on October 1, 2010
Already a known quantity in the world of post-modernism in American Christianity, Carol Howard Merritt (author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation) has just published her second book Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. Although the titles sound eerily similar, this is not a rehash of her previous work. Rather it builds and expands on it. In Tribal Church, Merritt was primarily concerned with "Where are the young people? What do they want?" In Reframing Hope, she emphasizes the need to stay grounded in the traditions of our mainline churches, while looking for additional ways to "be Church". She encourages us to quit obsessing about the numbers decline in our denominations and instead to "shift our focus, take into account where we have been, and imagine what God is calling us to be."
The changing currents in "technology, organizing, communication, and spirituality...deeply affect the way we minister and form community." We can make two mistakes in dealing with this societal change. We can ignore what is coming, or we can dismiss what has passed. Both of these options will lead to our eventual demise. But we have faith that God is doing something in the world right now. It is up to us to discern what that is and what our role is in bringing it about.
Merritt discusses the opportunities available to us by redistributing authority, re-forming community, reexamining the medium (electronic communications), retelling the message, reinventing activism, renewing creation, and retraditioning spirituality. Using both biblical and personal examples and stories, she leads us to look again at our world and at our churches. As a 30-something pastor in a mainline urban church, she speaks with experience and insight into the needs, wants and desires of the world around us.
In her conclusion she says, "Looking over our pews, many of us see the faithful remnant of a congregation from a half-century ago, and we wonder whether our churches will exist twenty years from now. ... Every once in a while, when we crack open our sanctuary doors...we hardly recognize the world in which we serve, because it has become so different from the one in which our churches were formed.
"Within our old frameworks, our church ministries reached out to a different family structure. Our churches catered to nuclear families. ... Our congregations often relied heavily on the volunteer work of housewives and geared programming and outreach to young families. ... Now, a good percentage of our households are likely to be single or in same-gender relationship. ... Now, the ethnicity and culture of our nation...is more diverse, yet our mainline churches seldom reflect the diversity of the communities in which they are located.
"We struggle to communicate our faith in the midst of such pluralism and, in our worst expressions, we avoid or discriminate against those who are not Christians.
"Our message has been muted as we try to communicate from generation to generation...we've lost the vision to make our churches communities of welcome for our adult sons and daughters, the very people who could map out a course... but, new opportunities, tools, movements, missions, and passions cascade through the...landscape bringing vital ways of organizing faithful communities, communicating prayerful longings, and seeking social justice."
This book, published by the Alban Institute, should be required reading for any church leader who is serious about discerning the church's mission and vision for the future.
Disclaimer: I am a Twitter/Facebook friend of Carol and she sent me a free copy of the book to read and review. I was already familiar with the background of several of the stories she recounts, particularly in Chapter 3 and the Conclusion. I found myself again dissolved in tears when reading about Gideon's suicide. That episode, more than anything else, convinced me - a 60-something old lady - that there is real power and depth in our on-line communities.
on February 29, 2012
Reframing Hope seeks to reframe the present situation in order to construct faithful and effective ministry today and the possibility for a brighter tomorrow. While many postmodern Gen-X pastors fluent in social media strive to move beyond their denominational heritage, Merritt writes as one who has chosen to stay and even refers to herself as a "loyal radical". She offers multiple comparisons of then (ministry at the peak of mainline membership and influence) and now to help readers of all generations grasp the significance of the shift. Rather than starting with deconstructing what was, she begins by constructing what is and should be with a pastoral blend of personal experiences viewed alongside those of the church throughout the ages and colored by hope. Sandwiched between her introduction, "What is the Substance of our Hope," and conclusion, "Hope in the Desert," she offers seven hope-filled creative chapters: redistributing authority, re-forming community, reexamining the medium, retelling the message, reinventing activism, renewing creation, and retraditioning spirituality.
on October 1, 2010
Carol Howard Merritt in her latest book "ReFraming Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation" doesn't take the fear and anxiety of mainline denominational decline and tie a pretty bow around it. With strength and courage she names the reality of the social, economic, cultural and religious landscape and intricately weaves that with God's hope proclaimed in the Biblical stories. She includes narratives from her own life, faith journey and theology that offer insight to the author's passion and commitment to the subject.
While there is no such thing as a "magic wand" that will fix the gap of younger generations missing from mainline denominations, I recommend this book to congregations and leaders who are seeking new ways to talk about and DO ministry in an intergenerational context.
on October 2, 2010
Merritt speaks with a pastor's heart and a researcher's mind. Her conversational writing is in a language that is native to progressive mainline congregations. While her first book, Tribal Church, addressed how to include a younger generation in churches, this second offering looks at how the mainline tradition can reimagine its structures in the contemporary world. She examines authority, community, communication, message, activism, creation care and spirituality-offering insightful perspective and a way forward on how the contemporary church can respond and find new life.
This book is an essential resource in many ways. Presbymergents and "loyal radicals" of other denominations will find a helpful discussion of what makes us distinct in the emergent movement. Merritt puts voice to why I, and many others, choose to be in a denomination and what our hopes are for the future. Generation X-ers will find resonance in Carol's experience of the world and view of faith and why something just doesn't quite feel right about many churches. And lastly, church leaders will find a multitude of ideas and directions for how to restructure all aspects of their church. Prayerfully reading this book and considering its ramifications will spur many congregations' vision and mission.
on October 4, 2010
For any congregation struggling to (re)find their path in a new and sometimes intimidating landscape, Carol Howard Merritt once again offers up a calming yet purposeful way to do so. In her conversational writing style, she engages the reader without intimidating or using deeply theological vocabulary, and manages to at the same time honor the depth and dynamics of the subject content. Recognizing that each congregation and community are unique, she offers approaches to this task of re-visioning and incorporating the whole of the community, without creating just another "check-list to ministry and growth." If you're not reading her reflections, you really ought to be - it's that good!
on September 19, 2012
Carol Howard Merritt recently tweeted that she was surprised to be asked to write about homiletics, but of all the people who know her she was the only one surprised. She is a superb preacher. I am horrendously belated on this promised review of her book Reframing Hope and as I was contemplating what to say that others hadn't said already, it occurred to me that though this is a book by the Alban Institute ostensibly about leadership it is at heart not a practical book, but a homiletical work.
Rev. Howard Merritt doesn't dissect her subject matter into logical organizational units. She doesn't start simply with a problem, move to diagnosis and then prescription. The subtitle does say Vital Ministry in a New Generation but it isn't best used as a "how to" manual for revitalizing your congregation. Though there is a study guide for this book the conversation that flowed out of our study group wasn't analytical in nature, but imaginative.
That is because Rev. Howard Merritt writes with a preacher's voice. She builds her book on broad themes and weaves them together evocatively not mechanically. The subject of her book, hope, is not something you can come at head on. So she does it through stories and by repeating the theme symphonically, with variations each time, till you can hum along with her.
Though Reframing Hope is more evocative than prescriptive it does have a some places that challenge the reader: in particular her chapter on Redistributing Authority. She does a great job in a short space of debunking the cult of the leader and the myth of the expert wrapped in the old assumption that bigger is better. Instead, she invites us to see networks of creative people, non-experts, and small-scale initiatives as the road forward. The other chapter that really grabbed the attention of our study group was Reinventing Activism, which hones in on the potential of social media for invigorating social-justice movements.
It always surprises me the amount of pushback Rev. Howard Merritt gets on her work. To me this preacher is deeply pastoral. She invites. She coaxes. She offers. She rarely prods, cajoles, or provokes. That said, in comparison with her previous book, Tribal Church, you can see a touch more of the prophet's voice emerging in her work - an aspect of her thinking which is much more prevalent in her blogging and speaking. If that is the direction her future writing trends, then this reader at least, will be shouting a hearty "Amen!"
on May 24, 2011
The beauty of Carol Howard Merritt's "Reframing Hope" is the way it encourages us to view the same old thing in a new and different way.
The Church is changing - yes. There is not a lot any of us can (or even want to) do about it. The practices of ministry and the ways we have tackled these practices are no longer the norm and we equate lack of "process" with lack of "product." But Merritt shows us, in her book, why we need not fear the lack of product. The Grace and Peace of Jesus Christ is still working among us, but it is being manifested in a new way.
In "Reframing Hope" we find that the pieces of our Christian faith that we have always cherished are still vital and viable, and, with Merritt's help, we learn how to reclaim and re-capitalize on them once again.