What is Going to Happen?

The Rev. Mary Ellen Ashcroft

What is Going to Happen?

What is going to happen?

At the Y or the post office or the grocery store, people say to me, “You are retiring!  What will happen to Spirit of the Wilderness?”

Behind this question is a model of church which puts the minister at the center of the church’s life. I can understand why people assume this model; I’m consistently surprised, even shocked, by how other ministers seem to assume they will make all the decisions and fulfill most of the ministries in the church.

This model has so much history that it seems inevitable. After all, it makes the minister feel good—competent, indispensable, and worth the salary. And for congregations, this model makes church more or less a hobby—something to add to the weekend’s entertainment.

This model limped along while we were in a Christendom world where people just kinda went to church. But I would argue that it was never effective in growing disciples. And while I believe it’s crucial that leadership have some theological and biblical knowledge, the “Father knows best” approach severely limits the growth of the church.

Educational theorists have, for the last thirty years, pointed out that the top down style of learning—professor or teacher knows all and dispenses bits of knowledge (drip, drip, drip) onto the waiting students is severely lacking. Waiting student accepts distilled knowledge and regurgitates on exam, and goes away unchanged.

This model makes the professor feel like an expert; s/he doesn’t have to figure out new ways of approaching material—the lecture notes are all there. The student knows what to expect and can perform and walk away—“yeah, I took that class.” (For more on this see the work of Paulo Freire, Parker Palmer, etc.)

In education, the failure of this way of dispensing knowledge has led to other models, including the circle model. In this way of learning, the material is in the center of the circle and teacher and students sit in a circle and interact and make meaning of the material. The professor may not COVER all the material. Instead, by sharing the sense of ownership and exploration, the learning is more deeply embedded. As an art historian friend of mine said, instead of dimming the lights and COVERING western art, he helped students begin to think and see like art historians.

I believe/hope we have been doing this at Spirit of the Wilderness. While it’s true that I may know more about apocalyptic literature than many of you(!), I’m confident that together we know from practice what is really crucial—how to use our gifts, how God directs us to reach out, how to care for each other. We hear each other’s words and our faith grows . . .

So, when people ask me, “What will happen to Spirit of the Wilderness?” I say, “They will be just fine. They are a healthy group, using their gifts. The Spirit has guided and will guide!”