You have been officially warned; this column will likely score high on your squirm factor.
No one likes their ignorance discovered, much less displayed. We all tend to inflate our levels of knowledge, expertise, ability to handle ‘x’ situation. Psychologists have a term for it: illusory superiority. Take a look at any poll about people’s self images of themselves in any endeavor, the most famous being their driving skills. We all tend to think we are above average, we have a grip on the facts, the concept, or the situation when in reality we often fail miserably to understand even the most basic facts.
I recently finished Factfulness by Hans Rosling. I had long been fascinated by his TED talks where he used animated graph charts to illustrate how the world has changed in front of our eyes in almost every imaginable category. His company, GapMinder, is dedicated to dispelling ignorance about the state of the world, a pretty heady goal. Mr. Rosling died in 2017 and did so in the midst of preparing this book. Using mainly UN statistics he has devised simple questions about the state of the world (in areas like literacy, vaccines, education, income disparity) and has groups take the test. They usually fail and do so spectacularly, and the main reason is they operate with a woefully outdated worldview. (to take the 13 question test and a full dose of humility, go to https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WQmE5s0Ki05x-Y6diupvUBKRibWOrVIL5lZstmsTuc8/edit).
No, really, take the test, and find out how your view of foreign countries, poverty, & world health stack up. It affects how you think our government should operate in our world, how your dollars should be spent . . . oh, and how we do church.
Oh, yeah, how we do church. One time I had a search committee orientation in my office. Their first stated goal was to have a full time pastor. My first response was, are you sure you can financially support one? Well we’re X church and have always . . . I said have you honestly looked at your attendance, at your financial statements, not only in a static way but longitudinally, as a trend? Perceptions of who we are as a church and how we are perceived in the greater community usually lag far behind reality, often to the tune of two or more decades.
This is one of my primary roles as Director of Missions, to help churches confront their lagging self images and realize a New Normal is not coming, but is already in place; the sooner they realize it, the quicker they can find new ways to proclaim and administer the gospel in a way others hear & benefit from it---in a manner appropriate to the situation. For some, that means downsizing, for others expansion (not only of buildings, but programs, and even more important, mindset). More times than not the numbers are obvious and staring us in the face, but we refuse to acknowledge them; it takes an outside pair of eyes to help us see what is in plain sight.
Even my title is changing; this month when I attend the SBC in Birmingham I’ll go to the pre-conference for “Associational Mission Strategists.” This unfamiliar title is actually more descriptive of what I should be doing and I hope in the coming days to grow into it. If the facts bear it out, at 66 I’m ready to embrace a New Normal.
Is your church?