The first time this thought occurred to me was back in about 1980 when Colleen and I were on vacation. Our trip took us through Oklahoma City on our way home. We happened to drive past the Oklahoma State fairgrounds and saw a sign that read something like: National Miniature Horse Finals. So, we stopped by to take a look. What I saw was unbelievable then, and as I think about it, now. The folks dressed horses up in all sorts of costumes and performed little shows with them. One lady came into the arena and set up a little bedroom area with a television at one side of the room. Then, with the miniature horse dressed in pajamas and sun glasses, they crawled under the covers to watch TV together. Patently weird in my opinion, but I came away with a new insight for me at that time: multiple cultures exist within the culture at large.
Most recently because of some work my son is doing, I became aware of the fact that there are "gold buyers" that purchase gold for 98% of value and melt the gold into chains and jewelry and profit by 15-20%. I would never have known these people existed without Josh having some interest in that niche.
Saying all this for a reason.
I am increasingly convinced that the Church of the Nazarene is one of these fractional pieces of culture within the culture at large. I have a few insights and will admit to some exaggeration, but not much.
1. I felt for many years that what was going on in our denomination was actually bigger than the culture at large. I thought we WERE the culture! On my way to camps, district assemblies and other district gatherings I was convinced that nearly all other cars on the road were headed to the same gathering to which I was headed.
2. A certain "atmosphere" was the goal of our gatherings. There was an intentional commitment to creating a unique "Nazarene-flavored" event that left me feeling like somethingg was happening with us that was not happening in other Christian venues. In some ways that insight was right. We were quite uniquely...Nazarene.
3. Most of my ministry revolved around a conviction that, and this is hard to adequately explain, people were rather intensely focused on my life and ministry to insure that I was on the Nazarene track and committed to Nazarene values.
There are many other examples I could sight. Campmeeting back in Iowa was HUGE when I was growing up. Our trip in 1980 took us into Iowa in August and I stopped by. What I saw was shocking though I had only been gone just about 15 years. I felt like I had time-warped back into the Little House on the Prairie days. One exampe...pastors were wearing suits in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week in hot, Iowa, muggy weather. The majority of women wore their hair in buns. My friend, Tim Tinker, was on campus that day and shook his head with some sadness and said something to the effect, "We are trying desperately to be what we were."
The above paragraph is a great example of a fractional piece of the culture within a fractional piece of the culture.
My thought most recently has revolved around...what is the new culture that largely defines the Church of the Nazarene? And, is it sustainable? Is it something that people will load the family into the car and go to where "something is happening" both in the local church or/and in larger gatherings of Nazarene-dom.
I would come close to staking my life that the future of our denomination depends nearly totally on the issue of what culture emerges out of the transtion that has clearly come upon us. Is that new culture useful, relevant, dynamic and appealing? If not, will the last person to leave please turn out the lights. If it is, rejoice!
You have my utmost amazement if you have read this far. If some dedicated soul has done so, I would love to read your thoughts.