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I spend a good deal of time with various leaders from many communities discussing the future life of the church.
It is, as you can well imagine, I am sure, an important, timely and urgent matter of discussion for one serving as head of communion for a progressive religious body.
I try hard to take notice of trends. Of particular interest to me are ideas that crop up and that recur in disconnected settings that I am fairly certain are not feeding off of each other. In other words, I show particular interest in concepts that get replicated independently.
One such concept appeared last week in a weeklong retreat setting with Methodists. I was one of two outside ecumenical observers, brought in to witness their commitments and, when invited, share some insights with them. The title of the event is what caught my attention: “A New Wesleyan Ecosystem.”
It’s that last word that caught me: ecosystem.
This is the second setting I know of that used that term as a metaphor for the church writ large. The first was a Lilly Endowment grant request put together by the Pacific School of Religion – one in which they imagined a new ecosystem for identifying, cultivating, and equipping leaders for the 21st century church.
An ecosystem is, by definition, a geographic area where plants, animals and other organisms, as well as weather and landscape, work together to form a bubble of life.
I am quite fascinated by this image as a metaphor for the church in the future. It is a new, a brilliant, and a playful image for what the church is and can become.
It fits well with a concept I heard emerging almost a decade ago in the same playful ways – the concept of interdependence. To think about life in the church as an interdependent ecosystem is, well, imaginative and, I think, game-changing.
All parts of the system play a significant role for feeding the life and growth of the whole. Each individual part is unique and essential, and needed for the entire system to function as it does. A bubble of life is formed in which a threat to any one of the myriad species becomes a threat to the whole. They work together in an interdependent way, a way in which all play a role and serve a common good.
This is an invitation to play. Imagine what the church as an ecosystem will look like as we move into a future with new possibilities. What role do you play in it? What are you aware of that you are dependent on in order for you to thrive? Who is affected and impacted by the gifts you offer and the contributions you are willing to stand for? What will not thrive if you do not thrive?
See yourself as part of a bubble of life in which what you do affects the whole and what the smallest part of the system does affects you. This is the world we live in – one that debunks the myth that we are all independent and autonomous bodies, accountable only to ourselves, our congregation, our community. How does your vision of what the church will become change as you play with this notion of an ecosystem? Play with that and see where it leads you. Have fun with it. And may we all begin to see each other as deeply connected in our bubble of life on this, our journey Into the Mystic.
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