How Change in the Church Really Happens
Historically more from the Bottom Up and in Four Stages
(In fact, just like our own 1776 American Revolution!)
Change in the Church (well I am a church historian) follows a four-stage process. Depending on time and place, the stages can overlap until the change reactions reach critical mass.
(1) The critical prophets:
The critical prophet, and the critical prophets, are those people who see the need for reform and have the courage to speak out. They are the courageous concerned Catholics. They are usually condemned by the institutional leaders and called “dissidents,” “trouble-makers,” or simply “heretics.” Institutional leaders really try to crucify them.
(2) Networks of the courageous concerned:
When the courageous concerned prophets survive (usually a sign that they are speaking the needed truth), networks of like-minded people start connecting and expanding. Through networking the courageous concerned share common concerns, common dreams and support one another. Networking is absolutely essential for effective change. Institutional leaders cannot destroy networks; and when they try, they simply energize people and promote further networking.
(3) Councils and assemblies of the courageous concerned:
Sharing concerns and dreams is not enough. Delegates and representatives of reform organizations (like, for instance, ARCC: The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the church, COR: Catholic Organizations for Renewal and VOTF: Voice of the Faithful) must gather in well-organized assemblies (like, for instance, the American Catholic Council planned for Pentecost 2011 in Detroit). In assemblies of the concerned, concrete strategies and structures for Church reform are planned and set in motion.
(4) Implementation of institutional reform strategies and structures:
This is the critical stage: Reform is in motion and it can take two possible directions.
A. Institutional leaders acknowledge the need; and they collaborate on strategies and structures for reform. The institution experiences rebirth and recaptures the spirit of the founder. Or………
B. Institutional leaders dig-in their heels and reject the rationale for reform and reject the strategies and structures for institutional Church reform. When this happens, the prophets and courageous concerned — for better or for worse — launch their own institution.
One thing is very certain these days:
the institution is unwell and needs reform and renewal.