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The first step for the congregation, as was for the catalyst group, is to answer the question, “what is church?”  The church may use the sample questions used before, and should also be watchful for assumptions, but the catalyst group can help with diligence.  At this point the catalyst group should not cling to its own statement of church, but should be open to the full range of input from the congregation or other small groups within the congregation.  Once the church has a working definition, a working statement of church, it should be compared to the statement developed by the catalyst group.  Neither statement is more correct or more right than another.  This exercise is simply to stimulate discussion and reflection.  One group may have thought of something that the other did not.  Differences should be kept in mind when completing the other exercises.

Next, the congregation as a whole should be presented the Kierkegaard model and allowed to discuss it informally for a time.  It is probably best to make this the topic of the Sunday sermon or message and allow it to sink in until the following week, when congregation members might fill out a survey of how they see themselves (as a whole.)  This should stimulate considerable reflection and discussion, and give the congregation another perspective on their statement of church.  When introducing them to this model, it should be stressed that a dynamic, healthy church will not have static roles on this large scale.  God, the pastor and the congregation will fill all three roles at various times.  Keep in mind that it may be outside some members’ comfort zone to experience multiple perspectives with no single ‘right answer.’

At this point in the process, introducing some additional references or perspectives may be helpful.  For example, symbolism is something that many churchgoers seldom think about, but Eastern Orthodox iconography is one type of symbolism proven effective for transformational discovery for more than one thousand years.  Even free-church advocates, such as Baptists find this approach helpful.[1]  Iconography is kept from being idol worship when the symbol is not the focus of attention, but what it represents.  In fact, the artistic endeavor is to draw the attention beyond the piece of art into the mystery or majesty that inspired it.  This is similar to the Sanskrit word “darshan” which means “auspicious viewing.”  In Hindu worship, the beholding of an auspicious person or object results in a blessing of the viewer because it is about being seen as much as with seeing.  Do we attend Sunday morning service as much to see God as to been seen by God?

While it can be difficult to accomplish, except in quite small groups, efforts should be taken to have the congregation complete narrative faith audits.  It might be useful to compile several audits by a number of groups into a collective or “averaged” statement, incorporating as much as possible from the variety of responses.  Again, it is not necessary that everyone agrees on every point, but it is imperative that the participants can recognize some part of their own input.  The final audit should be reported to the congregation.

 

Theological Worlds – Exploring and Celebrating Diversity

The church is usually understood to be an assembly of people who come together with a common doctrine and a focus on a divine being who guides the purpose(s) of the church.  This definition assumes far more homogeneity of belief than actually exists.  To address the real lack of uniformity, some advance an intentional reclamation of traditional doctrine within the church to unite people around core beliefs; this is typically referred to as the conservative approach.  Others seek to address the diversity by downplaying doctrine, focusing on common values and principles instead; this is typically referred to as the liberal approach. 

W. Paul Jones, rightly proclaims that there must be another way to frame the debate, beyond the current dualism, that is less polarizing and divisive.  Many things influence individual and collective theologies, not the least of which are life experiences and family and/or cultural faith traditions.  In his book, Worlds within a Congregation: Dealing with Theological Diversity, Jones describes five distinct theological worlds as follows:

  • 1. Separation and Reunion
  • 2. Conflict and Vindication
  • 3. Emptiness and Fulfillment
  • 4. Condemnation and Forgiveness
  • 5. Suffering and Endurance[2]

None of these worlds express an unorthodox doctrine and none are mutually exclusive of another.  However, the more people relate to a particular theological world, the less they identify with the others.  It is possible – and indeed desirable – to look at theology through the lenses of epiphania and obsessio and how each of these poles can be interpreted.  Jones defines obsessio as “that lived question, need, ache, or dilemma, which has its teeth into us at the deepest level,” and epiphania as “that which through one or more events, moments and/or persons brings sufficient illumination, satisfaction, or healing to provide a lived answer worth wagering one’s life upon.  One’s epiphania is what touches promisingly one’s obsessio, either as fact or as hope.”[3]  The title of each world above expresses first its obsessio and then its epiphania.

Churches, denominations and individuals lean toward their own theological world and likewise attract others in that world.  Large churches with multiple worship services may find each service growing into its own flavor – observing this phenomenon is how Jones came to these findings.  For this project’s process, the importance in going through the Theological Worlds Inventory (see reference in footnote 52) is that members of the catalyst group and then members of the congregation begin to see their own theological differences as valuable alternate perspectives of the same divine mystery.  As the United Churches of Christ puts it: in essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, and in all things charity.[4]  After the earlier exercises, Theological Worlds discovery will further develop theology and promote theological discourse.

Once the catalyst group has gone through this exercise, it should revisit the statement of what is church and its mission/purpose statement.  The individuals making up the congregation should also complete the inventory, keeping a copy of the results for themselves as well as providing a copy of the final scores in order to establish the range of theologies represented in the population. If it is difficult to arrange that the entire congregation read Worlds Within a Congregation, the subject matter could be dealt with in a series of sermons or meetings.  Once the congregation understands the value of theological diversity within the  context Jones presents, it should revisit not only its own statement of what is church, but the church’s theological heritage as well.  It is incumbent on church leadership to accept that they will learn as much about the theological beliefs of the church as the congregation will.  One of the most important concepts Jones discusses is the tailoring of services and programs to the various worlds represented.

Following the Kierkegaard and Jones’ Theological Worlds exercises, a new church-wide response to the Olsen Faith Audit described previously can further develop the church’s sense of mission and purpose.  This becomes the turning point between the inner work of self-discovery and the outer work of implementing mission into the world.  Here, theology meets praxis and the cycle begins anew.

What should become apparent after completing and discussing Jones’ Theological Worlds Inventory is the value of having a variety of theological viewpoints represented in the congregation. It is easily understood that the worldview of an urban pastor will differ from that of a Christian counselor, or that the theology of a third-world missionary will vary considerably from that of a suburban minister.  Likewise, however, it is necessary to understand how these differences are found within a congregation and how they lead to the variety of ministries and missions performed and supported within a church.  Grasping the interrelatedness of Theological Worlds and spiritual gifts provides innumerable opportunities to enliven the life of the organization.

 

Spiritual Gifts Inventories – Finding Places for Ministry in Diverse Congregations

The church, as envisioned in this process, will help its congregants identify their particular spiritual gifts and enable an environment where they can be honored and used.  Likewise, churches should develop corporate personalities with their own gifts.  Among others, Don and Katie Fortune, in Discovering Your God-Given Gifts, have developed a useful process for discovering one’s spiritual gifts as found in Romans 12:6-8:

  • 1. perception or prophecy
  • 2. service or ministry
  • 3. teaching
  • 4. exhorting or encouraging
  • 5. giving or generosity
  • 6. administrating or diligence
  • 7. caring or expressing compassion

The Fortunes call these motivational gifts for serving others and reaching fulfillment for ourselves.[5]  The most important element in their discovery process is that living one’s gifts brings joy as well as transformation.  Spiritual gifts, then, are not an inner work but an introduction to outer work in this process.  Below is a table summarizing the motivational gifts.[6]

Gift

Definition

Needs Met

Spiritual Application

Perceiver Declares the will of God Spiritual Keeps us centered in spiritual principles
Server Renders practical service Practical Keeps the work of ministry moving
Teacher Researches and teaches the Bible Mental Keeps us studying and learning
Exhorter Encourages personal progress Psychological Keeps us applying spiritual truths
Giver Shares material assistance Material Keeps providing for specific needs
Administrator Gives leadership and direction Functional Keeps us organized and increases our vision
Compassion Person Provides personal and emotional support Emotional Keeps us in right attitudes and relationships

 

Pastors and catalyst groups are cautioned not to be too rigid in the identification and development of these gifts and skills, keeping in mind the organic nature of talents and abilities.  Spiritual gifts are dynamic in that they may develop along with an individual’s faith pilgrimage. One may be graced by more than one gift; or someone may be called to one path, utilizing one of their weaker gifts, at one point in their life, only to be called to another path, developing another gift, at a later point.  Further, spiritual gift inventories may prove useful to the catalyst group to identify the prophetic, artistic, celebratory, and evangelical roles.  Completing a spiritual gift inventory after the theological worlds exercise helps the church understand using its gifts in the community, which extends beyond the church’s physical building.  Knowing one’s theological world will lead the way to the use of one’s gifts with unique perspective.

Through focusing on spiritual gifts, the ideas of “assigned,” “appointed,” “recruited” and “volunteered” can successfully be banned from the church’s vocabulary, replacing them with “called,” “gift,” “purpose,” and “passion.”  Instead of burning out from inappropriate assignments, people are engaged where they are called to be in their work within the congregation.  This calls into question decisions like making a grade school teacher the director of Sunday school when, in fact, they may feel called to outreach or mission work.  This matching of gifts will support the nurturing of the congregant’s faith journey as well as furthering of the transformation process in the community.[7]  With the importance of calling people out to their gifts rather than assigning people to tasks, one or more leaders in the church should become skilled in gift identification (which is itself the exercise of the gift of perception).  Their role is to observe and identify peoples’ gifts and interests, and encourage them to take an inventory to confirm those gifts and locate where they could be used.

 

Small Groups – Opportunities for Serving and Being Served

As mentioned previously, small groups can be powerful resources for transformation.  Studies have shown that many adults in America are involved in some type of small group, including support groups, discussion groups, Bible study groups, Sunday school classes or couples’ groups.  Nearly all, when asked, say that their group is important to them.  The top two reasons for valuing their small group are, 1) feeling connected, and 2) having sources of encouragement when they were feeling down.  Help through an emotional crisis, making difficult decisions, or assistance during an illness were additional reasons for belonging to a small group.[8]

Of these group members, more than half said the group is associated with their church or synagogue.  From this subgroup, 84% said the small group has influenced their faith and spirituality.  Further, 85% say they attend worship at least once a week, and 61% percent have taken a more active interest in other programs of the church.[9]  These statistics are quoted not to measure the volume of attendance in small groups (quantity), but to measure the impact the small group has had on its members’ faith life (quality).

Thus we keep in mind that the purpose of the small group is to serve the larger church.  Of small groups based in churches, an overwhelming majority has members composed mostly from their own church.[10]  In thinking of cell groups as incubators, they can foster the growth of committed leaders who are then able to apply their practiced skills in the larger church and external community.  Such individuals should exhibit qualities of commitment to the common good; perseverance and resilience; ethical congruence between life and work; and engagement with diversity and complexity.[11]  They should promote a strong sense of community, encourage compassion, and engage the imagination, and practice love, justice and mercy. 

Ideally, small groups should nurture the habits of mind necessary for effectively dealing with the diversity, complexity, and ambiguity of life in this day and age.  Parks Daloz, et al, have found such habits of mind to be as follows:

  • dialogue, grounded in the understanding that meaning is constructed through an ongoing interaction between oneself and others
  • interpersonal perspective-taking, the ability to see through the eyes and respond to the feelings and concerns of the other
  • critical, systemic thought, the capacity to identify parts and the connections among them as coherent patterns, and to reflect evaluatively on them
  • dialectical thought, the ability to recognize and work effectively with contradictions by resisting closure or by reframing one’s response
  • holistic thought, the ability to intuit life as an interconnected whole in a way that leads to practical wisdom[12]

These practices are closely related and developmentally sequential, each undergirded by the previous.  These habits, especially the last two, are lofty goals for a typical congregation yet they are nonetheless worthy goals, and closely associated with the concept of transformation.

While small groups are a powerful dynamic, not all congregations will support small group-based efforts.  Some smaller congregations are too large to work effectively as a small group, but are too small to be successfully divided.  Implementing cell or small groups requires careful attention to the development of lay leadership in/for each group, and this is a paradigm shift for traditional program-based churches. Each church will have its own unique situation, yet all can engage in the alternating inner work, outer work and go through many of the exercises presented here.

A final note in consideration of small groups is a cautionary one.  As stated previously but worth repetition, small group work must be balanced with whole congregation work.  Each group may have its own communal identity, or its own theological world, but the church must have an overall community identity as well, which may be reinforced through “Celebrative Worship.”[13]  The risk is that small groups of diverse theological worlds, especially if they have separate worship services, will begin to feel as separate communities and the overall congregation becomes fractured.  Efforts, therefore, are required to reengage the congregation in the communal nature of the church’s life.

 

The Personality and Story of the Church

Howard Friend suggests an exercise of describing one’s church-as-a-person,[14] in essence naming the character traits of the organization.  The exercise goes beyond describing just the inner life of the church, since it aims to point to the strengths and gifts of the church that can be utilized in its outer work in the world.  This is accomplished by answering questions such as the following:

  • How would you introduce your church to someone new?
  • What adjectives would describe the personality?
  • Would you describe the church as male or female? If so, why?
  • What clothing would be typical?
  • What is your friend, the church, good at, and what activities does the church engage in?
  • What things of the church are not good?

Most of the time the information revealed in this process can be encouraging in the process as a whole, but occasionally the answers produce conflicting ideas.  As with individuals, development and maturation require the self-assessment of negative or questionable traits, in addition to the positive ones, that have to be reconciled to move forward. Rather than being viewed as a problem, this eventuality is an opportunity for honest self-evaluation and correction where needed.  The life of the church will benefit from the exercise.

Moving beyond the description of church-as-a-person, the next step is to create the story of the church.  Five areas deserve further exploration after an initial session explores the church-as-a-person.  These are not mean to be quick activities that take place in one meeting.  Rather they are long-term and in-depth explorations of the areas that are to provide the basis for knowing the person of the church and its future.  Friend describes spending 18 months in the process with the church he served.  The five areas are: the church’s history, the church’s future, the church in the present, the inward journey, and the outward journey. 

Exploring the church’s history brings the memories of all present to the community.  A timeline for the church’s existence could show not only the church’s important events but those of the world, the community and individuals.  A scroll of paper placed on a wall would allow people to add their milestones to that of the community and share their formation with the rest.  Recorded interviews with the older members make history come alive, involving them with passing on the work the church has done.  A collection of artifacts prompts the telling of stories by those who recall earlier times.  With shared knowledge, traditions of the church take on new meaning for those who have only heard of them but not how they came to be.

Exploring the church’s future is discerning where God is calling it to go.  Having seen the working of God’s will in the church’s past, the church carefully studies its call into the future.  Discernment is not always an easy topic to introduce.  An examination of the course of one’s own life can introduce the idea of a path on which one has been lead.  The catalyst group and congregation seek guidance from the community to interpret the nudging at their hearts and souls.  Guided by Biblical principles, examples and values as a faith community, the church looks to God for guidance on the path to take.

The church in the present is an exercise for the whole church based largely upon the church-as-a-person exercise.  Questions to be asked can include:

“What are the traits and strengths we have?” 

“Are we welcoming?” 

“Do we have a diversity of people and theologies in the congregation?” 

“Do we reach out into the local community, the nation, and the world through our missions and giving?” 

“Is there a depth of leadership that allows people to lead and then step aside for others to lead?” 

“Are we a congregation that nourishes the soul with spiritual disciplines and faith practices?” 

“Do we represent the church that we want to be?” 

From the answers to these questions will come an awareness of weaknesses as well as strengths, both of which must be enumerated completely.  Therefore, additional questions may include, “what can we do better?” and  “what must the church do to change from these ways that we do not like?” 

The inward journey represents faith practices of prayer, scripture reading, study groups on the Bible and other spiritual disciplines.  But these are also incorporated into the corporate life of the congregation through devotional times at all meetings and activities.  Friend tells of Sabbath weeks throughout the church year in which no meetings were scheduled beyond worship and Sunday school.  This approach allows the entire congregation to have a period of Sabbath at the same time.

Outer Work in Earnest

After the analysis of past, future, present and church-as-a-person processes are complete the outer work must begin.  The point of outer work, besides the conviction that we are “called to witness to and embody the Christian message,”[15] as Friend so aptly put it, is to get individuals as well as the church to focus outside of self, to see the connection as part of a larger community.  The second part of the Great Commandment commanded us to love others to the same degree that we love ourselves.  This requires a setting aside of ego and a taking up of consideration for others.

Each of the inner work exercises contributes to a richer outer life as well.  The faith audit asks us to assess our compassion in inviting and caring for the community.  The use of spiritual gifts is, by definition, outer work.  With a little adaptation, Kierkegaard’s model can be used to explore the church’s relationship to the world.  Try the following adaptation of the model , and then ask the questions that follow:

Performer                    God

Prompter                     Church

Audience                     Community

Are we always performing for a receptive community at the promptings of a compassionate God?  Are we always reacting to the promptings of the community while God watches on?  Do you ever feel that the community is performing for you? 

The theological worlds exercise feeds outer work as well by informing and clarifying the various ministry styles.  Ministry will take on different dimensions based on the theological worlds of the members of these groups in ministry:

  • Those in Theological World One are likely to focus on finding harmony, helping others to see themselves as part of the Whole, and encouraging others to “lose themselves in God.” 
  • Those in Theological World Two will minister from a place of spiritual power, as spiritual warriors, exhorting others to live as if the end were already here. 
  • People in Theological World Three will attempt to awaken possibilities through strong relationships with others, empowering others to realize their potential through self-discovery. 
  • People in Theological World Four will focus on receiving grace, and doing good works to promote self-sacrifice. 
  • Finally, those in Theological World Five will teach perseverance and strive to improve the quality of life.[16]

Friend’s exercise on describing the church-as-person had as its last step visioning about outer work. It calls for the church to look at itself in this time and place from the perspective of its history, its present and its dreams for the future along with the spiritual gifts it has discerned within its members.  Taking these gifts out into the world is the outward journey of the second part of the Great Commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself.

The church’s outer work will vary by size and specific character of the church.  One small church with less than 20 in attendance came up with the idea of a collection drive for the local pantries of non-food items.  Health, hygiene, and cleaning products were the goal.  This supplemented all the food drives normally conducted with items needed and not typically available with State Human Resource programs.  Unable even to conduct such a drive that covered their small town by themselves, they recruited several other larger churches to participate while providing leadership.  An idea and leadership were the gifts of this small church to a project that has blossomed ecumenically and now provides 6 – 8 months worth of these items to local pantries housed in several area churches.

Another central city church whose members no longer live in the neighborhood, took their resource, a gymnasium, and opened it to the neighborhood on Friday nights.  Now youth have a safe place to play games that is an alternative to the streets.[17]

Both these churches discerned a gift they had – an idea, some people but not enough, or a facility sitting unused – and journeyed outward in their work.  Larger churches might be able to operate a pantry; other churches might contribute items or people to help operate it.  Some churches provide pre-school breakfast programs or after-school study centers.  Other churches may address the systemic issues, in addition to the symptoms.

Outer work culminates in the church-as-person’s activity in the world, for the whole church is greater than the sum of its members.  That angle of the church and the denomination or association it belongs to will play one or more particular roles in the world. 

Thus, the roles described for the catalyst group becomes the roles for the church.  Should the church not be a catalyst of transformation in the world, acting as the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)?  Salt is an ingredient that gives savor, piquancy, or zest.  Does that definition describe the church or denominations?

A prophetic church or denomination will speak out, proclaiming disconnects in the community and in the world.  There will likely be resistance to this activity by a religious organization.  An artistic or teaching church or denomination will provide educational resources to its members and others outside its walls.  It will actively work to explain the prophetic voice.  It deals with the resistance (conflict management) and engages in the struggle towards wholeness that might take years or even decades to resolve.  It finds hope in the original Greek language of the Great Commission, which translates more fully into ‘teach’ or ‘guide’, rather than ‘make’ disciples as it is going into the world.  A celebrating or exhorting church or denomination will organize, coordinate, and promote with institutional resources.  It offers plenty to hold people’s interest and their commitment.  An evangelical church or denomination bears actions outward into society, calling out and drawing in those whose lives are in need of transformation.  The church must lead by motivation and by example.  This process is inward and outward work spirally mixing with each around each other, one propelling the other, always coming back to the other, transforming us and the community.

 Return to Table of Contents


[1] Terry Mattingly, “Edgy Orthodoxy 4 Seekers,” Scripps Howard News Service, February 5, 2003.  Also available on the Internet, <http://tmatt.gospelcom.net/column/2003/02/05/&gt;, accessed 21 May 2003.

[2] W. Paul Jones, Worlds within a Congregation: Dealing With Theological Diversity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000) 58-62 offers a basic description of each theological world, 65-69 provides an analysis of each world’s strengths and weaknesses, 46-58 contains an inventory for self-determination of one’s theological world.  Each of these sections should be consulted and used in the congregation to determine both personal and congregational worldviews.

[3] Ibid, 45-46.

[4] “United Church of Christ: Who We Are, What We Believe,” United Church Press, 1993.

[5] Don and Katie Fortune, Discovering Your God-Given Gifts (Minneapolis: Chosen Books, 1987).  This book provides a detailed survey and analysis of each of the seven gifts.  In addition, it explores many of the people in the Bible and attempts to determine what gifts they exercised in the fulfillment of God’s purposes in their lives.  This exploration offers a unique illumination on the concept of spiritual gifts both personally and congregationally.

[6] Ibid, 27

[7] Friend, 161-162.

[8] Robert Wuthnow, I Come Away Stronger: How Small Groups are Shaping America’s Religious Groups, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994), 369.

[9] Ibid, 374.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Parks Daloz, et al, 5-6.

[12] Ibid, 108.

[13] Miller, 118.  “In celebrative worship, the focus is on the type of experience that happens in a large group setting…. Individuals can move freely, express themselves, and draw closer to God.  Because of its size, the celebrative-worship group allows great room for diversity so that a large range of people in different circumstances or stages of life [or theological worlds] can find their place as they worship God together.”  Italics are the author’s.

[14] Friend, 97-100.

[15] Ibid, 188.

[16] Jones, 58-62.

[17] Both of these examples are from the personal experiences of a member of this class project.  “Halloween HelpOut” is a project sponsored by the Wauseon Congregational UCC, Wauseon, OH, and joined by Christ United Methodist Church and St. Caspar’s Roman Catholic Church, also of Wauseon, OH.  First Congregational UCC, Ravenna OH, opened its gymnasium to the community.

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... or, preaching from both ends

WELL, HELLO! YOU’RE HERE.

That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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