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.
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