Will the same angst that propelled Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 creep into the mindset of the Nazarene General Assembly in 2017?
I think it might.
I’m not talking politics. I’m talking mindset– an unsettled dissatisfaction with the status quo. There seems to be a mistrust of authority and the ability to voice displeasure with a greater ease. Moreover, a nostalgia for the perceived past by the disgruntled American congregant adds to the current anxiety.
I’ve pastored in Nazarene mecca in the not too distant past and now I am back in the rust belt that helped propel Donald Trump to victory. I’m deep in the grass roots of the Church of the Nazarene far away from the Nazarene decision makers in Lenexa. I’m out of any loop in other words. I have no insider information. I only have my anecdotal observations.
Thanks in part to the heated election, the angst of people is real. Many church folks have taken an anti-James 1:19 approach to life. James 1:19 says: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. I’ve seen just the opposite. People are slow to listen, but quick to speak and quick to be angry. Saying the “wrong” word or addressing the “wrong” issue in the mind of many brings the speedy wrath and suspicion against the speaker.
A mistrust toward authority is everywhere. Like the anger expressed by Trump supporters before the election and the anger expressed by Clinton supporters after the election, this mistrust is from all sides. These are interesting days to pastor (to say the least).
The shrinking influence of the church in public life and upon the culture has added to the angst. Like in the political arena where in part many people voted based on a perceived better time in the past that has “slipped away,” many people in the church long for the perceived “good old days” too. They remember the days when people dropped everything when the church called a meeting. Their kids and grandkids aren’t doing that these days. They are sitting in folding chairs at soccer games on Sunday mornings more than they are sitting in a pew. Church folks long for familiar songs in worship and a familiar American Holiness version of sanctification (if they talk about sanctification at all). In many cases, there is a fundamentalist lens in which much of the nostalgia is viewed. They see the greying of the American church and are legitimately worried about the demise of their local congregation in which they have invested their life. The angst grows.
Social media has provided a greater audience and fuel to a quick angered and slow listening angst. Hiding behind a computer screen, people are free to share vile objections (Read: gossip and malicious talk) to a far greater audience than in the past. A decade ago, if a carnal believer wanted to share their biased concerns they told a friend or two who might or might not believe the information. The friends of the disgruntled person (because they knew their friend’s personality and struggles) would evaluate the validity of the claim. Today, the discontent person shares on Facebook and Twitter their dissatisfaction. The result is that people who are merely Facebook “friends” and Twitter followers and who don’t have the same connection to the individual as the close associates of a decade ago then take the biased misinformation as fact. The result is fuel to a perceived fire that might or might not actually exist.
If this nostalgia for an imagined past, mistrust of authority and a slow to listen but quick to anger in social media and life exists, it stands to reason that it will be brought to Indianapolis in the 2017 General Assembly. How it will play out in church elections and decisions is yet to be seen, but if the presidential election is an indicator the General Assembly will be a more vocal and angered gathering than ever in our history.
So what can be done?
The only hope for the church is God’s intervention. We need God to be present with the decision makers and with our leaders. We need God to work in the hearts and minds of the delegation. We need His wisdom. Rather than a reactionary quick tempered response to current events and the changing times or ignoring the issues of the day, we need to be creative and open to God making all things new (even in the Church of the Nazarene). This General Assembly will have the new challenges of a very diverse collection of delegates with various world views and opinions. It is imperative that our delegates gather with a God first, God inspired desire to see His will done. If the Church of the Nazarene is going to be a force in the 21st Century we need bold, courageous leadership and people that are “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”