Rethinking Church Part 3: Empowerment
Welcome to the third journal entry in our series introducing the why, what, and how of New Wine Collective. Follow us on social media and join the conversation!
Many of us want to do more than just sit and watch church. We want to be seen and heard. We long for deeper spiritual and relational connection. We want to practice a holistic spirituality that integrates all of life and makes sense for who we are (and not someone else). We want to leave fear, shame, and judgment behind and live a more authentic spiritual journey. We want to use our voices and get to work on real-world problems like injustice, inequity, and climate change. Many of us sense that there must be a better way of following the way of Jesus in the world and want to be a part of shaping that new future! So what’s stopping us?
All of the above are reasons why New Wine is pursuing a fundamentally different approach to church. Our goal is to empower people to co-create and shape their own spiritual communities on their own terms. It’s about empowerment and mutual connection, not hierarchy and control; distributing power, instead of hoarding it. In other words, we’re not trying to build a platform for ourselves so that everyone will have to listen to what we say. We’re building a platform for you, and for friends and neighbors, for connectors and content creators, and for anyone willing to come together around common values. The goal is conversation, not conversions.
What I’m proposing is a paradigm shift in what the Church is and how it works. We’re shifting:
- from just a few privileged voices to many diverse ones
- from one size fits all programming to self-curated relational learning
- from a centralized hub to a distributed network model
- from costly overhead and bottlenecks to lean and nimble ministry
To be clear, we’re not starting a church. We’re creating environments where church can happen. Because we’re defining church as simple relational communities based on mutual compassion and love, it means it can happen anytime, anywhere, and with anybody!
You might be wondering, but what about doctrine? What about authority? What if they do it wrong? All good questions! And we will get to all of them eventually. But for now, I simply invite us to consider things from a God’s eye point of view. God’s Church is already much bigger and more diverse than any single leader, group, building, institution, tradition, or even belief system. We must rid ourselves of the notion that any one of us gets to own the Church, or control it, or play referee or gatekeeper. This more open and free approach to church will only make sense if we’re willing to relinquish our need for power and control.
Power is the dark shadow side of all organized religion–it’s always there but we don’t like to talk about it very often. And it’s at the root of so much that has gone wrong in American Christianity. If the Church is going to evolve in this new era, it must do something about the influences of worldly empire and power that are deeply embedded in our history, systems, and structures.
In Jeremy Heimans’ and Henry Timms’ book, “New Power,” they describe a fundamental shift in the way power is being used in our world today. This shift is the result of a growing tension between two distinct approaches which Heimans and Timms define like this:
Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.
New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.
Most of us are unaware of how much our way of doing church is designed around old power models. We simply take for granted that our practice of Christianity is centralized, top-down, and based on “us vs. them” boundary keeping. We create hierarchies to preserve power and authority, and institutions to maintain the status quo. According to Heimans and Timms, the primary ways people interface with old power organizations are through consumption and compliance. Sadly, consuming and complying aptly describe what most of us are used to doing in most churches.
To clarify, old power is not bad. We need scholars, experts, and institutions in order to function well as a society. And of course, most healthy churches fall somewhere on a spectrum between old and new power. There is certainly nothing wrong with organizations providing religious services and programs to people. I sincerely hope many local brick and mortar community churches will survive this pandemic and thrive as part of the spiritual landscape for a long time to come. I’m rooting for them!
At the same time I believe that, together, we can also create a new way of being the Church that is much needed in our day. That’s why New Wine is building an online platform that cultivates new power, flattens hierarchies, and activates the priesthood of all believers. (The clergy/laity divide is so old power!)
Old power fosters dependency and consumerism; new power is about empowerment and high participation. Old power operates under a scarcity mindset; new power operates in abundance. New power is already everywhere and in everybody– much more than anyone can contain! To me, that sounds like Jesus describing God’s Kingdom: “…the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” (Matthew 4:17) It’s already in us and all around us.
When we let go of our need for power and control, and begin to reimagine church as simple relational communities that empower people, we get to dream some new possibilities:
- Instead of being passive consumers and spectators, more people can become active participants: creators, connectors, and curators
- Instead of outsourcing their spirituality to religious leaders, people can take ownership and responsibility for their own spiritual journeys
- Instead of relying on positions and titles, leadership can be flexible and shared
- Instead of competing with others, we can cooperate and collaborate for the common good
- Instead of occupying people’s time and resources to build our own brands, we can release people to pursue their own passions and engage in love, healing, and justice work in the world
I see New Wine Collective as a grassroots movement that will be facilitated by technology but fueled by the new power that’s latent in all of us, especially in younger generations. My dream is to see that power released through relational connection and directed by love to heal and change the world.
Real change almost always starts in the margins, not in centers of power. Christianity itself started as a fringe movement on the outside edges of the religious establishment. It was seeded primarily among the powerless in society; slaves, women, and outcasts. It’s no coincidence then that so many prophetic spiritual movements throughout history have also started at the bottom, not the top. It’s the way Jesus did it!
If you’ve come this far, thank you for reading through this long post! Please stay tuned for future entries about the spirituality, structure, and strategy of New Wine Collective.
You can learn more about new power here.