The Spiritual Landscape
What Kodak Can Teach the Church
Of all the mistakes that Kodak made, perhaps the biggest one was that it failed to realize that film was just one way of being in the image business. That slowed its innovation. As a result, the company that drove the development of the camera business in the United States became a caretaker of the past. And, arguably, when Perez began leading it in a new direction in 2000, it was already too late to turn things around.
The church never asks itself often enough why it exists. The conversations among clergy are all too often about managing the bureaucracy, nonsense, and dysfunction that are a part of its life. The programming in churches is far too often focused on therapeutic and political topics.
Issues of "ecclesiology"—that dimension of theology that is meant to answer the question, "What is the church and why does it exist?"—have been relegated to the backwater of our conversations. As a result, we have confused what we do with how we've done it.
There is nothing more difficult than letting go of the past. And there is nothing more likely to ground us in letting go of it, than grounding in our God-given purpose. There are a lot of good things that a church can do, but if it is not focused on making it possible to encounter the living Christ, there is little about the way we do things that deserves to endure—or needs to, really.
There is, of course, one last lesson to learn from Kodak.
As hard as it will be to see it go, the need to capture and preserve images will still be met. It is a need that marked the human experience before George Eastman began his work. It is a need that others already meet. And it will be an effort that others will continue to make.
Similarly, people will continue to need God and God will continue to find God's people, with or without us.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/