. . . posts on faith and life
Recently on the missionalcog blog there was a discussion about the lack of ‘youthfulness’ among our current constituency of ministers. Lots of great stuff was said. So, I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already. But I wanted to pick up on one particular thing. Keith Whitt, who confessed to being part of the ‘over 50’ group, listed several things that he saw as causes and/or obstacles to changing the current trend of the ‘graying’ of our ministers. One thing that he mentioned was this mindset: Jesus is going to come in our lifetime, so why worry/plan for future leaders?
I find this comment to be interesting, and I believe that it grows out of a dynamic that I too have encountered in our faith tradition. It is what we might call the Hezekiah Syndrome. Hezekiah was not a bad king, he did many good things. He ‘rated’ out much better than his father. However, he made one serious mistake near the end of his life (ironically, this took place during the ‘extra years’ of his life, after YHWH had heard his prayer and extended his life by 15 years). He allowed the envoys from Babylon full access into the treasure store, the palace, and the temple. He was sort of bragging about how YHWH had blessed them. When the prophet Isaiah brought a judgment from the Lord listen to his response:
Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah and said to him, “What did these men say, and from where have they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” So Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing among my treasuries that I have not shown them.” Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts, ‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the LORD. ‘And some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon.’” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days” (Is. 39:3-8).
I have heard accusations about there being a lot of ‘Sauls’ in leadership. Perhaps that’s true. However, what’s more concerning to me is that collectively we seem to be more like Hezekiah. We have seen some good things in our lifetime. We have seen miraculous victories. We have been delivered from enemies that were stronger than us, enemies that had us surrounded. And now, we have grown comfortable with the state of things. We have no concern about the future. We have no concern for what we are leaving our children. We are comfortable knowing that hard times await our children, for we are convinced that we will be able to continue in our personal ‘prosperity.’
I don’t think that this is so much an issue of age, though I suspect that anyone long in years faces this temptation. Rather, it is an issue of our mindset, our obsession with the present, and our misunderstanding of the future. In this way we seem an awful lot like adolescents. I work in a middle school, and one clear trait of middle schoolers is their inability to conceptualize the future. If, for example, you talk with them about graduating from a university one day, what they hear you talking about is going to high school (which they understand to be nothing more than four MORE years of middle school) and then going to a university (which they understand to be four MORE years of high school). In other words, their concept of the future is simply ‘more of this taking place then.’ Likewise, we tend to understand the church’s future in the same way. Any significant changes will either (1) come after we’re dead (and so we do not think it relates to us) or (2) come after some last minute rescue scenario when Jesus returns (and since He will do all the work we do not think that that relates to us either).
This is a gross misunderstanding of the role of our the future in our lives, of how our vision of the future is suppose to impact our present reality. Given Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching, Christianity has ALWAYS been a proleptic faith tradition. A prolepsis is simply a future event that impacts our present reality. It is an anticipation. An essential aspect of what it means to be Christian, as I understand it, is that we live differently in light of knowing how it all ends–we live proleptically.
The way we ignore the call to live proleptically is revealed in the way we ignore current trends. Proleptic people will take the present and ‘flash it forward‘ in order to imagine what scenarios our current decisions might be leading us into. Then they will take those scenarios and ‘flashback’ (analepsis) in order to figure out what needs to change in order to avoid the futures we fear, and realize the futures on which we hope and dream.
The trends we are currently ignoring might include childhood obesity, adolescent violence, global warming, water shortages, intractable conflict, to name only a very few. Do we not know that we are currently living tomorrow’s ‘backstory‘? I wonder what other trends we might be ignoring? And where those might lead us?