CHURCH IN THE INVENTIVE AGE PART 3 – “The Evolving Role of the Pastor”

I remember when I first started to understand that the role of the pastor/priest had evolved over the centuries. In fact, I remember when an undergraduate professor had made the claim, “At one time, the pastor was the smartest man in the town and the doctor was second.” I thought it was a joke and I laughed out loud. I remember being scowled at for mocking the honorable vocation of the pastor and so I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Come on, the town doctor was second? More like seventh …” ;-)

But back in the good old days, it was the pastor/priest that was among the most educated of society. While we are still fortunate to have the brilliant minds of people like pastor-theologians like NT Wright, Alister McGrath, Tim Keller, and countless others, I think there are some whose names that even the kind-hearted John Calvin would not quite equate with brilliance. Indeed, the role of the pastor and the type of pastor has changed over the years.

Back in January I got to hear Doug explain this in the context of his analysis of the past 200 hundred years of American Christianity. I was sitting in Don Heatley’s church, Vision one Sunday night when Doug chronicled the changing role of the pastor. For obvious reasons, I was intrigued and it made great sense. The other part that made a great deal of sense was how he explained the nature of these ages: They exist simultaneously, build on one another, and have unique rewards systems. I mentioned the ages briefly in post 2 and here’s an outline of the pastor’s role in each age.

The Agrarian Age (the Little Church on the Prairie) is what you think it means – the little white church on the hill built my the good-hearted people of the town. For those living in the early 1800’s, much of life was about survival and depending on one another. Most likely, there was one church in the area and theology was secondary to geography. The pastor was the shepherd of the congregation, the “moral compass” and tended to the needs of the flock. Doug mentions that even today there are Agrarian church exists in downtown Parish style churches in many urban centers like Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Then came the Industrial Age and just like the factories were to churn out products with efficiency, the role of the pastor was to teach the congregation the theology of the denomination and to make it compelling enough hat people would come back for more… The pastor’s job was like a factory foreman, to build Lutherans (or Methodists or Episcopalians), to make sure the denominational distinctive were carried on. They were building a denominational brand. ” (p. 20). [Side note – you should read and meditate on the part where denominationalism is born out of the industrial age. They even designed their churches to resemble factories.]

In the Information Age, the educational aspect evolved and Doug lists that churches offered learning centers offering parenting classes, marriage seminars, women’s Bible studies, men’s devotions, youth groups and preschools. “While your denomination still mattered, the real test of a church was what you learned there. If you weren’t learning anything, you left. Non-denominational churches exploded onto the scene, focusing on the soundness of their teaching techniques and the correctness of their content …. The Information Age gave us the pastor as teach and eventually pastor as CEO. his sermon topic was advertised on a sign outside the church – it was the message, the lesson for that day that was important …” (p. 23).

In the Inventive Age, the role of the pastor of course will still teach, preach, lead a church, etc. but the pastor will need to be able “to create and facilitate open source faith experiences” for the people in the faith community. Said another way, the pastor’s role will include facilitating and networking skills. That’s exciting to me and worthy of a separate post later.

Though I think many pastors can understand Doug’s reasoning, I believe it makes a lot of sense to those serving as youth pastors. A huge part of the responsibility is to care, teach tradition and practice, and facilitate. Many of us are quite accustomed to teaching and breaking into discussion groups allowing the listener to not only share what they have learned but also share what they disagree with and/or not like. Doug’s personal ministry takes it a step further as his community is also an active part of the sermon. Sitting in circle of couches, they interact not only with the one giving the message but with the person on the other couch. Indeed, I think many youth pastors are among those that will have an easier time with the ideas of the Inventive Age.


I learned yesterday that Doug’s mother passed away late Wednesday night. I’m not sure I will get over how easy it is to be in touch with people that seemed unaccessible prior to the internet generation. Initially, I thought of not posting about the Inventive Age this week, because I was afraid it seemed trivial and maybe even insensitive. This morning I woke up and thought the opposite. He posted a brief and beautiful thought this morning – thought I’d share it with you. It’s in these days that we ought to never hesitate to share beautiful stories, important truths, and share needs with one another. So to you who read this, I’d like to ask you to pray for Doug and the Pagitt family. May the God of comfort and peace be with them during this time.

Church In the Inventive Age Part 2 – “But There Is Nothing New Under the Sun, Right?”

As mentioned in the last post, I think everyone interested in the future of the Church should read Church in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt. While there are a lot of other great books you could read as well, this one is very brief and in my opinion, provides a clear perspective on why the Church needs to invest itself in change.

A couple early quotes from Doug:

“It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everything in our lives, everything we depend on for basic survival was created in the last two hundred years. Think about your typical day. You wake up in a bed made of materials – internal springs, polymers, anti-microbial fabrics – that didn’t exist 200 years ago. You are awakened by an alarm clock that was invented in 1876 (or maybe an iPod that was invented in 2001). You take a shower (indoor plumbing arrived in the mid-19th century); eat eggs shipped by trucks from a different part of the country, purchased at a grocery store with a credit card, and cooked over an electric stove. You drive a car to work and maybe make a few calls on your cell phone on the way” (p. 3).

10A05E1A-E34E-4D56-AF56-D25DE5924381.jpg“In the last 200 years, American culture has moved through three distinct ages – the Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age – and is heavily engaged in a fourth – an era I have dubbed the Inventive Age. With each of these ages has come a shift in what we think, what we value, what we do, and how we do it” (p 4).

“I’m calling us to find our place in a swiftly changing culture, to consider how we need to change what we think, what we value, what we do and how we do it. I’m calling us to be the church in the Inventive Age” (p. 5).

Aside from institutional aspects like marriage and so forth, I cannot think of one aspect of my life that I am using that was around prior to 200 years. From the way I drink coffee to the way I interact with others, indeed everything is different in some way.

Every so often when I am discussing this, someone will be quick to remind me that “There is nothing new under the sun.” In moments like these, I would like to take the literal scroll of Ecclesiastes and hit them over the head in hopes I can beat out the strict literalism in their mind. Unfortunately, no one reads from scrolls anymore – we have been using books and e-readers now and these objects are prone to bruising (Actually during the Davidic/Solomonic Kingdoms, scrolls, papyrus, and codex were used together – Go Egyptians! And I do expect an archeologist to dig up an ancient Egyptian Kindle any day now). Still, the printed book, e-reader, the engine, and countless other inventions would have been new to the “The Teacher” of wisdom and frankly, this is not what Ecclesiastes means when saying there is nothing new.

Seriously, for those especially who tend to tune out upon hearing the words “new”, “change” and “rethink”, this is an important era in the life of the Church.  And like very era, we need to be faithful with it.  I would like to convince you that it does not undermine our faith in God, the Scriptures or the leading of the Holy Spirit to see the Church and live out our calling in new ways. In fact, we have been doing it throughout the Church’s history. It would be wise for us to search the ancient ways of the Church and to discover new ones. Doug does an excellent job launching from here and I think once we clarify certain assumptions, a bright and hopeful age becomes possible.

Church In the Inventive Age Part 1

Back in August, I read Doug Pagitt’s latest book, Church in the Inventive Age. It’s excellent. And I have been waiting this long to post it for a few reasons. One is that I procrastinate, sometimes on good things. But the other reason is that I wanted to make sure that I posted it as the blog was moving in a “future church” direction and what better time for those in my local context than now as we move forward after celebrating our 50th Anniversary?

It’s true that I am biased towards appreciating Doug’s work (everyone is biased towards something you know). As one who spends a lot of time working on the problem of why our churches are shrinking, Pagitt is among the few that have insights and answers worth pursuing. Perhaps one of my greatest admirations of him is that he is truly not afraid to question. I think I can only say that about a handful of people. That said, this does not mean that every question he asks is a good one, but many of them are. So when Doug asks, What should the Church look like in the future, I’m interested in that conversation.

But before we jump to the present, Pagitt takes the reader on a quick crash-course on the last 200 hundred years of American Christianity. He divides the years into four ages: Idyllic, Industrial, Informational and presently, the Inventive Age. I don’t think that I have ever seen a better and more concise explanation of that material.  I plan on blogging about this a little more tomorrow.

I have some sense of my readership, I thought it may be helpful to cut to the chase and construct a bit of FAQ or FMS (Frequently Made Statements)

Who Should Read It?
Anyone interested in the future of the church, especially those who do not understand how we got to where we are. For those new to Pagitt or these conversations, this is the easiest book to begin with.

Isn’t Pagit one of those “emergent” guys?
One, praise God he is. Two, I’d really like you to sit down wiht me for some coffee so I can introduce you to a library of resources that would likely change your impression of what “emergent” is/isn’t. (Simplest explanation – It’s a conversation). And three, this book never mentions the term. To my traditional-type friends, consider this like you would a tract. It’s a brief and great overview of the recent history of the Western Evangelical Church, the direction our culture is headed and Doug gives some very broad strokes on how the church should respond. Unless you are against that sort of stuff …

“Because “The Gospel” never changes, can’t we just do the same types of things that we were doing 50-60 years ago? The Church was flourishing then …”
It’s true that Jesus is Lord – that will never change and no one is contesting that. However the proclamation of the Gospel is ever-changing. And while we can debate the success-failures of the last 50-60 years, i think we’ll see that the proclamation of the Gospel was faithful to that age. Thus, copy and pasting that proclamation to today’s world is not helpful. It’s like fixing a new Toyota Prius with the parts of a ’56 Bel Air.

You are really hyping this book, are you getting royalties from it?”

I think one of my pastoral, (if not Christian), duties is to lead people in a necessary direction. Among other Christian disciplines, I try to read a lot of books, I like a lot of them and I try to share the knowledge and hopefully the application of them. And like many, I see things like social networks, blogs, etc. as an extension of the ministry so as always, thanks for taking the time to read here and I hope you consider reading The Inventive Age.

“I Don’t Have Time to Read …”
You should change that. Reading is an essential habit for the growing Christian. Read the Scriptures and read this book, it’s an easy 2 hour read and it’s worth it. Order it here through Amazon or here at Augsburg Fortress for a discount on bulk orders.

By the way, Sparkhouse did a fantastic job on this book and I look forward to reading their  other titles. Not only is the book is aesthetically pleasing in its cover, easy readable text and  chapter display, it’s got a great physical feel to it (take that digital version!), and big quotes  in case you missed the good stuff – seriously they did a nice job.  Also, if you are a youth  pastor or involved in vbs, you should check out some of their curriculum here.