My favorite speaker was Doug Pagitt, the founder of Solomon’s Porch Christian community in Minneapolis. Pagitt explained how many churches are not seeing cultural shifts going on around them and they are missing God’s spirit at work.
Pagitt explained that the church has been in four major ages in American culture: The Agrarian Age, The Industrial Age, The Information Age, and the Inventive Age. This is described in his book, “Church in the Inventive Age” (Pagitt, Sparkhouse, Minneapolis, 2010). Pagitt says “Few cultural institutions have been able to move through all these shifts with their central identity intact,” and that “the church has been a steady – though not unchanged – presence in each age.”
The church today needs to see the changes that are going on all around us, to be the church in the 21st century. There is a danger of missing or not seeing how God is working because we are too focused on trivial issues in our own churches.
Pagitt used the following illustration to show that we can miss the gorilla in the room, while we are focused on other things around us. This video begins with instructions on how to watch it (the link is below, but the video can also be found at the bottom of this page).
In this experiment, we were asked to count how many passes were made by the people in white shirts. While concentrating hard on counting the passes, a person in a gorilla suit came out into the middle of the scene. When the video ended, Pagitt asked the audience if anyone had noticed the gorilla. Some people did, but I confess, I didn’t see it. Along with many in the room who were busy following the instructions, I missed it.
Sometimes in ministry, we get caught up in the daily tasks of the church, and miss a major ministry shift or “the gorilla in the room.” For me, I get distracted by one or two members who are unhappy with something and I try to focus on resolving that tension that they see. Meanwhile, the culture is changing before our eyes, and we need to pay attention to the changes that are taking place in our own community.
My church in Monroe, began in the Agrarian Age. We were founded in the 1700’s, when Protestant white settlers were everywhere. And for generations, this stayed the same. Then the Industrial Age hit, and the town changed. Jobs changed. Lifestyles changed. Monroe still remained strong because of its proximity to New York city. Then the Information Age brought newspapers, books, radios, and TVs.
And now we are embedded in the Inventive Age, were social media and other technology connects us in new ways. This is a new cultural shift.
Social media can be narcissistic, but it is also about a desire to attach meaning to experiences. Pagitt explained that we now see news feeds from Twitter that are personalized instead of an entire newspaper delivering detached news to our doorsteps every morning.
Pagitt says in his book, “Authority is found in the way our experiences come together and create reality.” In other words, we attain knowledge in the Inventive age through meaningful relationships, and we rely less on books, newspapers, TV and what we used to see as "objective" information.
So what do we next in this Inventive age? Pagitt says in his book, It’s like “planning a summer wedding outdoors. The church in the Inventive Age means taking your chances and constantly being prepared to change course.” Being part of the Inventive age means being aware that there is more than one expression of Christianity globally, and at the same time, communicating our faith in our own setting. “The Church as the Inventive Age has to make room for people of vastly different backgrounds. We can’t play favorites or, worse, make everyone who isn’t us the bad guy.”
Pagitt explained how the leadership in the Inventive age doesn’t mean forgetting about the past, but bringing the past with us. “Churches in the Inventive Age need leaders who can connect present-day expressions of faith to their roots in other times and other places.”
Pagitt explained this is a major challenge for leaders today, and they may need extra training to connect the past with the future. He used a commercial for Chipotle with Willie Nelson singing “The Scientist,” (see video below) to illustrate how each age is connected, and that the ways to connect with people in the Inventive age are always changing. But for now: personal, meaningful, and connected. These get at the heart of doing ministry today in the Inventive Age.
Rev. Alex Lever