I was fortunate enough that my formative years experienced incremental change. I saw lots of changes, TV, commercial air travel, atomic bomb, A/C, cell phones to name just a few, but each of these changes took place slowly enough for me to adapt easily to them. I spent years watching black and white TV through the snow. I didn’t have A/C till I got out of seminary. I wasn’t on a plane until I was 53. And the Atomic bomb slowly graduated to the nuclear bomb.
Today’s high school student doesn’t have the privilege of slowly adopting to the avalanche of changes coming down the pike today. All you have to do is consider the emergence of cell phone. Very few people had one prior to 2000. Today, even the Bushmen in Africa have one. Overnight our cell phones rule our lives.
Two basic American institutions have been greatly affected by this changing pace of change – the Church and education. Let me unpack how these changes have affected the church and then turn to education
The Effect of Change on the Church
The number one reason some churches are growing today and some churches aren’t growing is that the growing churches have changed the way they think and the assumptions on which they take action. The church did well during the slow pace of change in the U.S., but once the pace of change sped up from incremental to exponential change, 75-80% of U.S. churches began to decline. It’s no mystery that most of the growing churches in the U.S. today were planted in the 1990’s or beyond. The leaders of these churches grew up in a time of exponential change and can make changes on a dime, and not lose any sleep.
So how do they think differently and what are their assumptions?
Their thinking goes like this – We do whatever we have to do to transform lives even if it breaks from our tradition. This kind of thinking changes everything these church leaders do.
Now add to this line of thinking the following assumptions of these new church leaders and its no mystery why some churches grow and some decline. The assumptions of the leaders are:
- People no longer come to church on their own.
- When people do show up at church they are blank slates that most be written on.
- Most people in the U.S. are lost and need Christ.
- The primary focus of a church is on those in the community who are far from God and not the members of the church.
- It doesn’t matter what practices we use as long as they reach people with the Gospel.
- Pastors are called to transform people not care for them.
- Transformation is not about education but about relationships and experience.
- There is no different standard for laity and clergy other than the amount of time they commit.
- The only way to God is through Jesus Christ.
The Effect of Change on Education
I grew up in a time when a college degree was considered essential. Back then the majority of people didn’t attend college. Today, most people attend college and many of them never put their degree to work for them. I have a friend whose parents sacrificed a lot to put him through college and he works now stocking shelves are Wallmart.
Unless a person desires a job in a professional field like doctor or teacher, a college degree is almost a waste of time. More people trained with technical skills are needed today and they don’t need four years of education. Hundreds of thousands of jobs requiring technical skills and no college degree are going unfilled because of our failing education system has changed with the times.
Like the Church, our educational systems aren’t keeping up with the pace of change. Times are changing to fast by the time people spend four years in college getting a well rounded Liberal Arts degree they graduate with a degree that means very little.
So, what changes does our educational system need to make?
We need to recognize and legitimize a two tier educational system that doesn’t stigmatize people who have a one or two-year technical degree as being under educated. On tier for people who want a career in something like law or physician and one tier for people who want a career in something like computers or air craft mechanic. Notice I avoided the word “Professional” in the first tier. I did so because we need to start recognizing both tiers are professions.
One last word. If you follow what I’m saying then you understand why small groups are replacing the traditional Sunday School for adults in more and more growing churches. Christianity isn’t about education; it’s about relationships that transform our lives starting with our relationship with Jesus Christ and following up with our relationship to one another. Small groups offer both.
On a lighted note
I’m fond of saying the only thing I use on a daily basis from 4 years of college is typing and I didn’t need four years to learn that. And as I told my English 101 professor who failed me because I 3 misspelled words in my final essay “there will come a day when we won’t need to know how to spell and your form of grading will be a dinosaur.” Guess what? We now have spell checking. Times are truly changing. Go figure. But take heed.
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