"We need all kinds of thinkers."

by Rev. Mindi

My husband and I had the opportunity to hear Temple Grandin speak last week. Temple is, of course, probably one of the most famous people with autism that we know of today, but as Temple shared, many also suspect people such as Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs had undiagnosed autism. Albert Einstein did not speak until the age of three, and Steve Jobs had few friends and was socially awkward as a child and youth.

While Temple has contributed much to our more current understandings of how people live in the world with autism, I was reminded that she is one person, with one set of experiences, and that as parent of a child with autism our experience and our son’s experience is different.  Her experience has taught her that sometimes the rest of us try to make it too easy and we don’t challenge our children enough. Perhaps there is some wisdom in that; maybe we do make it too easy at times. However, I am again reminded that is her opinion from her experience, and that we knew little about autism when she was a child. While we still don’t know as much, we do know that intensive therapies such as speech-language and behavioral therapy can go a long way in helping a child with autism achieve access to education as “typically developing” children do today.  We have had to think differently about how we care and educate children with autism, and we are continuing to do so.

But what I took away from Temple’s speech was that “We need all kinds of thinkers.” She thinks in pictures. She did not do well in math, especially algebra, but she is known for her incredible, creative designs for cattle farmers because she drew them out in elaborate detail.  She sees things in pictures. While many of us start at the top with a large concept and work our way through a problem by breaking it down into smaller pieces, she starts with the smaller pieces. She thinks differently. And many people living with autism do. Steve Jobs , as she shared, started by dreaming of an interface that was easy to use. He didn’t start with trying to figure out how to develop the software to do it—he left that to the engineers.

In the church, we need all kinds of thinkers. We need dreamers who dream of the church differently, out-of-the-box, along with the people who work on the ideas and ministries that help us to move into the new church concept. All too often, we are still working from the old concept, and we expect the pastor to do it all. We are not working out of the box, we are instead looking at the old concept of church and breaking down into smaller pieces: Christian education, outreach, programs, Bible Study, Youth ministry, etc. I have seen way too many churches think if they just hire a new Youth Minister everything will change for the good, or if they just try a new program for Young Adults they will change. But the truth is they aren’t looking for that kind of change—they are looking to fix one small problem without seeing the larger picture: the church they once knew is dying. Or dead. Or just completely outdated and irrelevant. And the pastor often gets blamed when the change does not occur (as expected).

We need all kinds of thinkers. We need dreamers and imaginers and organizers and planners. We need to go back to vision and purpose: who do we imagine God desires us to be as the church? Are we fulfilling that dream and vision, or are we fulfilling a plan of the past, an old model that doesn’t mean the same thing anymore?  How can we think out of the box in this world, today?

More importantly, how can we use all kinds of thinkers? How can we bring in the doubters and the strugglers, the ones who don’t know (and perhaps don’t care too much) about our denominational identity along with the cradle churchgoers? Or, to think even more outside of the box, how do we go out and be the church with all of these?

We need all kinds of thinkers. This isn’t easy to do, but we need to let go of the old models of programs and staff configurations and even building maintenance to move into a model of being the church as Christ’s Body. The church, since even the early days, has been challenged to think outside of the box. In many ways, this isn’t something new. It’s just time to dream it up again, and to include the dreamers who might think about church differently than you. It’s not enough to include a token young adult or youth on a committee; a church needs to engage communities of youth and young adults and actually desire to build a relationship. It’s not enough to say “Let’s have a program for young families to get them into the church;” a church needs to think outside the box and look at the greater picture: are we really a child-friendly church? Are we welcoming of children who may cry or run around? Do we provide child care? Do we care if children eat all the cookies at coffee hour? And are we welcoming of non-traditional families? How do we include families whose children may live with another parent and only attend on occasion?

It’s time to think outside the box, and to do that, we’re going to need some help. We’re going to need all kinds of thinkers.

Acting your way into a new way of thinking.

This summer a visiting pastor made a remark in his sermon that has stayed with me.  He said it was easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it was to think your way into a new way of acting.  As part of a church that seeks to be missional and followers of Jesus, this hit me hard.  Praying to be good servants, praying for compassion, praying for ministries t hat really serve is thinking your way into acting.  And I've done it far too long. Acting my way into a new way of thinking is going to be a greater challenge.  If you act, you risk failure.  Or perhaps even scarier, you risk success!  Then what?  I am a Licensed Professional Minister and the Adult Ed. liaison at an intentional home church in the DOC tradition.  We are doing a study on racism, which has been interesting in a room full of white people.  But at some point, study has to stop and we have to take on action.  What are we going to do in response to what we have learned?

The most important thing, or one of them, I believe, is to be aware of our white privilege as we choose and carry out actions.   What actions we take could have a million forms, but if we are not aware of our privilege and how that shapes what we are doing, our actions risk harming, not assisting in liberation.

I am the quotation queen and I have another one to go with this post and topic.

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come here because your liberation is wrapped up in mine, let us work together." (Lilla Watson)

As a traditionally white church (which is changing on a national level) we must be aware that our liberation IS wrapped up in the liberation of others.  And we can study, be aware, and pray all we want, but until we begin to act our way into a new way of thinking, the old way will remain.

I can't wait to see what actions come out of our study.  This church has existed for more than fifteen years and has taken several prophetic stances and has always backed them up with direct action.  This is an exciting time for me.  This is an exciting time for the church, my little local one and the larger church...we get to act our way into a new way of thinking, aware that our liberation is tied up in that of others.  Let's go and do it!

By Sherril Morris