Posts Tagged ‘Mission of God’

On the Training of Ministers

by   |  01.09.18  |  Professors

On the Training of Ministers

Pete Ward’s new book Introducing Practical Theology: Mission, Ministry, and the Life of the Church (Baker Academic, 2017), emphasizes throughout the importance of the church and the lived experience of the community of faith. Ward describes well two conversations that I often have with prospective students and mid-career ministers. First, why do people desire to begin theological studies? Many simply have an affinity for knowing more about their faith. They see more rigorous engagement with the Bible, Church History, Theology, and Ministerial Practice will make a difference in their personal growth and congregation’s well being. He states, “The desire to know more often comes out of a realization that we do not know enough. It is not at all unusual for practice to get ahead of theory. This could be a simple situation—for instance, being asked to lead a group study on a particular issue” (22). He goes on to describe that the resources often accessible are the first steps in becoming a theologically reflective practitioner. However, there comes a time when maybe a crisis or a heavy issue emerges that cannot be engaged in faithfully without formal and professional training. He continues, “This sense of a gap in knowledge can become particularly acute when someone, for example, has trained as a community activist or as a youth worker and his or her practice seems to have developed in ways that no longer fit with previous theological understanding. This experience is actually common, and it is one of the main reasons ministers and others who are professionally engaged in different kinds of ministry want to return to academic institutions to study theology, and practical theology in particular” (23).

The second conversation Ward describes as an ongoing and “normal Christian experience.” He states,

Practitioners often find that they have lost their theological bearings. Losing a theological orientation is not quite the same as losing faith. The normal pattern is that practitioners continue to find their personal faith to be meaningful and helpful, and God is still a reality in their lives. At the same time, they start to become more hazy about how this personal faith connects to what they do. … It is like taking an inflatable raft out onto the water. Drifting with the current seems pleasant, but after a while you can find yourself quite far from where you are meant to be. Practical theology is one of the ways that practitioners can look up from where their professional ministry has taken them and find ways to reorient themselves (23).

Ward concludes the chapter describing the possible reasons why ministers find themselves adrift. The gap between theory and practice (long ago described by Aristotle but keenly felt by every generation since), the ever-shifting contexts in society, the overwhelming need of people, globalization, and the complexity of the ministerial task often deflate one’s ministerial aspirations and capacities. While not the only reason, the gap ministers feel between their aspirations and their practices is why many return to school to pursue the Doctor of Ministry degree.

The dual services of the Graduate School of Theology and the Siburt Institute represent two facets of ACU’s desire to serve churches. I believe it is the responsibility of the church (not the school) to raise up the next generation of leaders. The school partners with churches by providing theological training to those identified as “called” to serve the people of God. The Siburt Institute provides resources for ministers and congregations who serve on behalf of God for the sake of the world. More »

Knowing Your Neighborhood

by   |  12.15.17  |  Alumni

Knowing Your Neighborhood

Part 1 of 3

One Sunday morning, years ago, a refugee family showed up at church and they kept coming back. I walked out of the office one afternoon, made my way up the street, and knocked on the front door of where the refugees were living. The door opened and the gift of hospitality was extended. Over coffee, I learned of their story. I also learned this family was deeply committed to the life of Christ.

Over the next several months I would continue to unexpectedly drop in. One day the matriarch of the family said something similar to the following:

Seeing you at our front door reminds me of our church back home. Back home the preacher was the priest who made daily visits to the neighbors. The neighborhood knew the priest and the priest knew the neighborhood. But it seems, in North America, the neighborhood doesn’t know the priest and the priest doesn’t know the neighborhood.

Ethnography of the Neighborhood

A common refrain by those engaged in the missional church conversation is that the church does not have a mission, but the mission of God has a church. Those leading the conversation then help churches discover the avenues in which churches can join God already in His mission. However, often what is lacking in these conversations is knowledge of the neighborhood we are sent too (Luke 10:1-12). If we are going to be communities of faith announcing the nearness of God’s kingdom while we heal, cast out demons, and receive hospitality by the strangers, I wonder if one of the first steps we must take is to know the neighborhood to which we are being sent. More »

The Stories We Live By

by   |  03.26.10  |  Uncategorized

Stephen Johnson, DMin, ThD - Associate Professor of Ministry, Director of Contextual Education

Stephen Johnson, DMin, ThD - Associate Professor of Ministry, Director of Contextual Education

I spend a good amount of time these days thinking with students about contextual theology – this notion that theology is enacted in practice in particular times, places, and people.  Not only do I spend time thinking with students about these things, but also exploring notions of contextual theology with a community of faith.  For nearly six years, I have journeyed with the Buffalo Gap Church of Christ as preacher.  The gracious invitation to walk with with them in this way has afforded me the opportunity to explore contextual theology in “real time.”  For this, I am grateful.

One of the things that strikes me as I reflect upon the relationship between teaching contextual theology and engaging in it in Buffalo Gap is the role of congregational narratives.  As homiletician, I have long been aware of narrative.  The key idea advanced by Steven Crites in his influential essay, “The Narrative Quality of Experience,” is that human beings structure and understand their experience of life by telling stories.  Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley write, “Stories are privileged and imaginative acts of self-interpretation” (Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals: Weaving Together the Human and the Divine).

I’m convinced that attention to narratives is a key to reading and understanding congregations.  I’m also convinced that helping congregations attend to and reflect upon their story is a means of communal discernment.  Let’s call it “narrative ethnography as communal discernment in the life and mission of God.”  So, I’ve engaged in a little narrative project in Buffalo Gap.  I have attempted to listen carefully and attend faithfully to the story of our common life over the last several years and narrate that story as an act of ministry, allowing the congregation to both tell and interpret the story.

There are many forms for narration.  I have chosen to produce our story in audio format episodically.  Capturing audio conversations allows the voice of others to be present in the narration and also allows for some artistry.  I have titled the project Dispatches from the Trails End: One Church’s Story in the Mission of God for reasons that may only be apparent in the hearing of the story.  So, let me share the Prologue to my little project with you, “Story and Place.”