“All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.”
~ Conan O’Brien from his final Tonight Show
It seems amongst my generation, especially when it comes to church, people move to one of two extremes. They either get cynical or overly idealistic. Really, in a lot of ways, they are two sides of the same coin. Cynicism happens when you stay focused on the present reality and can’t see beyond it, while idealism happens when you’re focused on what your preferred future is and you can’t see the present.
The problem with both of them is that they leave you paralyzed. I’ve talked with person after person who has left the church because they’re cynical – the church has hurt them in some way, it hasn’t done what they think it should do, or they can’t see past specific people or behaviors in a certain church, and so they give up on church. And at the same time I’ve talked with a large number of overly idealistic people who aren’t a part of any church, because they can’t find one that lives up to their standards and what they think church should be.
Several months ago, a friend, Nick Boring, introduced me to a concept called Parallel Pathing. It essentially looks like this
The concept is this – that you have to work within your present reality, with an eye towards the preferred future. As you do that, slowly your present reality will begin to fade out as your preferred future begins to take over. The reason a cynical person gets stuck is because they can’t see past the present reality and they stay in that place, and the reason an overly idealistic person gets stuck is because all they can see is the preferred future and they can’t deal with the present reality.
The person who will really gain traction and make a difference is the person who can learn to parallel path. They learn to operate in the midst of the present reality, while at the same time working towards a preferred future.
In the church world, in the next decade or so, we will see more and more baby boomers who grew their churches and had long tenures end up retiring out of their churches. There’s going to be numerous problems facing those churches as they try to figure out how to take steps forward, but one of them will be learning to parallel path.
I think a part of the reason that so many people in my generation aren’t able to take on an established church and be able to lead it into the future is because we struggle with this concept. There are great, established churches that will need to be lead into the future, but it will take leaders who can work with patience in the present reality and at the same time have a keen eye for the future, who will know when not to stay stuck in one or the other and who can navigate the convergence of the present reality with the preferred future.
I’m currently reading Eric Metaxas’ Biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from his book, Life Together.
“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest andsacrificial”
If my generation is going to lead the church in a significant way into the future, it will take a rejection of cynicism and a rejection of over idealism, and an embracing of the church right where it’s at while being able to live in the tension of also having a vision for the future.