Mike Regele on Generational Change and Postmodernism

Mike Regele of Percept published Death of the Church in 1996. That’s eight years ago. Mike’s a Presbyterian minister living in Irvine, California, and serves as a consultant for churches for churches, regional & national denominational bodies helping them with community and congregational profiles and planning programs.

In his 1996 book, Mike explores changes in generational culture, church culture as well as broad shifts such as postmodernism. He says that we can die because of our hidebound resistance to change, or we can die in order to live.

Regele provides six commitments that would make the second option possible:

  1. Understand dynamics of change at work today in our culture
  2. Understand various faces of change emerging as we prepare to step into 21st century
  3. Accept that traditional place of institutional church in our society is dying, and with it the institutional church itself
  4. Let our traditional forms & structures that are the foundation of the institutional church die
  5. Wrestle to forge new ways to proclaim Gospel in changing world
  6. Revision the church for the 21st century, at all levels, from the local congregation to national denominational church office
  7. .

Regele takes the work of Strauss and Howe on generational cycles and challenges the church to consider how current movements have responded to dynamics within emerging generations. The coming cycle, he contends, will need to focus on ‘doing faith’ – practical incarnational expressions that people can take part in. The charismatic renewal was just right for the inner spirituality of the boomers. Now we need to see the building of new movements and organisations that make an impact on society.

Having applied the generational cycle as almost a given, Regele goes on to introduce the unknown, chaotic force of postmodernity as sweeps through like a tidal wave. He says that changes of this order make future generational culture hard to predict.

Regele approaches modernity and postmodernity through the metaphor of ‘bombproof certainty’. This certainty is an issue for people in a modernist framework but not for postmoderns. He provides a useful continuum for understanding the breadth of postmodern thought in this area: the span between the postmodern constructivist – all reality merely a construction of the mind, and the postmodern objectivist – relative certainty without burden of absolute certitude).

The most stirring part of the book was Regele’s call for a new generation of moral-visionary leadership. He says that the church growth movement is often focusing leaders on technique in order to fill churches. Regele says we need people with an ability to think big and bold, with the courage to face a world antagonistic to the church. “We have taken Jesus’ model of servant leadership and reduced it to insipid peonage”. He asks if the church will let leaders lead, or drive them out? He warns, however, that some leaders appear to be visionary, but are driven more by consumptive ambition than moral passion.

Mike has also written Robust Church Development: A Vision for Mobilizing Regional Bodies in Support of Missional Congregations. He co-authored Crossing the Bridge: Church Leadership in a Time of Change, with Alan Roxburgh.

Action Science and Theological Reflection in Community

How do we test our assumptions and convictions? When we come to critique our experience, our perception of our context, and our understanding of our tradition, what processes do we use to open up authentic dialogue?

Chris Argyris and Donald Schon have developed a learning discipline with several names: Action Science, action inquiry, action research, or organizational learning. A lot of their material can be found in their book, Theory in Practice. Peter Senge has run with the idea in his book, The Fifth Discipline, implementing the practice of learning organization in business circles.

Learning While Leading by Anita Farber RobertsonAnita Farber Robertson, a Unitarian minister in Rockford, Massachussets, has written a book, Learning While Leading, Alban Institute, 2000, for churches wanting to apply action science to theological reflection. She says that the action science approach helps Christian communities identify gaps and inconsistencies in the theories that inform their practice. Instead of continuing to make the same mistakes again and again, local leaders can use action science disciplines to have a look at what really is going on.

Argyris talks about designed blindness – in which we collude with our culture to overlook certain realities. We are so bound up with cognitive dissonance, often because we believe it is shameful to be imperfect and growing. He says that because our mental models provide a framework for our action as individuals and communities, we should pay attention to how those mental models are formed.

Ladder of InferenceWhen looking at the formation of our mental models Argyris suggests we should consciously use the “ladder of inference”. Start at the bottom of the ladder with directly observable data. Then notice which data you’re paying attention to. What cultural and personal meanings are we giving to what we observe? What assumptions are we making based on those meanings? What conclusions are we drawing? What beliefs about the world are we now forming? Now – what are the actions that result?

Using this ladder we can identify ‘leaps of abstraction’ in which we miss steps out and overlook important parts of the process. We can go back and re-explore phases that have been missed. We can identify points of dissonance. This links in with Whiteheads’ first step of attending. With one group, I used an actual step ladder to help people enact this in relation to a case study.

Another important contribution of action science is the concept of advocacy and inquiry being valued equally. “I can tell you what I believe and why (advocacy) while paying attention to what you believe and why (inquiry)”. This ties in strongly with Whiteheads’ second step of conversation or asserting.

I think this model of developing meaning and action is helpful in unpacking the theology and practice related to the everyday life of local christian communities. It helps people test the validity of their assumptions about what’s going on in conversations, interactions with each other.

Art of Theological Reflection

“Art of Theological Reflection” is a popular title – John Shea (2003), Jane Kopas (1983) and Ronald Gariboldi (1987) have all used the phrase in the names of their books. In this post, however, I want to look at the work of Patricia O’Connell Killen and John De Beer in their book, published in 1994 by Crossroad Publishing Company.

Art of Theological Reflection Patricia Killen John De Beer

Patricia O’Connell Killen is Professor of American Religious History, and chair of the Department of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington.

John De Beer was until very recently rector at St Martins in the Field Episcopal Church, in Severna, Maryland. He has moved to Massachussetts.

Patricia and John were both on the staff at University of the South where they developed their approach to theological reflection. Patricia has continued as part time professor with the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida.

I found this book very helpful – developing an approach that draws insight and action from reflection on significant experience. Participants in this model are encouraged to share their stories, explore feelings, images, and insights that lead to action. Participants are then led to intentionally connect their lived narrative with the Christian tradition, being aware of their own convictions and the influence of their cultural environment.

Patricia and John have written this book with their model in mind. They’ve included images that evoke the sense of exploring experience. Art of Theological ReflectionThey’ve outlined their theories in graphic diagrams. One such diagram outlines the interplay between tradition and experience. Standing in tradition alone is described as a standpoint of certitide. Standing in experience alone is described as self-assurance. Healthy theological reflections calls one to stand in the crossover of the two spheres.

The authors provide nine templates or designs for theological reflection, starting with life situation, scripture (tradition), scripture and written meditation (tradition), essay (cultural text), collection of resources on one theme (cultural text), an issue or theme, personal positions, religious experiences, and another’s theological text.

I recently used the ‘experience to action’ phase at a multimedia conference in which participants were looking at developing cutting edge approaches to worship in the ’emerging church’. I took the line that the freshest experience of emerging church is to be found in last week’s personal and corporate experience. Some were astounded at the level of insight that came from exploring an ‘ordinary human experience’. The challenge then came as we brought our narratives, feelings, images, insights and actions to engage with the Scriptures and the cultural forms in which we engaged with our peers.

Art of Theological Reflection at Amazon.com