For most people who grew up Protestant, the notion of “the parish” in ministry is perhaps something vaguely Catholic and therefore assumed to be outdated in our contemporary situation. While I certainly have some serious problems with the parish model as traditionally practiced within Catholicism (largely due to issues of power and hierarchy), I am also seeing the tremendous value of having a vision for ministry in which the church lives and ministers within a certain neighborhood.
So, what if being a church required its members to actually live within the neighborhood? Would that not feel immediately restricting and just instinctually wrong? What if there weren’t any churches in your neighborhood that were a good fit for you? These are questions to which there might be answers, but I don’t initially have them. However, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the parish model of ministry is indispensable because of stories like Erika Haub’s call to dispatch on behalf of a neighbor. Please read it if these themes at all pique your interest.
And I’m seeing more and more that, despite the very real loss of certain freedoms imposed by a parish model of ministry, there are other freedoms that we normally don’t think about that are also lost when we think we can build commuter communities. We don’t have the freedom to simply bump into each other on the street. We don’t have the freedom to be a house of refuge and hospitality with those in our neighborhood. We don’t have the freedom to build relationships of trust and respect with those next door to our church building because we pile out of our minivans once a week, and then right back into them an hour later.
To be the followers of the God who was incarnated in Christ Jesus, I think that Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14 indicates what kind of following we should be doing:
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
I mostly stay out away from talking about politics on this blog, not because I don’t have a plethora of opinions, but rather because it’s not something I usually want to write about.
I have followed with great interest the presidential primaries of my neighbors to the south, and have been particularly captivated by the remarkable rhetoric of Barack Obama. At the same time, I will always remain skeptical of such lofty rhetoric, even if I really want to believe that he won’t become yet another disappointment. Furthermore, as a Christian, my mission in the world is ultimately something other than electoral politics, even if I might have some distinctly political agendas in (my feeble attempts at) embodying God’s love to the world.
These themes converge in a piece by David Fitch entitled Žižek, Obama and the Emerging Church, in which he exposes the dirty little secret of Christians and politics:
We participate in National politics, its political ideologies of a more just society, even though we deeply suspect the corporate national machine insures nothing will change. We do this because it is much harder to think of the church itself as a legitimate social political force for God’s justice in the world. It is simply a lot less work to support Barak Obama for president than it is to lead our churches into being living communities of righteousness, justice and God’s Mission in the world.
Brother Maynard has started a meme to post links to under-read and -appreciated emerging/missional church bloggers. Somehow I wound up on the list, who knew?
Here’s how you can play: pick a few missionally-minded bloggers that don’t get a lot of attention in the blogosphere (say, under 150 links on technorati’s emerging church list) and add them to the list below. Even better, go to Br. Maynard’sÂ meme-instigating post, and grab the most recent list from whoever has commented last. And then leave a comment yourself so that others can see and copy your list. I only added two, since this list is getting extensive!
Jaclyn and I are currently reading through Alan Hirsch‘s “The Forgotten Ways” together. What I love about this book is that it lays out what many have been saying and feeling for some time now: the church in the West must relate to the culture it finds itself in as cross-cultural ministries; no different than going to Africa or Asia where nobody has heard the Gospel. The basic thesis of the book is that there is a latent, primal force within every believer and church (Hirsch dubs this “Apostolic Genius”) that is ready to burst into missional engagement with the world, provoking a Jesus movement of evangelism and service much like the early church and the contemporary Chinese church.
He makes the point that the churches were forced to get down to the nitty gritty of what they were all about by the external pressure of persecution (but not just persecution). This simple core is then easily reproducible by anyone/any group, so the church thrives and multiplies with great speed and power.
It sounds all well and good, but the implication is this: complex and/or academic thinking has no place in the life of the church. This is not easily reproducible, and is more of a hindrance than a help to the mission of the church in the world. (Although Hirsch doesn’t say this, it surely is the implication.) As one currently engaged in academics towards future service within God’s church, this troubles me. I want to dismiss, but I can’t. It might be right.
I have some thoughts, but I’m going to hold off for a bit in the hopes of generating some discussion first. So, do academics get in the way of the mission of the church?
I have to save all of my creative juice for essays at the moment, but here’s a couple of posts that I’m finding particularly interesting:
Erika Haub blogs about reclaiming some aspects of the parish model. Keep reading into the comments, because she makes the interesting comment that the urban missional church that she helps to lead requires its members to live in the neighborhood that they minister in because it has “kept us honest to our mission of loving and serving the diverse set of people in our midst.”
Halden Doerge has started a series about the relationship between theology and science in a postmodern world. It looks like it should be thought provoking. He’s finished Part 1 and Part 2 so far. He is contending that theology has basically capitulated to science, and that it’s time to restate a particularly theological way of knowing and of relating theology and science.