Saturday, February 07, 2015
“The missional theologian and the practical theologian must work together to make sure congregations … are prepared to address and engage their post-Christendom setting. A missional theological conception of Christian practices offers a new paradigm for understanding the church’s ministry in the world since the old role of chaplain to society is no longer viable or defensible. Through missional Christian practices all members of the congregation take up their place of responsibility, as those strategically placed and adequately equipped to witness to the reign of God. Through participation in Christian practices that are formative and performative, congregations can practice their faith and practice witness.” (Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices)
I came across this quote in preparing this week for next week’s Mission and Community Service/Diaconal intensive. Rather than do the teaching myself, I have pulled together five case studies from five very diverse contexts in which Christians exercise community service. They are
- the complexity of interface between church and agency (Peter McDonald case study 1)
- agency as a place of service (Peter McDonald case study 2)
- powerful question as a practice of community ministry (Joanna Hubbard case study)
- ministry as chaplain in Mainstreet communities (Bruce Grindlay case study)
- the processes as community ministry engages with agency (Ian Bedford case study)
It promises to be a real feast, a lovely mix of practitioners and reflection. Two of the participants bring Doctoral study of their areas to the conversation, all four bring years of practical ministry immersion.
My role will be to work with participants to do ongoing reflection, exploring the questions raised for them by the case studies. To better resource that reflection, I’ve been doing some literature searching, exploring writing in this space. (I’ve found some real gems, including Connor’s Practicing Witness: A Missional Vision of Christian Practices, but also Rosemary Keller’s, Spirituality and Social Responsibility: Vocational Vision of Women in the United Methodist Tradition) and Gary Gunderson, Boundary Leaders).
I highlight the quote by Benjamin Connor for a number of reasons.
First, because it makes sense of our Faculty at Uniting College, and the emphasis we have put in recruitment on expertise in missiology and practical theology with a congregational and “practice” focus. So it is comforting to have that affirmed.
Second, it chimes with a 50 minute research presentation I did last week, in which I explored theology “face to face” in order to analyse ecclesial innovation. I ended up using the notion of performance, which attracted lengthy discussion from those present. Had I considered the downsides of performance? I suspect that had I used missional Christian practices that are “formative and performative” it would have been helpful for us all.
Third, it provides a theoretical framework for the work we did at Opawa Baptist when I was Minister there, in which we clarified seven missional practices, initially for Lent, but in an ongoing way for those exploring membership. In other words, joining Opawa was about the practice of mission. We worked to frame these practices missionally, which chimes with what Connor is arguing – that Christian practices can’t involve the simple use of what we practised before. Rather, in a new context, a missional context, they will need reworking in light of the missio Dei.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
an ordination sermon: It’s all about mission
I preached at the ordination of five Uniting Church ministers today. They are an intriguing bunch. One is a pioneer, two are from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds), three are heading inter-state, which suggests an endorsement by the church nationally of our training practices at Uniting College. Anyhow, here’s the sermon.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O God.
“The Uniting Church in Australia? It’s all about mission.” That’s according to Introducing the Uniting Church in Australia. Written by Andrew Dutney, currently President of the Uniting Church in Australia.
When you do an ordination, always name drop the President.
And so today’s Gospel reading invites us to look at ourselves, as ordinands, as gathered friends, as the Uniting church – and wonder how we shape up in light of being “all about mission” in Luke 10:1-9.
Some of you learn by doing. As you came in, you should have found 2 sheets of paper on your seat. One, instructions on how to build a boat. Second piece of paper, to make a boat. You’re invited, as I speak, to build a boat.
Some of you learn not only by doing but also by hearing, so come with me to our Bible passage, to verse 1.
Which offers a glimpse of God. Who is God? Well in verse 1, God is revealed as a sending God; appointing people, for the purpose of sending people. And the purpose of that sending is for wider society. That’s in verse 2 – the word “harvest” which is repeated three times in case you slow and you’re began to drift off at that point in the Bible reading.
You are sent, for a harvest. Any farmers in our midst, any wine growers, any orchardists – will be the first among us to realise the urgency of this sending God, the overwhelming focus that needs to be on wider society.
When the harvest is ready, you simply work. From dawn to dusk. Because every minute you delay increases the chance you’ll lose your harvest – to birds and blight, to rain and rot.
So this image of God as a sending God, is set in a context of urgency, an urgency shaped by a concern not for our internal needs, for our own survival, for your own agendas. But for those of wider society.
That’s the God we meet in Luke 10. This image of God is consistent with how Luke, with how the Gospels, with how the church through history has experienced God. The theological word – what you 5 being ordained, heard time and again at College – missio Dei.
It’s not that the church of God has a mission, but that the mission of God has a church. It’s not that we’re bringing people to the altar but that we’re bringing the altar to people. That’s who God is.
How’s that boat going?
Because after experiencing this sending God in verse 1 and 2, we see outlined a set of behaviours of those sent by this sending God. And that’s in the next verses
Take nothing in verse 2; Speak peace – in verse 5; Accept hospitality –Not give hospitality, but eat what is set before you – in verse 8; look out for healing – verse 9
Let me unpack what this might mean with a story. A few weeks ago, I was doing some research on churches in Australia engaged in community ministry today. I interviewed a church that had planted a community garden.
Now more and more churches are doing this. What was unique about this church was that they planted their community garden on a rooftop, four stories high. In central-city Sydney.
In explaining to me how this 4 stories high, central city community garden began, I was told that the church decided to plant a garden, because it was something they knew nothing about.
They had no gardening experience. And so that’s why they decided to plant a garden. Which meant that they had to ask for help. From the local community. And so as a result of asking for help, local gardeners are now deeply integrated into this community ministry. And it feels a really genuine “harvest” to make a pun out of the story and the reading in Luke .
Later in the interview, I decided to check if I was really hearing this right. “It sounds to me, I said “like your lack of knowledge – about gardening – actually became like a gift. By starting with what you didn’t know, it gave the community a way in, a way to get involved.” “
“Absolutely” was the animated reply. “Absolutely. Start with something you don’t know how to do. Because it opens up a different way of being with your community.”
Which I think is what’s being suggested by this Gospel reading, the behaviour’s the sending God is inviting us to in Luke 10.
Take nothing. When you do that, you’ll need help.
Speak peace. Peace is a First Testament word. It’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” It’s about peace in all of life. Peace up with God. Peace across with people – neighbor, migrants, strangers. Peace, down with the earth, in the gardens, on which God-in-Jesus walks.
Look for healing. For wellbeing in people’s lives – for wellbeing in our communities. Up with God. Across with neighbor, migrants, strangers. Down with earth.
It’s flipping upside down our traditional understandings of mission and of what it means us to be a good neighbour.
What if the task of the church in mission is actually not to be a good neighbour?
Rather what if the task of the church is to act in ways that enable our communities to be good neighbours?
How’s that boat going? Do you have a name for it yet?
So what does this mean for ordination? For you 5 – Sherrin, Esteban, Adam, Karen, Casey. For us gathered as church and friends to support you? One way to explore that question is for each of us to ask ourselves where we want to locate ourselves in this Bible reading.
Do we want to locate ourselves by siddling up and standing beside Jesus. To find ourselves at the centre of the action, who sends people out into God’s world?
Good news is that we’ve built an entire church culture around that mode of mission. We’ve developed enormous resources to sustain that type of leadership.
Bad news is that this way of being church requires a world which died about 30 years ago. I’m being dramatic. I’m a preacher. And there are, of course, exceptions. But the reality is, that the church with minister at the centre, sending people out, is now a very old-fashioned way of doing ministry. Is that where you want to locate yourself in this text?
Or do you feel most comfortable being sent. Taking no bag. Speaking peace. Accepting hospitality. Looking for signs of healing.
Bad news is that this is scary and vulnerable. It might not work. It might come across as manipulative. It might leave you, like a disciple in Luke 10, hungry with nowhwere to sleep. Or a church with a community garden that is indeed a fine example of how little you know about gardening. Polite way of saying dead.
If that’s the bad news, the good news is that this is the vision of ministry at the heart to being the Uniting Church.
To quote from paragraph 14 of the Basis of Union – (always name drop the Basis of Union in an ordination sermon)
The Uniting Church recognises … a period of reconsideration of traditional forms of the ministry, and of renewed participation of all the people of God in the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the building up of the fellowship in mutual love, in commitment to Christ’s mission, and in service of the world for which he died.
Which is why I chose Luke 10 as our reading. And why I’ve invited all of us, you 5 being ordained, all of us church and friends, “the whole people of God” to try and locate ourselves in Luke 10.
But why the boat?
Perhaps it because Luke 10 has shaped the mission life of the church down through history. Like Brendan the Navigator. Born in Ireland, 5th century. Became a monk. Served the church faithfully. Then at the age of 80 sensed God calling him to a new adventure. I’ll repeat that. At the age of 80 – always good to have something to look forward to – sensed God calling him to a new adventure with God.
Which included building a boat. With a sail. But no rudder. No way to steer. St Brendan, felt that he was called to literally trust the wind of the Spirit. Like in Luke 10 – to be sent by a sending God.
The story goes (The Voyage of Saint Brendan: The Navigator) that Brendan set his boat free, with his 12 disciples, from the Dingle peninsula, down bottom of Ireland. He and his disciples drifted past the northern Isles of Scotland, then the Faeroe islands, then Iceland and eventually over to North America. Where-ever they went, they where shaped by Luke 10. They proclaimed God’s peace. Shalom, up, across, down to all creation.
But we’re all educated people aren’t we. We all know Christopher Columbus was the first person from Europe to land in America, not an Irish monk named Brendan. In a boat with no rudder.
Then in 1970, a man named Tim Severin, as part of National Geographic expedition set out to disprove the myth. He built a boat exactly like Brendan the Navigator. But with a radio to call for help. Set sail from Ireland. Sure enough, the winds and the tides carried him to North America, by exactly the same route and with many of the same adventures, that Brendan the Voyager wrote of. Brendan the Navigator was inspired by today’s Bible text Luke 10:1-12, to build a boat, and go on an adventures with God.
So that’s one name for your boat. Brendan’s boat.
What Brendan did was how the Celtic church understood mission. Not once, not twice, but so popular they invented a new word to describe it – peregrine – traveller, pilgrim. Robert McFarlane in his book on the history of walking (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) wrote of “Ocean roads’ – thousands of them. – In a world before cars and planes, boats were the fastest means of long distance travel.”
On these roads that the Celtic church did mission. Take no bag – just a boat with no rudder. Speak Peace. Looked for healing.
So that’s another name for your boat. Peregrine – pilgrim.
And then there’s the Uniting Church. To be more precise the emblem of the Uniting Church. Reading from the book with which I started, President Andrew Dutney, Introducing the Uniting Church.
The black background represents the darkened world. Upon this background the cross of Christ, the risen, crucified One. The dove with wings of flame depicts the Spirit. Beneath it all, holding it up is a … what? ….(34)
“it reminds me of a boat, with the cross as its mast and the dove’s wings as the sail.”
And no rudder. That’s Steve Taylor not Andrew Dutney.
Because, says Andrew “We are uniting, not united. We are on a journey,” a pilgrim people, “looking to the future.” So that’s perhaps that another name for your boat. You as 5 ordinards. Us as the church – that in every Council and in every ordination and in every act of ministry and in every decision, about finance and property, a Uniting Church.
A Uniting Church in Australia. In which it’s all about mission.
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, and the actions of the Uniting Church, be acceptable in your sight O Sending God.
Friday, May 30, 2014
Urban Mission Exposure Melbourne June 5-14
Another new innovation at Uniting College …
Explore diverse approaches to ministry and mission as part of our exciting Melbourne Study Tour: Urban Mission Exposure. Led by dynamic pastor, Rev Mark Reisson, you’ll be immersed in urban culture where you can participate in spiritual and discipleship practices, assess context-based new initiatives and reflect theologically on the emerging nature of cities as global cultural centres
Staying in inner-city Melbourne, you will experience the pulse of city and encounter a huge variety of models of ministry and mission, including churches, mission organisations, and innovative projects.This unique opportunity can be studied at Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels.
The cost is $550, which includes all accommodation and transfers and you’ll need to make your own way to Melbourne. Standard tuition fees apply (FEEhelp and Studyassist available).
Find out more by phoning Student Services on 8416 8400 or visiting on Facebook.
Rev Mark Reisson is the Coordinator for Mission and Community Engagement with Churches of Christ in SA and NT, coordinates Surrender Conference in SA and is an adjunct faculty member of the Adelaide College of Divinity.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak
The Australian Association of Mission Studies tri-annual conference is in Adelaide in October 2014. With Anthony Gittens the guest speaker, it promises to be a rich mission feast. The theme is Margins, Mission and Diversity and the conference will also acknowledge the tragic death of Ross Langmead.
Here is my proposed paper in which I try to connect the conference theme with my research on sustainability and fresh expressions:
Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak.
The 2013 Commission on World Mission and Evangelism statement on mission encourages the local church in Spirited experimentation, (Local Congregations: New Initiatives). This could be argued to be a discernment of the Spirit’s activity on the margins of the church, for the sake of the world.
Such a (marginal) call is not new to Australia. The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church (2003, first edition) is considered a seminal Australian text in missiology. In chapter two, titled “Hope of Post-Christendom”, Frost and Hirsch present six stories of new initiatives in mission.
Investigation ten years reveals that three of these “hopes” are now closed (two incurring significant financial loss, a third misrepresented).
Such levels of failure in experimentation are consistent with data emerging from New Zealand and United Kingdom. Of the five communities described in Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West (Gospel and Cultures) (1998) none now survive. In the United Kingdom, of twelve communities researched by the author in 2001, only five now survive.
If new forms of church are the shaping of things to come, how might we respond missiologically to such data? Three responses will be explored. First, Biblically, in the mission of Epaphroditus in the letter to Philippians. Second, historically, how The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died understands the rise and fall of Christianity. Third, theologically, how a hermeneutic of surprise, emerging from Romans 8:15 (The Message) and the Pixar movie Up, values adventure over sustainability.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Offspring – new missional ventures in New Zealand
Just off the phone from the conference organisers of Offspring. It is a New Zealand Presbyterian initiative, a weekend (Friday 4 – Sunday 6 October 2013) resourcing those in new missional ventures. It will involve sharing stories, learn, reflect, worship, pray together, good food and good company. They had hoped for 40, and are delighted with around 75, most of whom are either trying something, or dreaming. The aim is to share passion, ideas and imagination for the Church and build leadership.
My role is to animate the weekend with some input among four stories of new ventures in New Zealand, workshops, interaction and worship. My input might include (subject to change as the weekend proceeds)
Sustainability in fresh expressions – I will offer my UK research, on sustainability in new forms of church in the UK, and the ways in which the church inherited (Fresh Expressions) has partnered with new ventures on the edge.
Fresh expressions in New Zealand history – I will share some stories from New Zealand mission history. Likely stories include the missio Dei of Tarore, the radical healing stories around the Kaiapoia Pa, the use of Scripture at Parihaka, the urban mission movements around James K Baxter. Then we might use some Australian indigenous storytelling techniques to explore what these stories might teach us for today.
What I’m hearing – an interactive session in which I reflect on the theological, ecclesiological and missional learnings in the four new missional venture stories being told at the weekend.
Where we’re going – a final session in which I’m likely to weave Brendan the Navigator, Luke 10 and the soundbites from the weekend together.
It will be great to be on home soil, albiet only for a weekend, resourcing God’s mission.
Monday, September 16, 2013
transmission of faith: by colour, via culture, in Christ
My copy of The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated arrived today. 60 colour plates, presented by the J Paul Getty Musuem to celebrate the Christian church in Armenia, featuring the Gladzor Gospels, illuminations produced by Armenian monks in around 1300.
Gorgeous in colour they describe a faith that crosses culture – from Jerusalam to the sands of Armenia, that takes root in indigenous cultures, in this case Armenian, that is fabulous in colour, calling forth a visual awareness of Christ. This is how I understand fresh expressions – faith transmitted by creativity, via culture, in Christ.
“The Gladzor manuscript is a most eloquent and very self-consciously formulated Armenian life of Christ.” p. 31
There is a strong emphasis on Christ the healer. One-sixth of the illuminations of the Gladzor Gospels focus on healing stories. This is compared for example with Giotto, who has only one panel in 38 dedicated to Christ the healer, or many other artists who focus on Christ in infancy or passion.
“This Christ is a very personal, caring savior: he is directly involved with other people, sensitive to their problems, and in touch with their even on a physical level.” p. 32
More on Christ tomorrow, as we explore the interplay between human and divine.
Monday, May 06, 2013
An introduction to communion that I shared today, working with our candidates, faculty and visiting ministers, gathered around the topic of self-care.
There is a story of some ministers gathering. Much like us today, to wrestle with ministry. In the question time, a question is raised. A person aware of their world, concerned about the church. How can we bring people to the altar?
The response is made. Is the question how do we bring people to the altar? Or is the question, how do we bring the altar to people?
An important reminder as we gather. It is not that we come to communion, but that in communion God comes to us. In this we are invited to participate in God’s mission.
Yes, it is about our care. In communion God feeds us, centres us, re-values us around grace and redemption.
But it is more than that. It is also about care for the church. In communion God feeds the church, centres the church, re-values the church around grace and redemption.
But it is more than that. It is also about care for the world. In communion God wants to feed the world, wants to centre the world, wants to re-value the world around grace and redemption.
And so we pray; Spirit, fall on us, that these elements of bread and wine may be for us a participation in your life, love and mission, your bringing the altar to people.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Gender matters: in church structures
Today I’ve been writing (Sustainability and fresh expressions book project) on the history of mission in Great Britain. What has the God of mission been up to in the past? How might that help us analyse the current and dream of a future?
More specifically, I’ve been writing about the voluntary missionary society, a significant and important gift, from Great Britain, to the world. William Carey, often called the father of modern mission, in his hugely influential An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means, argued not only for mission, but also for a new structure for mission. Drawing from the world of commerce, the trading company and the way it, through seeking shareholders, created participation and enabled action, Carey wondered:
Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, etc etc
Missiologist Andrew Walls considers this of huge significance, a revolutionary re-structuring of the church in light of mission. He also notes a number of outcomes, including gender matters, the way it allowed women’s giftedness. Walls argues that voluntary societies
assisting [the church's] declericalization, giving new scope for women’s energies and gifts and adding an international dimension which hardly any of the churches, growing as they did within a national framework, had any means of expressing. After the age of the voluntary society, the Western Church could never be the same again. Andrew Walls, “Missionary societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church.”
Often church structures impede women, as so eloquently attested in Maggi Dawn’s recent book. But sometimes (albiet probably unintentionally), they allow the body of Christ to experience “new scope for women’s energies and gifts.” In other words, to more fully be the body.
Yeah for church restructuring!
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Comprehending mission – chapter 4 – Theology mission, culture
Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology is a wonderful gift. It provides an overview of recent trends in missiology, allowing a person and an institution to locate their questions, their research, their reading in light of other thinkers.
Chapter one, on the who and why of the study of mission, is here. Chapter two, on trends in the Bible in regard to mission, is here. Chapter three part a looked at mission history, the evolution through time, the shifting resources that shaped how the church understood itself. Chapter three part b, on the history of mission today is here.
Chapter four – Theology, Mission, Culture
“Within the realm of missiology, culture becomes a primary conversation partner.” (69)
This includes communication across cultures, agencies of social change, the complex formation of innovation and new contextual projects. (This makes so much sense of my interests and why I find myself reading from change management to social innovation, to indigenous and popular culture.)
The chapter begins with theology, in particular current research on salvation and ecclesiology. This includes the shift to see mission as an aspect of God rather than as a function of the church. It also includes the recent search for a more developed pneumatology, the place of the Spirit of God.
A second section explores the growing importance of social sciences (again this makes sense of my methods, using ethnography and interviews, plus my interest in the ecclesiology and ethnography project). Mission played an active role in the development of ethnography and anthropology. The 1910 World Missionary Conference pleaded that sociology be included as one of five necessary subjects for all candidates in mission training. (It certainly is at Uniting College, where we teach Reading cultures/Sociology for ministry, as a core introductory topic).
“Not fully appreciated, perhaps, is the way in which sustained research on culture has served to keep missiology closely connected to everyday life, which lessens the risk that its theological concerns will be treated only in the abstract.” (95)
A third section explores gospel and culture, the quite deliberate participation in both arenas at the same time. “The doctrine of the incarnation has also been taken as an invitation to think deeply about human culture as the particular sphere within which Christian outreach necessarily takes place.” (86) There is a rich coverage of the development of research in contextualisation and intercultural theology.
“Writing about fifteen years ago, Lamin Sanneh perceived that Western theology was just about the last discipline in the modern university to show serious interest in missionary experience.” (94)
However, in recent years, writings from Timothy Gorringe Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture, Max Stackhouse Apologia: Contextualization, Globalization, and Mission in Theological Education and Kevin Vanhoozer To Stake a Claim: Mission and the Western Crisis of Knowledge, have drawn on missiological research.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
mission as a “converting” ordinance
This is some of what I wrote today.
Wesley described Holy Communion as a ‘converting ordinance,’ an event in which through participation in the event of Communion, people encounter Christ. In a sermon on the verse “Do this in remembrance of me,” he wrote:
But experience shows … Ye are the witnesses. For many now present know, the very beginning of your conversion to God (perhaps, in some, the first deep conviction) was wrought at the Lord’s Supper. John Wesley, The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, Vol 3, p. 188-9
It is worth noting first, the language of “experience” and “witnesses,” and thus the priority of experience in Wesley’s theology. Second, the language of “beginning” and “first,” suggesting that conversion is a process. Third, that participation in the ordinance changes the participants.
This provides a theological lens by which to explore innovation as a “converting ordinance,” to consider that while “Fresh Expression Case Study” might have set out to “convert,” the journey of innovation resulted in their experiencing a number of conversions: five in total,
- Conversion of senses
- Conversion to hope
- Conversion by community
- Conversion through journey
- Conversion in humanity
Innovation thus becomes a “converting” ordinance. It changes sender, sent and sendee (the intended recipient of the message).
Monday, December 31, 2012
The Last Supper at work for mission -Gustave Van De Woestijne’s
Gustave Van De Woestijne is a Flemish Expressionist painter of the early 20th century. His work includes The Last Supper and it is huge.
It hangs almost floor to ceiling in the Groeninge Museum, Brugge, Belgium. (Image is on flicker here)
In the Catholic context of Belgium, surrounded by the religiosity of previous centuries, it is a stunningly unreligious piece of work. One simple full loaf of bread sits on the table. There is no cup, grapes or any other food on the table. Around the table are clustered 12 disciples, portrayed as workers, Flemish miners or farm hands.
Which leaves the size. Why paint what is one of the largest paintings in the Museum? Why make something so ordinary so large?
Either a sign of no faith? A critique of the ceremony and wafer thin spirituality of the religion he has experienced? It certainly has the checkerboard floor often used in religious art.
Or full of faith? A reminder of the very large place for God in the ordinary, in simple bread, shared among workers hands? If so, it has echoes of the worker priest movement, such an intriguing mission development in France, among Catholics, in the 1940s. Priests asked to be freed from parish duties in order to work, in factories, in order to try and reconnect with the working class. It is a fascinating, bold, and innovative approach to mission, that was closed down by the Pope within a few decades.
It is the type of fresh expression/emerging church I’d love to see, one that jumps out of middle class subcultures and across class boundaries, out from church and worship and among the 24/7 patterns of working life. A movement that could only be nourished by a Jesus breaking bread with workers around ordinary tables of life.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
What is mission? “the effort to effect passage over the boundary between faith in Jesus Christ and its absence.” (Jonathon Bonk, Preface to Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology, ix)
Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology is a wonderful gift.
Skreslet provides an overview of recent trends in missiology. Books like these are gold. They allow a person and an institution to locate their questions, their research, their reading. In my case, as I research popular culture, how can it find a place in missiology? As I teach mission shaped ministry, how might the mission at work be located within global mission trends?
Chapter one. Who Studies Christian Mission, and Why?
The chapter begins with a resurrection story. It notes how in the 1960s and 1970s, missiology was in decline. “At many institutions, chairs of mission studies were reoriented and then connected to more politically correct areas of the curriculum, such as ecumenical theology, comparative religion, third world theology, intercultural theology, or world Christianity.” I can see many of those pressures still at play in the Uniting Church in which I currently work.
This decline was prompted by the evaluation of the colonial era. The decline also coincided with a growth in secularity in the West.
However despite unease in the West, Christian mission has grown, often generated by churches outside the West. “The astonishing and quite unexpected vitality that now marks Christian mission worldwide invites scholarly attention.” (2) There has been an explosion, especially since the 1990s, in mission studies, in new journals and new lecturing positions (including here at Uniting College).
Skreslet suggests two current approaches to reflecting on mission are at work.
First, curricular. Introductions in mission have developed in connection with particular training courses. Examples cited include Perspectives in World Christianity, Following Christ in mission and Missionaries of Christ.
Second, theological reflection. “[M]issiology is taken to be a shorthand term for theology of mission, theology of the apostolate, or sometimes the theory of mission.” (4) Examples cited include Transforming Mission, Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, Concepts of Mission: The Evolution of Contemporary Missiology and (especially for Australian’s), Introduction to Missiology.
Skreslet is “not convinced that theology of mission [this second approach] is the best avenue by which to approach the field of missiology.” (9) He is concerned that it privileges certain data. “For modern theologians operating in the West, scripture, tradition and Christian expereince are the sine qua non of their craft … Issues of culture and the existence of other religious traditions may enter into these discussions, but they typically do in in the guise of environmental factors.” (9-10)
In other words, the abstract is more important than the particular. And theologians are more important conversation partners than historians, sociologists and anthropologists. “What we have today, by and large, are many introductions to mission theology but very few treatments of missiology as a whole.” (11)
Skreslet is encouraged by current patterns in dissertation research, younger scholars are pushing the boundaries of missiology ever wider. Every kind of scholarly enquiry can be, and is being, explored.
Having surveyed the field, Skreslet then defines missiology as “the systematic study of all aspects of mission.” (12) It is an intersection point of many disciplines, including secular. He argues for a “community of practice,” a set of “particular scholarly habits.” (13)
First, interest in crossing boundaries and how contact with cultures might transform senders and receivers.
Second, reality of faith and non-faith. It expects a critical empathy with what is being studied.
Third, an integrative impulse. “Christian mission is a social phenomenon that encompasses an unlimited number of local contexts, each of which may be affected by global trends. Every layer of culture – from the material to the conceptual – may be engaged when faith is shared across national, ethnic, and linguistic boundaries.” (14)
Friday, September 21, 2012
the clash of mission images in 2 Corinthians
At first glance, the images of mission in 2 Corinthians 5 sit in stark contrast with the images of mission in 2 Corinthians 6.
In one (2 Corinthians 5), the church are ambassadors of reconciliation. This image is central to the formation and identity of the Uniting Church. In 2 Corinthians it is framed by internal conflict. A church body is divided and in response comes the call for reconciliation. This is intriguing, a stark contrast to images of mission that begin with what God is up to in the world, that pay attention, as in Romans 8:22, to the groaning of creation.
In the other (2 Corinthians 6), the church is called to be no longer yoked with unbelievers. How can this be? How to reconcile, without being in relationship? It seems in stark contrast with the images of mission that begin with Incarnation, with listening in and among, of community development.
Are Paul’s images in conflict?
Well, first, the word “daughters”, which Paul adds in 2 Corinthians 6:18 to the Old Testament text he is quoting. Witherington (Conflict and Community in Corinth) decides that Paul “was more egalitarian that many think, and this text shows his desire to be reconciled with both his male and female converts in Corinth.” (406). In other words, reconciliation remains at work.
Second, 2 Corinthians 6 makes reconciliation practical. It involves whom we eat with and talk to. In other words, it is never simply a God-human relationship. It is also a human-human relationship, the interactions with have with others, our moral and social boundaries in all of life.
What appears at first to be a clash in fact becomes a picture of an alternative future, a reconciling faith with radical social implications for God’s people. Which leaves the question: what is the impact of a mission image (2 Corinthians) that begins with a broken church, in contrast to a mission image (Romans) that begins with a broken creation?
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
conversion and the Uniting Church Preamble
It was great to drop into one of our integrative classes today for a lecture on the Missiology of Conversion.
We have introduced two compulsory Integrative topics in our new Bachelor of Ministry. Rather than assume that by some sort of informal osmosis, students somehow miraculously become able to weave together theory and practice, Bible and ministry, leadership and theology, we’ve decided that we actually need to both model and expect integration.
So the two compulsory Integrative topics explores six models of theological reflection (from Theological Reflection: Methods).
To ground the models, each year a different theme is chosen. The four teaching streams at Uniting College – Bible, missiology, leadership, discipleship – speak to that theme, while the students workshop a case study from their ministry context, using one of the six suggested theological models.
The theme this year is conversion. So on behalf of the missiology stream I introduced a number of contemporary missiologies of conversion.
First, the Uniting Church Revised Preamble to the Constitution. I suggested the Preamble provided a fascinating approach to conversion – God is already present, faith must be embodied in just deeds, conversion invites all parties are in an ever-deepening Gospel process.
Second, we sat with an essay by Wilbert Shenk in Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity which outlines trends in mission in the non-Western world. What do we need to hear, to absorb, from all parts of the globe, not just the Western part, as we begin to think about conversion? What are the best practice insights regarding church, Spirit, Jesus, gospel and culture that need to be shaping us?
Third, a childrens story by Joy Cowley (Tarore and Her Book), which documents how indigenous people in New Zealand were the primary agents in the spread of the Gospel. Again, the story provides a fascinating approach to conversion – God is already present, faith must be embodied in just deeds, conversion invites all parties are in an ever-deepening Gospel process.
Fourth, we conversed
- What insights from the Preamble might guide conversion?
- What does “already encountered” (Para 3) mean for conversion?
- What practices would enable conversion to have a trajectory toward “same love and grace fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ” (Para 3)?
- What does “integrity of the Gospel proclaimed” (Para 6) for the mission of the church, past and present?
It was a rich and energising discussion – of mission, of Uniting Church theology, of history.