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The Pace of Change

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

The Pace of Change

Tom Elenbaas

Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership and well-known sage of the dynamics of change John Kotter wrote this recently in chapter one of his book "XLR8":

On almost every important business index, the world is racing ahead. The stakes - the financial, social, environmental, and political consequences - are rising in a similar exponential way.
— John P. Kotter, XLR8

There is at least one stake Kotter missed on the list (I can actually think of many more): spiritual (or maybe religious). The world is changing, not just at what might seem a normal pace of change, but at an incredible, and increasing rate. Take a look at just these few examples of graphs from Kotter's book (you can find a nice, short E-book on Kotter's 8 steps to accelerate change in 2015)

And because we are no longer merely local beings, shifts in global realities change our increasingly interconnected lives. Scholars tell us that in the next 5 or so years, 3 billion new minds will join the global economy and become both producers and consumers on a global scale. The graphs above show the exponential growth of everything from technology to economy to information. Here is how you can think about it from not a doubling, tripling, or even rapid reproduction, but from an exponentially reproducing frame of reference:

Any technology that becomes Digitized enters a period of Deceptive growth. During the early period of exponentials, the doubling of small numbers (0.01, 0.02, 0.04, 0.08) all basically looks like zero. But once it hits the knee of the curve, you are only ten doublings away from 1,000x, twenty doublings get you to 1,000,000x, and thirty doublings get you a 1,000,000,000x increase.
— Exponential Organizations, Salim Ismail
1 percent doubling seven times is 100 percent.
— ibid

This kind of rapid and disruptive change is why we feel so often so disoriented. Everything is changing. Experience tells us that change is one of the few constants we can count on. I've said lately that it feels like the ground is constantly shifting underneath our feet, that someone moved the furniture while we went out for errands, like the things we thought were solid and stable are now upended and we become cynical, scared, and distrustful. 

This has a dramatic impact upon our spirituality. For so many of us, the bricks that have made up the solid foundation of our faith seem to even be shifting. Our churches are shifting; our relationship to the culture is shifting; our place in the culture is shifting.

In 311 AD, the Roman Emperor Galerius issued the Edict of Toleration to end the horrendous Diocletian persecution exacted upon the early Christians in the Roman Empire to bring some peace to the lives of those suffering at the hands of power. In 313 AD, the Emperors Constantine and Licinius agreed in the Edict of Milan to go one step further and be benevolent to Christians, allowing them to worship in freedom. And then in 325 AD, Emperor Constantine presided over the first famous ecumenical Council of Nicaea, where the foundational Nicene Creed was developed and lead eventually to the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 declaring Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Why does this matter? It matters because since the mid-300's, arguably, Christianity (culturally and organizationally, not necessarily essentially) has been the dominant influence on Western Culture, it's politics, morality, laws, literature, and social construction. This is often called by numerous names: the Age of Constantine, Christendom, or by others as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. 

Regardless, here is something I believe is true: for the past, let's say 1600 some years the Church has been the dominant influence on Western culture, and as the world dramatically shifts and changes, that is increasingly less and less true. For probably the first time in the last 1600 years in the Western world, Christianity (politically, socially, morally, and in basic biblical knowledge) is arguably rapidly losing influence. (Now... to be sure... though it appears Christianity is on the decline in influence in the Western world, it seems to be on the rise in the global south and east. Topic for another day.)

In my role as a pastor, I daily am confronted with the feelings and responses of people to this dramatic shift not only in their daily reality, but in the news cycle, entertainment media, in their children's schools, and in the systems and structures that drive that daily culture. What often goes unnoticed is the shifting tectonic plates of contemporary culture that lie beneath the surface while we play happily in our neighborhoods as if nothing dramatic is happening below. 

I have some serious questions rattling around in my own head and heart as I both experience, study, and lead in this rapidly changing world:

  • What is essential? What non-essentials have we made essential?
  • What can we let go that is "normal" and "traditional" but may no longer be necessary?
  • Within a dramatically shifting cultural, moral, economic, political, and entertainment world how should the church and Christians live, move, and function? 
  • What remains that we can grab hold of to make sense of self, place, identity, and community?

I love the Francis Schaeffer's phrase from his famous book, "How shall we then live?" I believe that may just be the most important question for the post-Christendom age.


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