Consultation on mission in secularised and postmodern contexts
"Believing without belonging?
In search of new paradigms of church and mission in secularised and postmodern contexts"
Consultation in Breklum, Northern Germany
26 June to 2 July 2002
In the 1990's the WCC undertook an important study on the relation between gospel and cultures, leading to the world mission conference in Salvador 1996. At the WCC assembly in Harare in 1998, a plea was made to give more weight to deal with mission in secularised contexts. After some consultation, staff dealing with mission and evangelism matters decided that the best way to respond to the request was to offer a space for dialogue between people struggling with the challenges to mission in postmodern and secular contexts.
To that end, the WCC with partners in Germany (Northelbian Center for World Mission and World Service; Evangelisches Missionswerk Hamburg, EMW) and Norway (Areopagos) organised a consultation on the theme "Believing without belonging? In search of new paradigms of church and mission in secularised and postmodern contexts". It took place in Breklum, Northern Germany, from 26 June to 2 July 2002. 50 people from five continents, but mostly from Europe and North America attended the consultation.
Participants from North America, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Latvia, Hungary, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, India and Korea reported on mission in the secularised contexts of their countries. Study and conference programmes were presented by the WCC, the Confererence of European Churches (CEC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Leuenberg fellowship and other organisations.
Other participants offered the insights gained from scientific studies, including:
- Spirituality of people who do not go to church, by David Hay;
- Missiology of Western cultures, Wilbert Shenk;
- Churchless faith in Aotearoa New Zealand, Alan Jamieson;
or case studies of contemporary mission efforts such as Iona, Focolare, youth work in Belfast, community-building experience in the USA, sharing of the gospel in postmodern non church-related settings in the UK. Group work helped participants to summarise trends and raise questions. We experienced a wonderful worship life inspired by the tradition of the Iona community.
The consultation did not aim at a consensus statement, nor did it draft a common message. The papers have been published in the January and April 2003 issues of IRM.
It highlighted the diversity of situations encountered in the so-called secularised countries. North America cannot be equated with Eastern Germany. Despite common features, the situation in Sweden does not resemble that in the UK. The cultural influences of globalisation produce different "syncretisms" in different local settings in the West, and even more so in other continents and cultures.
The challenge of postmodernity and the specific religiosity experienced in conditions of secularisation is a worldwide challenge to churches in mission. It seems urgent to understand that this demands a fundamental paradigm change in the spiritual and institutional life of churches and church-based organisations, including the WCC.
The challenges and opportunities of secularisation and postmodernity for the mission of the churches
1. Procedure and initial explorations / observations:
1.1 Out of the fragments
We began by sharing brief accounts of how our own experiences, studies and life stories had brought us to see the importance of secularisation and postmodernity for our engagement with mission and our reflection on the nature and purpose of the church. Key points and questions included:
- The experience of "cultures in disarray"
- Multiple locations and forms for spirituality
- The differences among Christians and the question of what sense it makes to say that we have been shaped by a common metanarrative
- Varying understandings of selfhood, personhood, values and identity - to what extent are they just' social constructs, and how far are they rooted in a thoroughgoing individualism?
- Fundamentalism(s) as the fearful pole(s) of postmodernity in different traditions
- Secularisation vis-à-vis popular spiritual practices - what is the ground of value' and meaning'?
- Conflicting views on the role of language in creating or making sense of reality', and the role of reason' in this task.
- Political disillusion: is directed change possible any more?
- What does it mean to worship in the context of free market domination, social fragmentation and the cultural / religious supermarket?
1.2 Four key areas of enquiry:
a. The meaning and implications of religion' and spirituality' in contemporary society.
We explored the work of Dr David Hay in understanding the spirituality of those who do not go to church. The extent of spiritual experience in Britain (synchronicity, sense of a divine or evil presence, awareness of the dead, being upheld' by prayer, and experience of the oneness' of life') contrasts with the rejection of those categories and forms in, for example, East Germany. Questions were raised about a biological or innate basis for human spirituality (such as those of Alistair Hardy), but it was accepted that the aim of naturalist interpretations - whatever we make of them - is to refute the idea that such experiences are essentially alien or necessarily unusual to human being and becoming. However, spirituality in its religious' forms certainly seems to have been repressed by secular' social and cultural assumptions, more or less - depending on the society.
b. Seeking clarity about terms and concepts in our use of words like secularisation' and postmodernity', particularly as they are used to construct theses about the disappearance, persistence and/or resurgence of religion.
Secularisation theses take many forms, hard' and soft'. They describe the forces pushing against the predominance of religious assumptions and structures, but do not necessarily mean the end of religion or God. Professor Bert Hoedemaker proposed that we understand this debate in the context of modernisation (which is more than just Westernisation'). Postmodernity can be seen as modernity (the project of rational organisation and control) turning upon itself. Religion re-emerges to the extent that modernity has tried to situate and define it in an insufficient way. Rationality' (wisdom to order) and religion' (wisdom to deal with contingency) need to find a balance in a search for the unity of humankind that does justice to difference. This approach was recognised as one way to delineate and arrange our terms and concepts but produced varying responses. We could all agree on the necessity to pay careful attention to the distinctions made by ourselves and others in this area.
c. Economic and political forces shaping and interacting with postmodernity.
Guided by Dr Lorna Gold, we began by defining postmodernity as a set of tendencies towards difference, otherness, deconstruction, suspicion of controlling stories (metanarratives) and moral and cultural relativity. But the negative metanarrative of postmodern opposition to metanarratives and the positive metanarrative of neoliberalism were seen as important contradictory features of much postmodern thinking. Communications technology has speeded up cultural transmission and reformation. Personal choice is seen as a universal good. Economic necessities' determine political options. Governance is based on free market optimism, loss of control to institutions like the IMF and WTO (for rich countries too), and contractual instrumentalism. However there is evidence that abundance is not always creating happiness among the affluent, as communal and family solidarities are lost or weakened. Relational consciousness' (Hay) is in danger of being displaced by narrow economism and managerialism.
d. Church as a response: can church' arise anew in conversation within' and without' the spaces constructed by the secular and the postmodern?
Following on from the previous discussion, we were reminded of Professor Robert Wuthnow's proposal that religions have the significant capacity to provide a framework for limiting economic commitments. Human community has to be founded on something more than goods exchange. The neoliberal driven version of postmodernity (there are others) seems to have shrunk our capacity to talk about social justice, and it has restricted human movement and interaction by scapegoating refugees and asylum seekers for reminding the rich world of the consequences of the system for the poor. The renewal of church is a vital part of building new possibilities. Alliances with others seeking change can go hand-in-hand with the rediscovery of the Christian message. Social theology must be recovered to reshape economy. Churches can become places of resistance and the revaluation of values (sanctuaries'). Stories of healing overcoming victimhood are needed. Our focus should include worldly alertness to mechanisms of control and a spiritually resourced re-building of right relations'.
2. Key theological issues arising from secularisation and postmodernity:
The basic need is for a change of posture:
- Are we willing to be an alternative rather than rushing in to arrogate ourselves as the alternative? Some Christians fear this language, but we see it as an opportunity not a deprivation. The biblical vocation is to say we testify', we propose', we witness' on the basis of the God who dwells with us in Christ and as such is revealed as beyond our instrumental control.
- It would help to revisit the relation between theology and economics, rooted in a re-reading of those biblical traditions that point towards the need for community as the fundamental orientation of life.
- Our founding documents are texts under negotiation' (Professor Walter Brueggemann), part of an ongoing argument within Christianity about the meaning of God's ways with us. It is argument not war insofar as it is bounded by fellowship. Within that argument it is necessary to seek biblical and tradition-derived resources for a positive response to human diversity - receiving it in communion, rather than perceiving it as threat.
- This negotiation of our texts can also be part of a dialogue with those of other faiths and convictions, whereby we challenge one another to revisit our own traditions in search for the roots of a fresh kind of unity (one that takes seriously the destructive forces in our midst).
- Not knowing' can be hopeful - "He is not there" (because he is risen, a fact that means hope coming back to us from off the page'). But sometimes not knowing can also be an excuse for resignation. It ought not to be.
- Authority cannot be based on mere control and knock-down truth': in the gospel life it arises from tangible authenticity, integrity, encounter and daily lived experience among people. "Don't tell me, show me."
- Tradition can be re-evaluated as a call to conversion, as the story of faithfulness in ongoing change, rather than a block on change.
- We can question the contemporary concept of relationship as competition'.
- We need to ask what the basis is of being human - is there some baseline'?
- We need inner and outer dialogue because we are part of the culture. (Complex interrelation between church', culture' etc.)
- Actually secularisation gives spirituality another chance - enabling us to lose our shame' about the gospel, but also challenging us to think what it means and how it is received today, as in every age.
- Construed in certain ways, postmodernism also seems to loosen the taboo on God. But which God and how?
- There is an important task to work out how to discern the ways people express spirituality in secular life and how appropriately to respond to them.
- We need to be in a process of change but also to be able to address the question of the human search for trust and stability in life.
- The need to be dialogical is rooted in our belief that the Holy Spirit blows at will and can speak to anyone anywhere.
- Therefore Christians have to develop listening as a spiritual discipline.
3. Questions for further study:
All of the points raised above are, in our opinion, worthy of further attention and reflection.
Fundamentally, we ask:
- What kind of church could support the type of posture (theologically construed, open, missional awareness) we have been talking about? To put the matter personally, "what kind of community do I need to enable me to change? What kind of belonging is possible?") This implies further questions: where are the points of transition in inherited and emerging churches? How practically do we recognise that the church is mystery before it is structure? How do we hold together our two starting points: that which resides in the space marked by secularisation and postmodernity, and that arising from our vocation to be church?
- Ecclesiology: in all this there is a fresh opportunity to re-think tradition, our notion and use of it. (WCC Faith and Order)
- More work needs doing on discerning the spirituality of people outside the church, with others. (A question for institutes of missiology, etc.)
- We need to reflect more on the influence of (and reaction to) postmodernity outside the West'. In a globalising world it is a much wider challenge. We do not see it as just a Western problem', but we are equally clear that there is nothing inevitable about Western precepts or solutions.
Simon Barrow (moderator / reporter)
New forms of religiosity among people not going to church - what kinds of spirituality are we called to in a postmodern setting?
This group was a merger of two theme groups, which were to focus on complementary issues on Religiosity of people not going to church and Kinds of spirituality in a postmodern setting. The two themes are so closely related the group did not attempt to separate them, but rather treated them as one theme with two foci.
The group work developed in a rather non-linear fashion. The process made it clear that the theme touches each of us at a deep personal level. This is not a theme dealing with something "out there" in a distant exotic subculture. But in an existential manner the new forms of religiosity and spirituality arising in postmodern settings challenges some fundamental assumptions about the forms and structures of church and mission and Christian witness today.
New forms of religiosity
Religiosity and spirituality can to some degree be used interchangeably. However, it is felt that in current Western society the term "spirituality" is preferred to "religiosity" as only a few religious seekers are comfortable with the institutional connotations associated with religiosity.
New religiosity and spirituality are found in numerous forms. The group did not give priority to working out a typology of these forms. We realize that most of what is called spirituality does not carry the concept of a god in the Judeo-Christian sense of the word. But given the nature of the new spirituality, it is difficult to assess to what degree an individual's spiritual involvement is an actual search for God or not. Much spirituality is generated and conditioned by popular culture (see Tom Beaudoin: Virtual Faith), often via mass media. A quest for the supernatural is mostly involved. Detailed studies will reveal an unending list of variations. But as a point of departure for Christian witness to this new spirituality, we should be inspired by Paul's missionary approach on Areopagos (Acts ch. 17) as the normal mode of mission in today's multi-spiritual context: Some will respond - others will not.
In spite of great variety in the new spirituality, there are a number of common features. In order to get a sense of some general tenets in the shift from traditional Christian faith to new spiritualities, the following grid was presented (see fig. 1):
Shifts towards new forms of Spirituality
Traditional Christian faith
The Transcendent God - "God beyond"
The Immanent God - "God inside"
We are sinners and need mercy
We are wounded and need healing
Doing our plight
Aiming at self-realization
God as King and Father
God as friend and life
The preaching of the word
The Mystery of the Eucharist
Faith as Truth
Faith as Trust
"The small passage"
"The broad road"
Going to Heaven
Living on Earth
Psychological Truth (I feel...)
Authority based on individual experience
Shifts towards new forms of Spirituality Traditional Christian faith New spirituality The Transcendent God - "God beyond" The Immanent God - "God inside" We are sinners and need mercy We are wounded and need healing Doing our plight Aiming at self-realization God as King and Father God as friend and life The preaching of the word The Mystery of the Eucharist Understanding/knowledge Experience Faith as Truth Faith as Trust "The small passage" "The broad road" Masculine vision Feminine receptivity Going to Heaven Living on Earth Philosophical Truth Psychological Truth (I feel...) Hierarchical Authority Authority based on individual experience
It was noted that these general new spirituality tenets are not just to be found within certain "New Age" groups, but seem to be quite normal postmodern seeker cultures in general. So to quite a high degree we face this new spirituality in our missionary encounter with postmodern Generation X and following generations in general. The shifts have already taken place to a rather high degree! Therefore it is very urgent that the church learns to be better in relating to this new spirituality.
Viable responses - kinds of spirituality in postmodern settings
The radical shifts from modern/traditional to postmodern behaviour and perceptions have far-reaching consequences on church and mission. The church will not be able to minister meaningfully in the new postmodern setting through adapting/contextualizing existing "mission" programmes and methods, while itself remaining unchanged. The fundamental challenges right now seems to be the need for the church (individual Christians, local groups/congregations, institutions) itself to undergo changes that will make it more fit to missionally engage the new postmodern spiritualities.
This need for change is called for both from new spirituality seekers and from church members themselves. New spirituality is affecting the population at large, including Christians / church members. There is a strong call for change even from the people in the pew. "I love God, but I HATE the church" is heard from many church-active adults, youth and children, who do not any longer find themselves at home in church environments that are out of touch with the changes in the lives of its members and its surroundings. If their cry is not heard, they will silently leave the church and never come back, though they want to uphold their Christian allegiance.
A new spirituality in society needs to be met with authentic church spirituality. We find no need to "invent" new spiritualities in the church - but we do need to draw on all the spiritual resources in the long and rich Christian tradition. In meeting the longings and spiritual aspirations of the new spirituality, we should take forth elements of Christian spirituality, which will genuinely respond to the quests of seekers wherever they are. E.g. the classic seven stages of faith from St. John of the Cross can provide a useful basis for helping seekers see where the are on their journey towards God (see fig. 2). Through such identification they can move on, drawing on the rich historical heritage of Christian spirituality.
Stages of faith and search for meaning
1. LONGING - gentle opening of the senses
Historical resources need to be complemented by contemporary Christian traditions. It seems that each church tradition has received a unique contribution to the ecumenical whole (see fig. 3). However, no single tradition may meet all the aspirations of seekers. Therefore there is a critical demand for a functional ecumenism, where each church learns to minister with gifts and graces given to them - and wholeheartedly refer seekers to other traditions, if they find that this will be more helpful to them. Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic/Pentecostal traditions all have their share to contribute.
Such a post-denominational reality is already by and large a reality for youth and seekers. However, ecclesial leaders and systems and interchurch doctrinal dialog still need to catch up with the new realities.
Most important of all seems to be the need for authentic relationships. Journeying towards God is not an individual venture. Seekers will always need companions along the way.In a postmodern setting, extreme individuality often leads to a search for fellowship. Loving relationships are the only "programme" that will suffice. Such relationships in and by themselves demonstrate the nature of the Trinitarian God, which we want to point to.
Thus this relationship dimension is crucial in order to nurture and grow a Christian Trinitarian concept of God in seekers, who are more likely to come to an understanding of Christian dogma experientially than propositionally.
A time of new opportunity
The new spiritual quest is a great opportunity for the church to engage postmodern settings missionally. And it is already happening in many exiting - often experimental - forms and ways! Testimonies that people come to Christian faith in most unexpected ways are plentiful. There is no reason to lament the changes from an often godless modernism to a much more "spiritual" postmodern environment. However, we need to understand what is happening and change and respond in appropriate ways.
In many ways postmodern spirituality transcends the narrow "religious" confinement, which we know from modernity. In a refreshing new way we see spirituality and religion unfold in arenas of music, art, film, theatre, etc. This development is welcome opportunity for missional engagement with seekers in settings beyond the walls of the church.
The new openness in secular society to talk about spiritual experiences needs to be embraced wholeheartedly by the church. Through accompaniment with seekers in likely and unlikely places and situations, Christians will eventually learn how to share the Gospel in authentic ways under these new circumstances.
The new postmodern spirituality calls the church to conversion from hypocrisy and "acting". A key word is authenticity. Authenticity calls all of us to be in process towards God, being seekers journeying together with other seekers in a still deepening yearning for God. On that journey we should allow for vulnerability, intimacy and honesty.
Challenges - Issues to be dealt with in future research, experimenting, networking, consultationChallenges to be dealt with in embracing and encountering the new spirituality are offered without any order of priority. Some of them are of a theological nature. Some of a more practical nature. Most of them will need to be considered in the fundamental systemic change, which churches need to go through in order to face the new postmodern realities:
- The need to shift from ministering to a "crowd" to ministering to individuals. Due to the very high degree of individualization, we must address individuals. Normal congregational church life is often not geared towards this, thus is often felt irrelevant.
- How to learn to make much more explicit the riches and depths of Christian spirituality? - call for re-spiritualizing of the church in a spiritual world.
- At the same time dimensions of relationships, community and commitment needs to be considered for people, who are more under the influence of an elusive spirituality without specific commitments.
- How to learn to teach people through asking (the Jesus way) rather than offering fixed answers?
- If relationships are so life-giving and all-important: why then are so many of them dysfunctional?
- The general scepticism towards institutions makes it difficult for seekers to attach themselves to heavy church institutions. Therefore ways must be found in which the rooting of seekers in Christian faith can take place in "safe zones", where seekers are at ease in their journey as they work out their faith allegiance.
- Forms and structures and cultures within the church that are off-putting both to long-time church members and to seekers need to be critiqued with shattering honesty: Such critique would include the institution, lack of intimacy, judgmental attitudes, lack of acceptance of people as they are, in-grown church jargon and rules, lack of involvement in real world issues, lack of individual sensitivity, lack of church spirituality (sense of the Holy), low priority of contemplative lifestyle, inability to be WITH people (we are often FOR the people), uniformity, lack of "holy women and men" for accompaniment.
- The notion of normal "church membership" is of little or no value to many seekers. This is endangering the future of present church institutions. However, new ways to live out Christian life take new forms and should be studied thoroughly and critically in order to find forms of Christian community that is meaningful to postmodern people while being theologically and ecclesiologically legitimate.
- How can each church tradition benefit from the spiritualities vested in other church traditions in order to meet the legitimate spiritual quest of seekers?
- "Spirituality" as such is a neutral phenomenon. Specific spiritualities can be healthy and unhealthy. They can lead to God or lead anywhere in the world of spirit and psychology and cultic movements. While maintaining openness to anything, any spirituality should always be critiqued biblically and theologically.
New forms of belonging - how to be church today?
In search of missional and healing communities
Our group grew out of the decision to join together two of the original theme areas: "New forms of belonginghow to be church today?" and "In search of missional and healing communities." As we shared what particular areas of concern brought each of us to such a group, five somewhat discrete sets of issues emerged:
- the language of mission, missional, and missionary and what it indicates
- tensions involved in defining and practicing a distinctly Christian identity while at the same time being an open, inviting and welcoming community
- an understanding of mission and salvation that includes health, healing and medicine
- varieties of expressions of religiosity, both within and outside the church institutionalisms that substitute for the church as community, including a critique of clericalism .
In the end, we decided to begin with the second matter of having distinct identity and being a welcoming community. This implicated also issues of membership and belonging. We spent the majority of our time on this cluster of issues.
Due in large measure to the makeup of the group, our discussion focused on the German situation. Five of the ten of us were from Germany. What was shared from the other contexts we representedMexico, Hungary, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the United Statesserved as angles of reflection from other contexts to aid our investigation of how these issues are to be understood in the German setting.
Sociological theory regarding bounded sets and centered sets, especially as developed in chapter seven of the book Missional Church, offered an interpretive framework for understanding patterns of church membership and activity that proved helpful to some in the group. It at least highlighted the differences between group identity defined by boundaries and group life established by relating to a common center.
The group had tendencies to stress both the church's life as open and inclusive to all without boundaries that bar participation, and the church's commitments to love and receive people in that way out of faithfulness to the call of Christ. It became evident that some form of covenanting around common values and practices is necessary if the open, welcoming style of life is to be maintained.
As we depicted the various ways people in Germany bear some relationship to the church and/or Christian faith and/or religious life, a tentative taxonomy emerged that served as a framework for our conversation. We identified:
- Baptized Christians very involved in congregational activities
- Baptized Christians seldom involved in congregational activities
- Believing but unbaptized "Christians" involving themselves in congregational activities
- Non-believing, unbaptized people interested in Christian faith and seeking
- Persons of other religious faiths
- People with religious indifference or religious illiteracy
- People of the so-called "new paganism"
We never settled whether these are all the possibilities or whether this is the final way to describe each category, but the list was useful for getting at several issues. One was the matter of the allocation of resources and what that reveals about the notions of church that guide our actions and the church's sense of its mission. We asked about where financial resources are spent, and on which activities. We asked which types of people are directly served by those resources. Is this focused on the formal membership more than beyond them? Is it focused more on members who are distant or on members who are actively participating in services and activities? How do the clergy allocate their time and among which kinds of people? There was a sense that a mission-oriented view of the church should show up in a "responsible and active use" of resources available.
But this raised more questions. By what criteria is it to be determined that a use is responsible and active. What is the mission that guides allocation of resources understood to be? We recognized that there are many implicit answers in the ways churches act that seemed to us inadequate. Some try to "bring distant members back to the club," i.e. to active participation. Others try to get outside people into the club, i.e. via formal membership (baptism, etc.). Others seem content to simply maintain the present pattern of things. Still others seek to win back more influence in society. What exactly is our aim? We noted many ingredients towards an answer to that question but came to no consensus: openness to the stranger and the seeker, witness to the love of God, living the gospel as a church for others', influencing the social environment, giving people hope, providing education in the Christian faith for those in the church and those who are not, and deepening people's belief.
To the mission question was added the church question. In our conversation about what "we" are aiming at in the church's mission, who is that "we"? Do we tend to define the mission of the church in terms of the mission of the official people (clergy, bishops, councils, etc.) of the organizational structures when we talk about a mission toward the church members, distant, active or potential? How can we shift towards presuming that when we speak of the "church" it is the people we're talking about, not the institutional structures that serve the people. If the church is the people, then the question is about their mission. What are they called and sent by God to be, to do, or to say? What patterns of relationship among themselves and with others are they called to embody? We discovered that when this becomes the question, it begins to open up a new way of envisioning the aims that should test our practices.
We didn't get far in resolving the questions we raised. But our conversation focused some of the things that need to be engaged, particularly in the German context which was in the foreground of our conversation. Our struggle illustrated that each of our churches is called upon to engage what we inherit from our ecclesiological traditions of the past and what have come to be our social circumstances of the present, and out of that engagement to re-formulate our understanding of what it means to be the church and what our mission is. We were helped by the eschatological perspective that the church is called to continuing conversion in regard to its identity and life and is always called to be crossing new boundaries. This has to be done through fresh encounters with the Scriptures and by sharing such a journey of discovery together with churches elsewhere for mutual stimulation, correction, imagination, and accountability.
We noticed toward the end that we had wanted to take up the matter of healing but had not dealt with it very much. We shared the conviction that deepening the understanding of the healing ministry of the church holds great potential for providing a renewed paradigm of mission for the 21st century in the context of Western cultures marked by fragmentation and brokenness. This will require taking up the need for the healing of relationships, the inner wholeness of individuals, and resolutions social conflict and ethnic tensions. It calls for a recovery of the biblical vision of shalom and salvation, wholistically understood, and a fully trinitarian theology of the church and of mission. For this, the resources of more wholistic visions held and practiced by many churches of the non-Western world and by churches of Pentecostal and charismatic character will be essential for developing models of worship, community, discipleship, spirituality and mission that are fully healing.
In light of our experience, we add these comments:
Respond to the needs for definition of mission and church mentioned above by drawing upon a trinitarian missional and ecclesial vision.
We recognize that what we raised about allocating resources is part of a larger challenge we must attend to: the "missionary structures of the congregation." This theme from ecumenical conversation in the 1960s must again be taken up with renewed attention and commitment.
Practical follow up
- What is the aim of our mission? What is the church? What is community? What is discipleship?
- Offering healing for the brokenness of our lives
- We were caught by our context
- We left out searches for biblical resources
- In places of renewal of Christian faith, we observe there are aspects of healing ministries
- What are congregations looking like
- Theological Education and missional vision. Experience, laboratories, field work
- Shalom, relationships restored, world healing, "salvation."
New forms of belonging/In search of healing communities/ Communicating and celebrating Christian faith
Through the discussions of the group there was a growing awareness of the diverse ecclesiological contexts and the differences that each person brought from their specific ecclesiological context. For example the differences between the North American denominational system and the western and central European folk churches.
Alongside the differences in ecclesiological contexts there was also an awareness of the different expressions secularisation' takes in the differing contexts. For example the secularisation within a country that leads to people leaving church and the secularisation within a country that leads to a civic' religion/church. We recognised that the impact of secularisation varies across countries but also between ethnic groupings and urban and rural areas.
The overall theme of our discussions was ecclesial belonging and the missionary (missional) dimension of the church. Within this we looked at the different structures and attitudes, deconstruction and possible reconstructions of these and new paradigms and models of churches/congregations. We recognise that the issue is not only structures but the cultivation of Christian habits in the church such as hospitality, forgiveness, integrity and the building up of relationships. The western experience of church today makes it possible for persons to believe without belonging and belong without believing. We cannot now debate the finer points regarding what levels of believing and belonging are necessary for "membership" (whatever that might mean) in the church of Jesus Christ. However, few will debate the assertion that some form of believing and belonging, coupled with particular habits of faith is a requirement for "membership". We experience different forms of belonging some are vague forms but the missionary task of the church is to nurture a deeper sense of belonging. Our goal is not individual private spiritual experience and salvation, but the creation of a people that can proclaim and be a sign of the reign of God and call people to enter the reign of God.
Some discussion was given to the place of centres of spirituality' in a postmodern/secular context. This included some thought on the role of new monastic traditions. - Iona as a potential example. In these contexts belonging' is for those at the centre very strong but may be transitory and less clear for those moving in and out. Less clear yet a realistic and valuable sense of belonging in a postmodern context. Another possibility is that a temporary resident would take these life forms to renew and enliven another community to which they can belong.
Thought was given to the use of space' especially the use of churches as buildings that can be welcoming to the individual for prayer, reflection and learning about the Christian faith. Thought was also given to the role of time' in postmodern contexts of belonging. Using an example of a pilgrimage walk in which community/belonging was achieved by a group of people on a half day pilgrimage/walk but at the end each person went their separate ways. Does this examples indicate a place for a belonging 'of the moment? How do we then help to weave these otherwise isolated incidents into an overall Christian journey. That leads toward a deeper and more cohesive sense of belonging.
In postmodern contexts we need to appreciate the role of biographical pilgrimages in which people move towards a church/congregation, connect with and move away.
Discussions on the role of languageboth words and images, symbols and music. Knowing and understanding this language of Christ is a powerful form of belonging. This point emphasises the need to have the Christian Story' told within the culture. The church needs to seek new ways of interaction with forms of postmodern culture such as art and literature.
Given this first set of issues we need to give attention to related issues for example leadership, role of the church in the mission of God and culture.
We also discussed the role of leadership in the formation of such communities. We want to explore the nature of leaders as explorers or midwives. In this light, we think leaders might
1. Show that they don't know what the future looks likethe realities of life in the Postmodern context chastens previous Modern assumptions of predictability and control.
2. Disturb rather than direct the emergent growth of the community; model and encourage an healthy experience of conflict.
3. Trust the Spirit of Jesus that is embodied in the communitythe community has all it needs to solve its own problems of mission.
4. Refuse the temptation to provide answers and solutions from above; with for innovative "guerrilla" leaders to emerge from below.
5. Serve as language teacherscultivate an environment framed by our particularly biblical narrative, while also cultivating the ability to read and speak the languages of our cultures.
6. Stimulate the change process with a fresh stream of new information that creates greater awareness and understanding of our missional environment and fuels innovation.
A continuous effort of the church to be engaged with culture. There is a continuous tension to affirm and embrace our cultures and at the same time to live counter-culturally. The challenge for the church is to become bi-lingual and discerning. The church needs to be in the world but not of the world. For the west there seems to be a challenge to become more counter-cultural. This is necessary because at the centre of an ecclesiology informed by the Bible stands the question of ultimate loyalty - to whom or to what do we belong, pledge our allegiance, and confess as the primary commitment that defines every aspect of our lives? Such a question, so daring in its simplicity, cuts through to the core of the issues before us: in whom do we believe? To whom do we belong? Caesar and the seductive power of politics? Mars and militarism? The Sirens of capitalist consumerism? When a congregation or collection of congregations fails to wrestle with this question of ultimate loyalty and encounter these cultural forces of redefinition with a rigorous hermeneutic of suspicion, it will be incapable of resisting the force they exert to captivate the gospel and its church to lesser and idolatrous loyalties.
Issues for further reflection:
We have come to a deeper grasp of the diversity of models of church and community that exist to promote conversations that challenge and enrich other contexts.
We realise that in a postmodern context there will not be one model, one normative church, and we need to appreciate and celebrate a variety of models. Coupled with this is a need to create space, encouragement and resources for experimental models.
We celebrate in all our deliberations the creative presence of the Spirit of God who has made promises about the future of the church. While it is easy to focus on our present struggles and disappointments these need to be held in the light of the Spirit and promises of God.