Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Postmodern Ideas for the LDS Church

Recently, Christian bloggers have been discussing the effects of postmodernism on their congregations. (Hat Tip: DMI Dave) For example, this article notes that our society is undergoing a shift to a completely different way of thinking--from left-brained, logical, analytical patterns to whole-brained or bi-lateral thinking. This type of thinking includes and embraces the right-brain intuitive and creative influences. The postmodern generation has been trained in the classroom to use the right brain in their learning activities. Schools have increasingly incorporated the inquiry approach to problems and have engaged in cooperative learning paradigms.

As they encounter the Church as adults, these 18 to 30 year-olds use postmodern thinking in solving difficulties and ambiguities. I believe that as this generation takes its place in local Church leadership, there will be more creative problem-solving at the grass-roots level and less reliance upon tradition. Rather than memorizing and quoting from the Church Handbook of Instructions, these leaders will increasingly use their right brain and intuitive powers.

An example of this type of thinking in the LDS Church can be found in a recent post at Mormon Rhetoric. Here Natalie makes some interesting suggestions on the subject of ward boundaries. Not being part of the postmodern generation, I had never even considered that ward boundaries could be formulated using criteria other than geography. But she makes a great case for approaching problems such as transient communities and weak youth programs. In other areas of the Church, one can see Ward Councils using cooperative principles rather than rigid hierarchical structures. (Warning: Sometimes this attempt may resemble the cartoon above!) Nonetheless, this is an exciting development.

The evangelical churches have concluded that in order to stay vital they must learn how to think postmodernly without sacrificing key principles.

Do you see that the LDS Church could benefit from postmodern thinking? What do you identify as key principles that should not be sacrificed if the Church begins to take a more right-brained or bi-lateral approach?


Dave said...

Thanks for the link, Bored Soon To Be In Saudi. Yes, a lot will change as the next generation moves into local leadership. I suspect there will be more participation. But senior leadership has been pushing "councils" for several years now, which also promotes broader input and shared discussion (if not always decisionmaking).

Bored in Vernal said...

geez, it looks like I have to move to Saudi Arabia to get any comments around here!

Téa said...

Heh, heh, heh. Maybe they're all lurking out there waiting for someone else to make an inane comment so their comments sound better by comparison. I'm happy to oblige the hidden masses out there, yearning to comment free...

One area that has started to change more (from my time in the Church) is teaching. I see it in the way missionaries have gone from memorized discussions to the gospel topics in the Preach My Gospel manual. I see potential in the instructions in the beginning of the RS/MP manuals, encouraging instructors to foster discussion and not to just lecture or insist on covering all the material prepared.

Updates/changes in the teaching manuals would be a great way to include more bi-lateral thinking methods into church classes for all ages.

Many years and wards ago,one innovation that I greatly appreciated was an additional Gospel Doctrine class for those with attending with pre-Primary age children. It was more relaxed, the children had more freedom move about or make noise and the parents could enjoy and particpate without worrying about ruining the class for others. Of course no one *had* to attend it but it was great to have the option.

Some traditions should have a limited shelf life, and I see the rooting out of such pseudo-doctrines as another positive effect of this trend.

Kullervo said...

"The evangelical churches have concluded that in order to stay vital they must learn how to think postmodernly without sacrificing key principles.

That's unfortunately an extreme overstatement. There's a small group of evangelicals and self-described post-evangelicals who are embracing postmodernism, but it is an extremely controversial movement.

On the one hand, books by Brian McLaren and Rob Bell (two leaders in the emergent, i.e. postmodern, movement) are doing pretty well. But at the same time, most conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists eschew anything to do with these guys. Just google their names and see how much flaming rhetoric is being tossed their way.

The movement is also kind of a new one, and it will take a lot of time to tell if it really is the new wave in Christian thinkking, or if it's jsut a passing fad.

GeckoMan said...

Sorry to be a liitle slow, BiV, but I've been trying to engage myself bi-laterally about your question for the past couple of days!

I think these post-modern thinking skills hold great promise for the church's ministry, because we practice strong elements of grass roots organization, and ward councils are functioning for the most part.

There is great power for change and achievement in synergistic or group problem solving. In corporate America we call them "teams." Companies use teams to address HR issues, new product development, work safety, etc. I've functioned in teams for several companies and have observed a broad spectrum of results. As always, teamwork is a function of the individual player's skills and commitment. But, a wrench in the works sometimes stems from management's inability to let the team do its thing, or by cutting it off at the pass, if the team's output doesn't sync with a desired outcome.

How does this relate to the church? We admittedly have a top-down decision tree structure, and we place a lot of faith in our leader's. However, more than personal management style is at play in well functioning stakes and wards: the gifts of the Spirit are manifest where there is no unrighteous dominion. We all function on the basis of our skills and experience and passions. As this newer generation of problem-solving thinkers infiltrate into church leadership positions we see their personal experience and skills come into play. We also see wards filled with individuals ready to engage and be part of solutions, rather than just be told what to do. This is promising stuff, if we can let change happen unhampered by the traditional or restrictive mores of our LDS culture.