“40 Things You Need to Know about the Next 40 Years”

I do not know if it was coincidental or deliberate, but shortly before I turned 40 in August a friend gave me a copy of the current issue of Smithsonian, the magazine, which by chance also turns 40 this year. While the Smithsonian museums dates back further, Smithsonian, the magazine, was first published in 1970, the year of my birth. “40 Things You Need to Know about the Next 40 Years,” is the headline on the cover. Inside the magazine there are 40 articles written by historians, engineers, biologists, CEO’s, teachers, politicians, doctors, economists, and many others who all forecast what they think will happen over the next 40 years. Some of the articles give words of warning (from the inevitable reality of a World War III, to the possible devastating effects of uncontrolled growth in the number of jellyfish). Some give words of hope (new forms of energy that will totally replace our dependence on oil, new antibiotics that will cure many diseases). Some offer what now seem to be far-reaching ideas (from predicting that new urban development in major cities will be skyscrapers designed to be nothing but vertical gardens and farms to the idea that by 2040 electric cars will not only be the norm, but they will be free, to the belief that in the future there will be stickers you could buy at a grocery store which when placed on your skin will accurately be able to tell you the health of your liver, your lungs, even your heart without having to undergo major tests in a hospital). While I have not yet made it through the entire magazine, one thing is quite clear from what I have read so far: not one person is predicting, forecasting, hoping that everything stays exactly the same as it is now. And for the most part, there seems to be a genuine excitement in imagining all the different ways that our lives will change over the next 40 years.

I wonder what would happen if we took 40 people from our church, who span the spectrum of age, and asked them the question of where they see the church in 40 years. Or maybe ask them what they would like to see in the church in the next 40 years. I wonder what their responses would be. I wonder if anyone would dare to offer some far-fetched idea, some response that would make most of us roll our eyes in disbelief. Would anyone say they hope or imagine the church to look exactly like it does right now. Or would anyone say that they imagined the church going back to the way it did things in the 1980’s or 1990’s.

It sometimes amazes me how much energy we use up in church to make sure we keep doing what we have always been doing, and in the process how little energy we use to look forward, how little energy we use to imagine where God might be leading us in the future. By saying this I am not suggesting that we let go of all traditions, nor am I suggesting that everything we have done in the past is not worth doing now. Rather, I’m simply sharing how I have noticed how little time and energy we (myself included) use to actually dream and imagine about the future 4 months from now, much less 4 years or 40 years from now. Instead we get bogged down on getting through the present challenges while deep down spending time and energy hoping that just maybe we could go back “to the ways things used to be.”

A few times over the course of the last year some people would ask Julie or I when Sunday School is coming back. I think it sometimes surprises them when we say that it might never come back. That maybe the idea of Sunday School (which in terms of church life has only been around for about 70 years) has served its purpose and now we are challenged to imagine new ways of equipping and encouraging faith formation for our children, adults and families. And that at least for now, our Life Night programming on Wednesday nights is where we believe God is leading us. Or maybe we could imagine that some day Sunday School does comes back, but this time it looks totally different. Maybe if/when Sunday School comes back it has families sitting around tables discussing Bible stories or issues of faith together as family units. And that maybe Sunday School itself becomes part of the worship service, where we begin with some singing, some liturgy, some praying, then we break into family units for a time of learning before returning together to share stories and celebrate Holy Communion together. Can you imagine what it would look like to have all the round tables of Torgeson Hall filled with parents sitting next to children sitting next to grandparents. Or maybe at another table there would be some adults who don’t have children having faith conversations with some of the youth from our congregation whose parents don’t regularly attend. I am not saying that this will happen. I am simply imagining a future. Because while I do believe that we will never go back to the old way of doing Sunday School, I can imagine this new way of doing Sunday School.

I firmly believe that imagination and creativity are gifts of the Spirit of God that for some reason we as the church seldom take advantage of in our life together. I would like to change that, because in the end the one thing I can’t imagine is that who we are and what we do today as a church is who we will be, and what we will do 40 years from now (maybe not even 4 years or 4 months from now).

- Pastor Joel


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