Friday, February 24, 2012

The "Talent Society" and the Church

I read an interesting article by David Brooks this week.  The gist of the article is that society has changed from being deeply enmeshed communities to loosely organized and affiliated groups of people.  The author's point was that our more settled social structures often stifled "creative and dynamic people," and at the same time allowed disorganized and disadvantaged people to have supportive community relationships.

Today, he argues, we're living in a totally different world, a "Talent Society."  He says that "the fast flexible and diverse networks allow the ambitious and the gifted to surf through amazing possibilities" and to "construct richer and more varied lives," while the disadvantaged are left adrift without the community they need to feel connected and valued in society.

It made me think about what a challenge and an opportunity the church has to rise up in the midst of this cultural context.

It's the challenge that I've faced as I've worked with my Sunday night storying group.  I've known that part of our struggle of getting together regularly and showing up in each other's lives is because the group is made up of all these talented people.  And our culture teaches us the value of developing our individual talents over just about anything else.  So we show up when it works, when it feels good, when it supports our goals of self-improvement.  So our challenge as people of Jesus is to somehow instill the counter-cultural value of living in true community with other people.  Somehow we have to learn and believe and live that it's more important to serve Jesus and to serve his kingdom purpose than to maximize my own potential.   We need to learn and demonstrate that there is value to serving the community above ourselves.  How exactly to do this, to teach this, and to encourage this within the culture is a constant struggle for me.

But this is also an opportunity for the church.  It's an opportunity for the church to provide a place where people who need the community can find it.  It's an opportunity to use its strength as a remaining bastion of institutional existence in a way that serves the community around it.  It's an opportunity even for the talented ones to learn the joy of serving and sacrifice and seeking others' needs and desires above one's own.  Again, what exactly this looks like is the question.

But if we start by asking these questions, and if we acknowledge that we're bumping up against changing cultural values, we can begin to allow the values that Scripture teaches to direct our approach as we have conversations about how to put it all together.

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