What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? Today we look at changes that are developing in the ways congregations proclaim the faith (kerygma) as they find their way into the new shape of God’s mission.

5) Kerygma (Proclamation)

When churches existed in a culture that considered itself to be “Christian” (or at least based on Judeo-Christian principles), most members of the congregation would experience little need to articulate their faith to others. Now, as fewer and fewer people have any experience of the church (or only know what is portrayed in the media), the baptized are struggling to figure out what it means to witness to one’s faith in a culture where you exist as a minority among  people of many different faiths and of ‘no faith’. What will communicating the gospel look like? What is an appropriate way to share your faith story with someone who holds different convictions? The attempt to answer those questions has revealed a deeper question: What is the gospel? Before Christians can share faith with others, they will need to articulate what has grasped their hearts and minds and souls. Leaders will need to cultivate an environment where faith and theology are normal topics of conversation.

Another shift in the culture needs to be flagged: in Modernity, the issues of faith were often framed in terms of beliefs — doctrinal assertions and claims. Christianity was presented as a system of thought with which one agreed or disagreed: Can you believe in the virgin birth, in the resurrection of Jesus, in the miracles? Modernity is fading. The issues that have pre-occupied much of the church over the past few decades are becoming less and less compelling for younger generations. In a post-modern world, the issues that churches will be addressing with the unchurched will be less about beliefs; the issues that will increasingly be on the radar screens of the next generations will be about power and trust. A deep grounding in doctrine and theology will still be needed but the core issues will be about authentic relationships – with God, with each other, with the culture — and integrity.

What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? Today we look at changes that are developing in the ways congregations live out the faith in service (diakonia) as they find their way into the new shape of God’s mission

4) Diakonia (Service)

The United Church of Canada has, from its beginnings, had a strong commitment to connecting people’s faith with social issues. Faith is something that is lived out in concrete actions. However, over the years, two shifts have moved people in mainline congregations away from that embodied engagement of their faith. In many instances, most of the members of the congregation no longer live in the neighbourhoods in which their church buildings are situated. They commute in from a distance and have become disconnected from the neighbourhoods and the people around the building. In addition, “outreach” became increasingly outsourced: “outreach” became defined as sending money to various groups and agencies who were doing the actual work ‘on the ground’.

Some congregations are recovering a ‘hands-on’ approach to outreach/service/diakonia. That engagement takes a unique shape in each particular context. However, there are some commonalities:

*the focus has shifted from ‘how do we get these people to come to our congregation?’ to a conviction that ‘the Holy Spirit is already at work in our neighbourhood. Where can we join in?’

*the assumption is no longer that Christians come into a situation as benefactors, bringing some project that they undertake to help those who are weak in some way; rather, they enter in as guests, receiving the hospitality of others, listening for signs of God at work in the lives of others, pointing to the outbreak of God’s reign among them. What ministry they offer is ministry with instead of ministry for.

*there is a turn away from going in to convert; instead, the community of the baptized are called to be a sign, witness and foretaste of God’s character, grace and truth. It is the Holy Spirit who converts.

What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? Today we look at changes that are developing in the ways congregations teach the faith and form disciples of Jesus (didache)  as they find their way into the new shape of God’s mission.

3) Didache (Teaching)

It is not uncommon for leaders to lament the biblical and doctrinal illiteracy of the people of mainline congregations. There are long-term members of congregations who, if asked, could not find the book of Genesis in a Bible. Most clergy have had the experience of congregational members telling them that they want more Bible studies but, when the study groups are offered, few people sign up to attend; even fewer stay with the group for more than a few weeks.

However, there appears to be movement toward more intentional discipleship formation in some churches. Some of this is driven by the need to form Christians who are equipped to survive as Christians in an indifferent and sometimes hostile environment. The current context brings to the fore the challenge for disciples to be transformed by Christ rather than conformed to the culture.

When people are helped to deepen their discipleship, they become more willing to take on leadership roles that are shaped by the call of the Holy Spirit upon their lives. Taking on these kinds of leadership roles, in turn, often compels them to go deeper in their discipleship. They need to learn how to pray more deeply; they need to know better the story that shapes the lenses by which they see the world and gives hope; they need to recover the distinctive language of faith that articulates what God is doing in their lives and in the world; they need to develop maturity in Christ which includes the humility that shapes faithful relationships.

Congregations are finding new ways of delivering the content of Christian faith. They are more participatory and interactive, engaging not only the mind but also the heart and the body. They recognize that many adults learn best when content is not isolated into separate subjects but is integrated into and related to actual experiences.

Many congregations are finding that adopting Christian practices have helped people deepen their spiritual life and engage in the ministry to which they are called. “Practices are shared actions that, when taken together, weave a way of life amongst a people” (Alan Roxburgh, Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World: The Shape of the Church in our Time, p. 49.) In particular, in churches that understand themselves to be mission outposts of God’s reign, practices help them see the world and God’s work in it in new ways.

What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? Today we look at changes that are developing in the communal life of congregations as they find their way into the new shape of God’s mission.

2) Koinonia (Community)

Christianity is a way of living out one’s spirituality that is inherently communal. It is a corporate way of living that is countercultural in a culture where spirituality is mostly privatized and individualized.

Churches are communities where people care for one another. Baptism incorporates each person into the Body of Christ, in which there is a sense of mutual responsibility of all Christians for one another. That means that pastoral care is the work of the whole people of God, not just ordered ministry personnel. Its focus is not just on the health and happiness of people but also on their souls. We care by pointing people toward the God who cares for them, in whose life is our light(William WillimonPastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, chapter 4). Pastoral care for people includes paying attention to the intrusions of God in their lives; inviting them to let God move them more deeply into the new world of God’s grace; shaping their vision and their hopes by the presence of the resurrected Christ. Leaders will need skills and training and wisdom in navigating relationships where the Holy Spirit is at work, taking people in new and unexpected directions.

The organizational structures with which most congregations operate were created to serve congregations of the 1950’s and 1960’s. These congregations had enough people with the time and energy and motivation to sit on numerous committees. Those structures are under pressure as the number of people available and willing to fill positions and work on the committees decreases. In many situations, conventional committees are no longer considered the best way to get work done. These realities can be both a challenge and a blessing. They can push communities of faith to figure out how to be structured for relationships rather than around organizational needs. There is renewed attention to ‘spiritual gifts’ as a way of encouraging, equipping, and releasing people into ministries for which they feel called and excited.

Among other things, this means that participatory, collaborative styles of leadership need to be cultivated. Top-down leadership deprives the baptized of their true authority. However, leading in collaborative and non-hierarchical ways is not easy. Training for leadership will require attention to the ways in which relationships are best nurtured.

It will also require attention to the ways people use power in Christian communities. Power is “one of the gifts God gives for the formation of good communities and good people” (Stanley Hauerwas, “What only the whole church can do).

Churches tend to avoid addressing issues of power. Individuals are often reluctant to take on positions of power. More and more frequently it seems, they can be persuaded to do so only if the positions of power are shared. Part of this may stem from a reluctance to take on another commitment of time and energy in very busy lives; however, it may be that some of this is rooted in people being uneasy about exercising power in a community that is ambivalent about it. Leaders will need training in exercising creative authority, in persuasion and in encouraging new initiatives from the bottom up. (Andy Crouch‘s book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power provides helpful insights into the faithful use of power.)

One of the great gifts of our culture is the diversity of cultures that are now part of our landscape. Indeed, there are many examples of mainline churches who were declining until a group of immigrants became part of the community and brought new life and joyfulness in the faith with them. As churches become less dominated by people who are white and middle-class, congregations are giving fresh attention to the radical hospitality that Jesus offers and what that means in their life together. Leaders are discovering new ways of helping the community of faith reach across cultural barriers.

What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? Today we look at changes that are developing in the worship life of congregations as they find their way into God’s mission.

1) Liturgia (Worship)

The nature of worship is changing. The Protestant Reformation gave us a liturgy whose main focus was the preaching of the Word. The sacraments were celebrated only occasionally. The Reformers stressed the need for an educated clergy as a response to the intellectual laxity of many medieval priests. “Protestant clergy were expected to be well schooled in the scriptures, in order to be servants of the Word(William WillimonPastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, chapter 1). Now many churches are recovering a balance between the preaching/hearing of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. Some Protestant churches are celebrating communion weekly and discovering a deepening and strengthening of faith in doing so. Christ gave the sacraments to the church as the way the Body of Christ is fed and nurtured in the grace and presence of God. Strengthening communities of faith will need to include finding faithful ways in which the sacraments can be received on a regular basis. In the United Church, sacraments elders are becoming more numerous, especially in situations where congregations are without Order of Ministry personnel for extended periods of time.

There is also, in many places, a turn away from liturgies that are heavily weighted toward the verbal. Leonard Sweet’s description of EPIC worship: experiential, participatory, image rich, and connected, is shaping worship services that engage the imagination through story-telling, drama, and the arts. Some churches are recovering the notion of the liturgy as “the work of the people”, not just of the performers at the front (choir and clergy). They are creating worship services that engage the whole person and the whole community. Crafting EPIC worship services requires different skills than our typical highly verbal worship. It is not done best as a solo effort. Leaders in worship will need to be trained for collaborative efforts that elicit the gifts of all the people of God.

Another emerging trend is the recognition that it is not enough that worship be entertaining and relevant. There is a “turn toward the formative”, challenging the worshiping community to grow in grace and to mature spiritually. Marva Dawn has named three fundamental criteria for what happens in worship:
*praising God and immersing worshipers “in the fullness of God’s splendour”,
*forming disciples who follow Jesus and “are committed to God’s purposes of peace, justice, and salvation in the world”, and
*building the community as the Body of Christ, “linked to all God’s people throughout time and space” (A Royal ‘Waste’ of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and being Church for the World , p. 343).

Shaping such worship services will challenge the consumer mentality that shapes much of North American congregational life and worship. Worship leaders need to be deeply immersed in the biblical story in order to acquire the countercultural lenses that reveal how our communities are caught by consumerism and narcissism.

Modernity privileged the rational over other ways of knowing and being. Post-modernity has recognized that there is a transcendental dimension that brings depth and richness to life. There is a turn toward worship services that help people attend to the holy in their midst.

There is also a recognition that the church gathered for worship is also the church sent out into the world. Congregations are looking for ways to make the link between the two phases of the community’s life stronger. People are being asked to speak in worship about their ministries in their lives the rest of the week. New attention is being given to the ‘sending’ portion of the liturgy.

The rhythm of life in communities of the baptized is two-fold: the Church is both gathered and sent. The risen Christ gathers people into community so that they may be sent out into the world to participate in the work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in the world. Congregations are recognizing that they have attended well to the ‘gathered’, or attractional, phase of the Church’s life. They are rediscovering new dimensions of what it means to be the Church that is sent into the world and finding structures that assist them in living into the fullness of their vocation.

The ancient phrase the missio Dei — the mission of God — is being heard anew to describe the work of the Church in the world. The phrase shifts the locus of mission off the church and onto God. “Mission” is not a particular project that a congregation takes on. It is not an activity in a distant land to which the church sends money. Mission is what God is up to in the world — both nearby and far away.

The five ancient marks of the church — kerygma, liturgia, koinonia, diakonia, and didache — provide a framework for discerning the mission of God in a local congregation. They may also provide a framework for shaping new structures that nurture the ministry of all the baptized. University Hill United Church in Vancouver, British Columbia uses those marks of the church to shape the agenda of their Board meetings and of their Annual Reports. The five marks are listed as “Dimensions of Mission”; the administrative reports are “Resources for Mission”.

Congregations are finding new ways of living into each of those marks of the church. They are forming ‘new realities’ for which leaders need to be trained. There are interesting experiments happening across the country in each area. Although the situation remains quite fluid, it might be helpful to flag some trends that seem to be emerging.

What does the ministry of the baptized look like if considered through the lens of the five marks of the church? The next five posts will explore this.

This is part of a series of posts on the ways in which the structures of the church can inhibit all the people of a community of faith from fully expressing their ministry. Although congregations that are anxious about their future often try putting in place a new structure, thinking that that will solve their problems, it is important to note that changing the structures alone will not solve a church’s problems. Structures that no longer function well are often a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed. As Christendom fades, the structures that fit Christendom stop serving the mission of the church. It is helpful to understand the underlying assumptions and dynamics that structures serve.

The United Church of Canada values its tradition of having an educated clergy. Training for ordered ministry in the United Church of Canada most often involves the person leaving their home congregation to receive a post-graduate education (or its equivalent). It is expected that, after ordination or commissioning, he or she will serve a congregation other than his or her home congregation. There have been and currently are other models of ministerial leadership for the church but this is the one that our denomination has chosen. It is also a model that is under pressure because it is very expensive. Student loans are difficult to repay when the salaries paid to ordered ministry personnel are low. Seminaries and training centres are underfunded and struggle to find alternate sources of income. There are indications that this model may also not be the best way to train people for ministry, either ministry in local congregations for the ekklesia or ministry in the world for the diaspora.

The Report of the Working Group on Leadership Formation for Ministry, with its proposal for “A Competency-Approach to Ministerial Education and Formation”, acknowledged that the present model of training for ministerial leadership “causes undue hardship to people and excludes potential leaders.” It proposes that competency for ministry leadership can happen in many different ways: “e.g. individual courses taken at any number of schools; intensive supervised training like Clinical Pastoral Education; supervised ministry as a Candidate or Student Supply; mentored projects and/or community involvements; certificate or diploma programs; mentored reading and individual study; teaching from elders; time-intensive workshops; cohort learning, etc.”

It recognizes that people are already being trained for leadership in congregations outside the traditional academic pathways: “Studies taken at centres of transformational adult learning, like the United Church’s education and retreat centres, may also be recognized as effective means of achieving some competencies. Innovative programming offered by the EDGE Network and regionally-based initiatives, like B.C. Conference’s LeaderShift, will be similarly recognized and promoted.”

Significantly, it suggests that “such recognition should, in turn, till the ground for the planting and growth of further grassroots, context-responsive, leadership development initiatives.”

When the leadership for a congregation is ‘parachuted in’ from elsewhere and when they come as ‘professionals’, or experts, who have received training and skills that others don’t share, there is a danger that the natural leaders of the congregation are disempowered. The underlying message is that ministry is about having specialized knowledge and skills acquired through  taking courses.

In the New Testament, the criteria for leaders in congregational life is described mostly in terms of their character. In particular, the focus is on character that is shaped by the cross of Christ. Such ‘character’ includes humility, the courage to tell the truth, the willingness to lose one’s life in order to find it, the willingness to be forgiven, to forgive and to live by the grace of God. Admittedly, acquiring such qualifications is not easy but it can be done by all the baptized.

This is not to say that leaders don’t also need to be well-educated in such topics as theology, the scriptures, Christian history, pastoral care and ethics. It is to say that the ways in which people acquire the knowledge they need for ministry and mission in shifting. Even more determinative is the question of what leadership is for. What is needed now is leadership for congregations that are more mission outposts than fortresses of stability and respectability.

The structures and leadership development models that were suited for Christendom do not serve the church well in its new missionary situation. Some congregations are experimenting with new structures. What post-Christendom churches will look like is still taking shape. What is becoming clear, however, is that there will be no single model of ‘church’: local responses to particular contexts will lead to great diversity in models of church and, consequently, greater diversity in the kinds of leadership that is needed. Some congregations are already engaging in innovative experiments to develop the kind of structures and leadership they need.


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