WHAT THEN PRECIPTATED THIS SUDDEN, AMAZING CHANGE?
A few preliminary remarks:
Firstly, a huge hermeneutical shift occurred.
Story after story were told of the new found ability to see God at
work in the world – in many ways, but mostly in little things. Whereas
people expected God’s presence in big schemes and projects in which the
whole congregation would be enthusiastically involved, now suddenly –
on the road of missional practices – God was discovered in small
beginnings, in the miracle of peace being shared on a personal level or
in smaller settings.
God is often in the unexpected, in situations of extreme pain,
displacement, rejection and disillusionment. Experiencing his presence,
learning to accept his peace and healing in those situations, is good
news. Previously, one person said, we were blindfolded, but now we
start to see God.
Secondly, concrete missional practices made a huge difference.
The effect of staff covenanting and the implementation of adaptive
change practices made being missional a new reality. Doing and
reflecting, in an emergent fashion, created new learning experiences.
Thirdly, peer-to-peer mentoring between congregations and pastors went a long way to facilitate deep transformation.
Struggling and searching for new ways of being, the plot suddenly comes together.
– Different experiences and insights suddenly merge into a meaningful new framework as we tell our stories to one another.
– A-ha moments are created when we start to see God at work in the other’s struggle to find missional meaning.
That helps us to find focus on God’s work in our own setting, to recognize his call in our congregational life.
The decline and fall of Christendom
What started to develop in the fourth century under emperors Constantine and Theodosius I – the imperial church with its great power – now comes to an end. That beginning and this ending are the two great social transitions in the course of Christianity in the world.
Christendom gives way to new cultural realities, including widespread secularism and religious pluralism. New attitudes are developing toward the whole phenomenon of religion: that it is strictly an option; that it is a purely individual decision; that there is no reason why the children of believing parents should be considered potential members of religious communions; that religion may be useful, but truth does not apply to this category, and so on.
Although some semblance of Christendom may find a new home in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, its period of Western dominance is over.
The status of the confessing church is no longer one of singular power and influence but that of a peripheral voice. Precisely as such, however, this voice may be a prophetic one.
Denominations behave as if nothing had happened – as if we were still living in a basically Christian civilization; as if the Christian religion were still quite obviously the official religion of the official culture; as if we could go carry on baptizing, marrying, and burying everybody as we have always done; as if governments would listen to us, and educational systems would respect us.
Too many confessions of faith do not succeed because they still assume a Christendom framework. They speak as though from positions within the power centers of society. Therefore they almost always fail to convince anyone outside the fold or even to raise significant questions.
The church’s responses to the end of the Christendom era
If not expanding the church’s sphere of influence and territory, what are churches for?
The most common answer that is presently given is a concentration upon the congregation itself: The church’s purpose is to be a fellowship, a “friendly church”. In cities and towns that are large and impersonal, the church is a meeting place where people “get to know one another” and to “care”. In the livelier congregations, programs are developed for every age and stage of life. This is accompanied with outreach and social programs. Strangers making their way into the fellowship should be welcomed, and they should be encouraged to attend, because of the fellowship. But only rarely, it is felt, would it be appropriate to approach others as disciples of a quite explicit faith tradition. Even Christian preaching must honor the rights of others to believe what they will.
Christians are called not only to serve their neighbors but to confess their faith. Congregations have to be communities, not only of fellowship but of discipleship – not only of behavior but also of Christian confession.
Concentration upon fellowship has definite limits. Its success is dependent upon its location among a constituency that places high premium upon such fellowship; hence its strong identification with suburban, racially and economically homogenous churches.
The problem with the friendly church model is that those who are looking for meaning (the most gripping search of humanity in the modern context) are not likely to find it. The main reason for this is that consistent friendliness goes hand in hand with the avoidance of deeper human concerns.
If Christians want to preserve their faith and not just some of its moral and aesthetic spin-off, they are going to have to become more articulate about their basic beliefs and about the manner in which these beliefs, when taken seriously, distance them from many of the values and pursuits of society at large.
Our theological task: Disestablishing the church
God is offering us another possibility, a new form, indeed a new life. But we may accept this gift of the new only if we relinquish the old to which we are stubbornly clinging.
We must relinquish the social status that belongs to our past: the comfortable relationships with ruling classes; the continuous confirmation of accepted social values and mores by means of which we sustain those relationships; the espousal of “charities” that ease our guilty consciences while allowing us to maintain neutrality with respect to the social structures that make such “charities” necessary; the silent acceptance of racial, sexual, gender and economic injustices, or their trivialization through tokenism; the failure to probe the depths of human and creaturely pathos by confining sin to petty immorality or doctrinal refinements drawn from the past, and so on.
We must give up the redundant role of official religious cult in society. We must disengage from the dominant culture. This is the necessary precondition for a meaningful engagement of that same dominant culture or society.
Intentional disengagement from the dominant culture means that every Christian should learn how to distinguish the Christian message from the operative assumptions, values, and pursuits of the host society. The Christian message is not just a stained-glass version of the worldview of that same social stratum.
This disengagement is aimed at the reengagement of the same society. There are no shortcuts. We must begin with the basics. Without a deeper understanding of what Christians profess, it is absurd to think that ordinary folk will be able to distinguish what is true to the Judeo-Christian tradition from the mishmash of modernism, postmodernism, secularism, pietism, and free-enterprise democracy with which Christianity in our context is so fantastically interwoven.
Instead of catering exclusively to what are usually described as “pastoral needs” (though the term often cloaks institutional busywork), ministers today are recalled to the teaching office.
The Christian Movement in a Post-Modern era. Being Salt, Yeast, and Light
The end of Christendom could be the beginning of something more nearly like the church – the disciple community described by the Scriptures and treasured throughout the ages by prophetic minorities.
To grasp this opportunity, however, we must relinquish our centuries-old ambition to be the official religion, the dominant religion, of the dominant culture. We must disengage ourselves from our society if we are going to reengage our society at the level of truth, justice, and love. We must stand off from the liberal middle-class culture with which we have been consistently identified; rediscover our own distinctive foundations and the ethical directives that derives from them; and allow ourselves, if necessary, to become aliens in our own land.
In this way we find ourselves in an awkward situation vis-à-vis our society. We are a disciple community distinguished from the world (Rom 12:2) as well as sent decisively into the world (Matt 28:19). The church is in the world just because it is not simply of the world.
Christian disengagement from the dominant culture is not to be confused with the abandonment of that culture. The end that we are to seek is the redemption of our world – the world that is truly ours and of which we are ourselves part.
If we are faithful and imaginative enough to disentangle our authentic faith tradition from its cultural wrapping, we will have something to bring to our world that it does not have – a perspective on itself, a judgment of its pretensions and injustices, an offer of renewal and hope.
We will be able to bring this to our world
• while actively discerning how God wants us to live in the world,
• while engaging in the formation of a community which breaks the homogeneous mold that churches still project,
• while searching for God “in the midst of life”, therefore engaging in the quest for transcendence and mystery, and
• while searching for meaning, carrying our emptiness and yearning into the presence of the Holy One.
Our role as Christians is precisely what Jesus said it was: to be salt, yeast, and light. Our Lord’s metaphors for his community of witness were all of them modest ones: a little salt, a little yeast, a little light.
Christendom wanted to be great, large, magnificent. It thought itself the object of God’s expansive grace; it forgot the meaning of its election to worldly responsibility.
Today we are constrained by the divine Spirit to rediscover the possibilities of littleness. We are to decrease in order that the Christ may increase. We cannot enter this new phase without pain, for truly we have been glorious in this world’s own terms. It seems to many of us a humiliation that we are made to reconsider our destiny as “little flocks”.
Can such a calling be worthy of the servants of the Sovereign of the Universe? Yet, if that Sovereign be the One who reigns from the cross, could any other calling be thought legitimate?
Some of this coaching and teaching has a formal character to it; that is, pastors should regularly offer in service training and learning events. Sometimes, this will have the pastoral doing most of the teaching, other times the pastor invites others in to teach, still other times, the pastor asks members of the staff team to teach. However, since a missional congregation is a learning organization, a critical task for the missional leader is this formal job of creating and leading learning events.
Most of this coaching and teaching is informal in character; that is, the missional leader will walk along side those who are learning to engage in some ministry. Or, they will invite a person along in the basic ministry engagements so more and more staff and others learn those habits. The pastoral missional leader is always multiplying capacity.
Some time stewardship principles
Americans are starving for time. Or, so recent studies on how Americans experience time report. We have found that most church staffs feel the same way. They believe they do not have enough time to do what they must.
While we admit to having the same experience, we believe that God has given us all the time we need to do what he calls us to do. However, since we seldom create our to do lists on the basis of what God is calling us to do, we tend to make lists too long. Further we ignore or forget that God has offered us eternal life and what we do between now and then is to be seen in the light of eternity. The first act of stewardship, then, must be spiritual discernment, such planning in light of eternity and the gift of eternal life.
planning = managing our attention
Such spiritual discernment allows us to make short lists. Short lists of things to do are the easiest way to make sure that we get things done. The shorter the list, the more likely it will get done. Learning to turn our spiritual discernment in to short lists is critical.
Learning to create a plan for managing our attention on our short list is the next discipline of stewardship of staff time. And, of course, if we don’t use the plan to manage our attention, all of the above disciplines fail to bring the fruit that God intends.
Of course, there is no clearer way to see how far short of God intentions we fall than to take seriously this process of spiritual discernment regarding our time. Such discernment always finds us making promises we cannot keep. Such promises, make in good faith, and often in moments of inspiration and excitement often become emotional weights, guilt trips, or sources of conflict within a staff. As a staff we will all make promises, we do not keep. We will all have promises made to us that we counted on that will not be kept. We can simply ignore such broken promises, pretending we are a no fault god or we can learn to how each other accountable and forgive and move on.
In the end—and I do mean our final end– our debt to time, our amounting debt of promises unkept, need to be handed over to Christ who takes them all away.
Die houding en gesindheid wat deure open by die binnetrede van ŉ nuwe onbekende gemeenskap (60 min)
- Lidmate ontmoet die nuwe gemeenskap as leerders en diensknegte: Lidmate aanvaar dat die nuwe gemeenskap kundiges is oor hulleself, hulle omstandighede en hulle behoeftes en ook effektief kan funksioneer onder hulle eie leierskap. Enige sweem van beterweterigheid, hoogmoed, paternalisme of beheer oor die mense of die prosesse moet in die kiem gesmoor word.
Die proses om ŉ nuwe onbekende gemeenskap binne te gaan sluit die volgende aspekte in (Nie noodwendig presies in die chronologiese volgorde nie):
- Aanvanklike konkrete en fisiese blootstelling van lidmate aan die mense en die omstandighede van die onbekende mense/ gemeenskap waarheen God die gemeente stuur. Terselftertyd word gepoog om kontakpersone (vriendelike “gashere”) in die gemeenskap te identifiseer. (Gewoonlik ŉ klein groepie lidmate wat kontak met mense van die nuwe gemeenksap probeer maak)
- Verskeie ontmoetings van die kleingroep met die kontakpersone in die gemeenskap (vriendelike “gashere”) met die oog op die versterking van verhoudings en die vermeerdering van kennis oor en begrip vir die gemeenskap.
- Lidmate en gashere (bi-kulturele gemeenskap) fasiliteer (bi-kultureele brug) byeenkomste tussen lidmate, meningsvormers en ander leier figure van beide gemeenskappe met die oog op verhoudingbou, versterking van vertroue, die identifisering van die presiese behoeftes en die beplanning van projekte.
- Die leierskapsgroep bestaande uit mense van beide gemeenskappe (nog ŉ bi-kulturele brug) fasiliteer die voortgaande beplanning en uitvoering van projekte en aktiwiteite deur mense uit beide gemeenskappe.
Laai die volledige dokument hier af (Onthou – dit mag net met die toestemming van SAVGG gedupliseer word)