bass and Slaughter. And these are only three of those who are joining in the dialogue for the conference. We will also hear keen insights from Fred Edie, Gregory Ellison, Tonya Burton, Elizabeth Corrie, and Melinda Lundquist Denton. Each one of these persons will make the time together an amazing feast for the heart and soul. I’m eager to participate in this two-day feast of thought and reflection. I wonder how many things I’ll discover that I “don’t know”… or that I “know, that just ain’t so!” What about you? Come join me.

On October 27th and 28th, eight renowned scholars and ministers will gather for one monumental conference. Don't miss the Captured by A Compelling Narrative Conference at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary! Click here to learn how you can join this dynamic conversation.

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