Friday, July 5, 2013

Gospel and Culture

In the Fall of 2000, just a couple years into my ministry at St. Francis Church in Holden, I enrolled in a Doctorate in Ministry program at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. The program was focused on the theme of "Gospel and Culture" - "enabling pastors to engage the mission field of North American, postmodern, post-Christian society." It was a great program at a wonderful seminary that gave me an opportunity to work with many amazing professors, including Walter Brueggemann and Barbara Brown Taylor.

In the midst of our recent move, I came across some boxes of old papers from that program. One of them, from the opening seminar, is called "the grid." It was an assignment to help us to think about our particular context for ministry. This matters because ministry is never generic, but particular. It matters whether our context is rural or urban or suburban; whether it's "liberal" or "conservative." Part of what I am thinking a lot about these days is how much more complex a diocesan system is because it is by definition multicultural. Even so, the Diocese of Western Massachusetts has its own identity, distinct from say the Diocese of Los Angeles, or the Diocese of Albany.

Anyway, here are the questions. I'm not sure which professor they came from, or if they are still used at CTS, but I think they remain helpful.

  • What is your operative definition of "gospel?"
  • What is the center ("axis mundi") of your church?
  • What is your operative definition of culture?
  • What is the center ("axis mundi") of your local culture?
  • If you had to make a prophetic break from the past, of what would it consist?
  • What are the key untapped Biblical texts?
  • What are the key untapped theological ideas?
  • What is your operative definition of mission?
  • How do you experience the "sentness" of the church?
  • What and who are the authorities for the people you work with?
  • How does the Bible function in your community?
  • What are the important rituals in your community?
  • How are you like and unlike the people with whom you do ministry?
  • What are the sources of resistance to doing things differently in your setting?
  • What are the spaces where change can occur within your setting?
  • How is the sacred experienced within your setting?
  • What are the practices of a gospel people that need to be added or revived in your setting?
  • Three questions you also ought to ask?

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