In seminary classes across the world professors are trying to help prepare young ministers to understand what they are getting themselves into. And what they are getting themselves into, besides a lot of beautiful, is also a deep pile of doodoo! Classes like Missiology and Ecclesiology teach us the Modality and the Sodality of the church. Ralph Winter, the author of The Two Structures of God's Redemptive Mission, breaks this down wonderfully. But here it is in a nutshell: Modality encompasses the way things are, centered on the people and mechanisms that offer organization, progress, and thoughtful structure that really help the church run smoothly. The Sodality is made of those who are out there on mission, united in purpose, pushing the envelope, and reaching the unreached. The Modality is the structure and the Sodality is the piece that is on mission. In most churches these two groups can really struggle.
More about that in a minute.
Just now. I overheard something interesting - in fact, perfect timing! I'm sitting here at Ebenezer's Coffee shop in DC and heard two medical professionals chatting about the medical industry. Here was the line, "there's so much conflict between the caregivers in the hospitals and the medical administration in the offices." Amen!
Historically youth ministry has been a major missional arm (the sodality) of the church. Youth workers are the ones caring for the hearts, minds, and souls of kids. And these Teenagers- their world is very complex, to say the least. We know this. Post-Christianity, a world in which the prominent and shaping voices are not judeo-christian, is on the rise. Youth workers, the major sodality of American churches, are in the trenches of this very difficult terrain - out there doing their best to reach a generation that is extremely difficult to reach.
Now here's what I see happening as the decline in youth groups continues to rise or should I say fall: There is conflict in our churches because the Modality can't understand why. "If you just gave better/cooler talks, were more organized, and served pizza, students would come in droves..." It's not that the modality (the organization) has lost its heart for the youth (lets not paint them that way), but they have lost their way in this rapidly evolving cultural reality. They often struggle to understand the new methodologies of the youth minister. And the sodality (the youth worker) is restless, always pushing for more, and never content where they are. We are desperately fighting for this generation - which means we are doing are best to change the structures in the church that are no longer effective. Those same structures are in place because the organization (modality) put them there. They used to work, right? Why change?
Now, back to my boss yelling in that back room. See, at the time our church was trying to get us to cut our budget and stop doing after school programs because parents of those kids coming weren't turning into "giving units." They wanted us to attend more meetings in the church and follow the organizational norms. My boss had had enough. He was fighting for the Kingdom vision of the Church and for our ability to reach students on their own turf and in their own time.
As I have grown older and been working in churches for over 24 years - not to mention being a pastors kid (ugh!) - I've seen the value of both the modality and the sodality. But to be honest, I've rarely seen these two parts work well together. In fact, when the organization, the modality, loses heart for the sodality (which can easily happen, because we are kind of a pain :) - the modality can create an environment that becomes impossible for those who are driven by their passion to extend God's reign. The structures suck the life out of these creatives! So the worst thing that can happen to youth ministry is happening = those in church leadership are trying to turn youth ministry into a program-oriented structure-first modality. But youth ministry functions best as a sodality.
If you read Winter's stuff that I mentioned above, you'll find that the church needs both the modality and the sodality. We need each other! The problem is that sodality is often run by people who have little to no authority in the church. Those in charge of the church tend to be people who sit in offices all day. As important as that is, this is connected to the very real issue of churches following the business model. It might be killing the Church's soul!
It wasn't long ago that my wife and one of her professors were talking after class. After my wife described what was happening at a church in respect to the youth ministry he said, "The youth pastor is either going have to quit or, ultimately, he's going to get fired." She asked, "How do you know that?" To which he replied, "I've been in the church a long time." He ended up being VERY right. Hmm? Sodality and modality MUST get back our hearts for each other. We must! We have to remember we're on the same team. Winter believes that the two structures are necessary to balance the Church and keep her moving forward.
So this to those who represent the Modality: Seek to birth fresh Sodalities and let Sodality stretch you! Sodality: honor the Modality by seeking their wisdom and remembering where you were birthed. Sustain one another, pour into one another, seek what is best for the Kingdom. Live out Philippians 2 - "If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand."
I'd love to hear your thoughts. You can comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.