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Author and speaker Brian McLaren makes a second appearance at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church


The author of more than 20 books talks about his latest, ‘Life After Doom’

July 29, 2024

The Rev. Dr. Brian McLaren

With his most recent book, “Life After Doom: Wisdom and Courage for a World Falling Apart,” now available, author, speaker and activist Brian McLaren recently returned to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church’s airwaves for a 90-minute presentation and Q&A on “Creating a Church for the Future.” Watch McLaren’s talk and the session that followed here.

“I’m not going to give you the answers,” McLaren told the large online crowd. “What I hope by the grace of God I can do is play a role in stimulating your creativity. What we need at times like this is not some top-down formula. We need creative thinking that breaks out of the old boxes and unleashes part of our brain that very often we don’t use when it comes to religion and Christian faith.”

“This is especially relevant, I think, for Presbyterians,” said McLaren, who works with a number of other mainline denominations as well. He said he recently spent time with the faithful at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas and First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, as well as one of the PC(USA)’s new worshiping communities, an initiative of the PC(USA) that “really exemplifies the kind of creativity I hope we can stimulate in all of our minds and hearts. There are so many beautiful things happening in Presbyterian churches.”

“Let’s remember,” McLaren said, “that the church as we know it — church with an organ, church with pews, church with a pulpit, church with crosses, church with stained glass windows — these are inventions. People created these things. They didn’t always exist. The very early church had none of these things, and so what we consider normal and maybe even essential for churches, we have to understand that no, these are just residues of other people’s creativity. If we keep things exactly as they made them, we are not imitating our ancestors — we are actually violating their creativity when we refuse to be creative on our own.”

McLaren offered five guidelines “to help you in your creativity”:

  • Welcome ourselves to reality. We’re well aware of forces, including climate change, financial changes and changes in congregations’ mix of ages, he said. Those changes have made many people nostalgic, “wishing they could go back to the past,” but understanding “that creativity is one of the characteristics that brought us this far.” Most mainline churches have three wings, he said: the nostalgic wing, a smaller creative wing and those between the two — often including clergy and lay leaders — walking on eggshells.
  • Unleash our creativity, or “we’ll just keep bringing our old solutions” to the problems churches face, McLaren said.
  • Prioritize adaptability. The Reformers knew the church needed reforming, but some of them insisted that the church needed to keep reforming once it was Reformed. McLaren used the illustration of a tree that had grown up near a river that had changed its course, leaving the tree’s roots exposed. “This tree did everything right. It took root near water … but now the soil has been eroded under those roots,” he said, displaying a picture. “When we think about the church of the future, we have multiple uncertainties that we need to face.” Church leaders adapted mightily during the pandemic. Like that tree, we ought to be about strengthening our roots and developing our seeds “to prepare for a future beyond our own survival.”
  • Go deep in the essentials. After giving viewers “100% permission to disagree,” McLaren said that among the deep changes Phyllis Tickle described is one he would add: from defining Christian faith from a set of beliefs or a kind of structure or hierarchy to defining Christian faith as a set of skills or capacities developed through practices including mentoring, apprenticeships, rituals and conversations.
  • Move and build a movement. What’s needed is “a creative and agile spiritual movement that works across our denominations and helps our more progressive and creative congregations to have a shared vision together,” McLaren said. Institutional structures “almost never declare an emergency and almost never train people for life after their decline.”

Learn more about New York Avenue Presbyterian Church’s McClendon Scholar Program here.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Author Brian McLaren speaks at New  York Avenue PC on “Creating a Church for the Future”

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Terri Milburn, Accounts Payable Manager, Administrative Services Group (A Corp) 
Debbie Miller, Associate for Lending & Investment Service, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program  

Let us pray

God of all ages, we thank you for all stages of our faith and lives. Open us to serving and welcoming all your children. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who met strangers and friends and who gives us new life. Amen.

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