Full Spectrum Thinking
“When we categorize,” writes Bob Johansen, “we contain our thinking and stop exploring alternative views of what’s really going on. We divide ourselves into echo chambers where we only hear voices with which we already agree” (Full Spectrum Thinking, 24).
Bob Johansen describes full spectrum thinking as the ability to see familiar situations in unfamiliar ways. It looks beyond the binary modes of categories and boxes and, rather, seeks to examine, explore and envision what is possible when we set those categories and boxes aside.
The challenge, as Johansen notes, is that we prefer certainty. We like neat and tidy categories. They help us think quickly and make judgments on the fly. Sometimes this is necessary, as when we see a bear crossing our path. We need to be able to respond quickly if we are not to get eaten. However, when it comes to human interactions and how we ordinarily move about the world on a day to day basis, labels and categories are often a hindrance to where we want to go or who we want to become.
For instance, it has become clear to many churches and church leaders, with notable exceptions, that the once very successful Christian formation offering known as “Sunday School” is dying or is already dead. A church could work very hard to recruit teachers and children to re-establish their Sunday School program; however, this would likely end with a church becoming discouraged and exhausted. The culture of learning has shifted; what parents want for their children has shifted.
Some people blame sports for this. I think they’re wrong. It’s too easy a response. It has been and will always be that parents and children will make time and space for what matters. At the same time, just because Sunday School lacks the same resonance it had when I was a child, going to Sunday School in the 1980s, doesn’t mean that parents today do not care about their children learning the faith. Actually, many families seem to be more interested, they’re simply looking for different ways to grow spiritually and engage their children with the faith of Christ. They’re looking for habits and patterns that infuse their family’s day to day life with a sense of spiritual vibrance.
It is no secret that churches throughout the world, and especially churches in America, are in decline. More churches will close in America this year than will open, a dynamic that has been shifting for the past two decades. It would be convenient to say that it’s because of COVID. However, COVID has only made visible what’s been hidden from our eyes for far too long, and that is this: our old ways of being Church have to change. How we teach, learn, give, pray, communicate, baptize, marry and bury must change.
What about these need to change? Well, that is yet to be determined. Full spectrum thinking, says Johansen—thinking without boxes, is about being clear where we are headed and being flexible about how we get there.
The church where I serve, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Geneseo, has gained a great deal of clarity over the past several years, and we have a clear sense of direction and vision: we are becoming what we receive, the Body of Christ. Our church has made adjustments to how we’re becoming the Body of Christ, how we are nourishing the people and communities where we live and pray. More adjustments will have to be made, but as we have become transparent and deliberate about following the movement of the Spirit and encouraging people to grow spiritual through prayer, works of mercy, giving, reading scripture, and conversations regarding matters of faith, we have seen sustainable, steady growth.
We’ve all been changing our entire lives. It is a matter of how we will change, not so that our churches survive or weather the storms of decline, but to change in ways that we all experience the fullness of life as the Body of Christ today. If we are living into our calling as disciples for Jesus Christ, the future of the church where we live and serve will be filled with the promise of the Gospel.
Speaking of finding peace in his life, Charles Williams once said that, “I gazed upon the lovely face of Christ, and the dove of peace alighted on me. I gazed upon the dove of peace and it flew away.” Where we often come up short is mistaking the experience of peace for the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. But when we seek the Kingdom, and we do so with the clarity and vision of the Gospel, we will experience the peace of God which passes all understanding. Keeping our gaze on Christ, God will continue to complete the work of the Gospel in us and through us
Let us not mistake the dove of peace for Christ who makes peace descend upon us. Rather, let us seek the Kingdom with clarity, remaining ever open to the transformation God desires to work in us. As we do so, our churches will grow. But as they grow, we must be ready to be transformed by the movement of the Spirit in our midst.