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Churches, Cultures and Leadership – Part I

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on April 30, 2011

Friend and colleague Juan Martínez and I coauthored Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicity (IVP Academic 2011). In the Introduction and first 3 chapters we provide historical and autobiographical notes then use 3 frameworks for the book: practical theology, missional ecclesiology, and social theory. For classroom preparation I am most interested in comments and interaction about chapter 2 regarding the praxis of missional church (including the theological perspectives, congregational praxis, and the implications for leaders.

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18 Responses to “Churches, Cultures and Leadership – Part I”

  1. Ciprian Boitor said

    I found the description of community to be especially helpful. It helped me reflect on my community and realize that in some ways it is weaker than I had previously thought but in other ways my community is deep and rich. I have had several communities from my college days up to the present time. The closest group of friends I had as an adult were during my undergraduate years, for two years. I have only kept in touch with one person from that group. At Fuller, I also had a group of close friends for about two years and have slowly drifted apart from them as we have all moved in different directions with school and work. Through these times I have continued to be a part of my church community. I have grown up in this church and have recently experienced some painful experiences, the most recent being a church split less than a year ago. My parents no longer attend the church that I grew up in and it has been difficult to adjust to some of these changes, but a lot of the community is still there. There is a certain comfort to go to church every week and see the same familiar faces. At the same time, I feel sad because I don’t feel particularly close to anyone in the church. I have served as a Junior High leader and occasionally preach in church. I am well known by most people in the church yet feel like I have few real friends. We share some level of community but it is not at the level of involvement in each other’s lives as I would like. Despite these shortcomings, these people are my community and they are important to me. We have shared memories and experiences and have been able to go through life together. One of the questions that I had was whether all churches needed to be multi-ethnic. Is a homogenous church unbiblical? I have trouble imagining my church reaching into the community around the church. People live in houses and apartments nearby but our church has no friendships with them, nor does it attempt to. Our church has not really grown. It is the same people that attend every week. It feels more like a social club than a church. What is the difference? What can we offer them anyway when most of the services are in Romanian. The church I attend serves an important function to those who don’t understand English very well and feel more comfortable working in Romanian. Those are my questions and hesitancies to the change that would be required for change to occur at the church I attend. The author states that the missional formation of a church refers to the ways in which God directs a church as a messenger of His love. I know our church is involved in missions abroad. Does it need to be involved at a local level? What if it is more effective in other areas, such as Romania, where our pastor has sponsored a Romanian Pentecostal Theological Seminary. I thought the process of engaging in praxis to be helpful but again it seemed to be a difficult stretch for my church. The pastor is the one who makes most of the decisions and is not very good at listening to the voice of the people. We have a general assembly once a year. In fact the group of people that left did so because they felt that their voice was discounted. I think that I can do my part to make the church missional in the areas that I am involved in, even if the pastor does not have that vision at a local level.

    • Hyukwoo shin said

      It sound like your congregation needs to meet more frequently on a personal level. Our church adopted a ministry system called house church eight years ago, small groups meet weekly at homes and share a meal, share your personal stories and pray together. It deepens the spiritual bond between church members and is a base to evangelize. Nonbelievers feel uncomfortable to join worship but respond to an informal setting and talk. I am one of those house church leaders for several year now and it is very powerful to share and pray about your faith on a personal level and see an nonbeliever to convert and being baptized.

      I also strongly recommend Garry Poole’s Book “Seeker Small Groups.” Garry’s system is similar to our House Church system but you meet outside in a more casual setting. I have a copy that I am willing to lend you if you are interested.

  2. Jason Sisk said

    There was an openness among the members of the Azusa Street Mission. They waited for God’s Spirit to energize them in a new and powerful way. In the process of waiting for God, they also created a space for each other. They created a space not only for other African Americans–the church was largely African American–but for every person regardless of their ethnicity. After they freed themselves from ideas about who could experience God, and how each person must experience God, the Spirit entered them in a powerful way. Many of us see it as the birthplace of contemporary Pentecostalism. I think it is significant that first the congregation emptied itself of some expectations and was even willing to cross racial boundaries to experience God. As a result, God’s Spirit was poured on all flesh.

    How good are we at emptying ourselves of preconceived ideas about how others worship God? Do we even at times question WHO should worship God? We may know our theology backwards and forwards but the moment we’re confronted by someone who doesn’t look or act like us, our theology takes the back seat to our culture’s ideas about them. We discover that our practical theology isn’t identical to our speculative theology.

    Practical theology can’t be learned out of a book or a classroom; it must be learned through reflecting on our individual and shared experiences. A model of “doing” practical theology is described on pp.43-45. It can help us determine effective ways to live and think as our congregations and communities become more intercultural.

    In chapter 2 the authors provide us with a picture of the church as connecting spiritual formation, congregational formation and missional formation. Instead of thinking of a church in which different members have different roles and missionary work always involves overseas missions, we are challenged to think of the church’s work as combining and interconnecting these spheres. We can think of spiritual formation as attending to God, we can think of congregational formation as attending to each other and missional formation as attending to the entire world, including the world outside our front door. None of these dimensions can be ignored if we are to have a dynamic, Christ-reflecting church. In my experience however, this is rarely done. There is almost always an emphasis on God/theology/doctrine that tends to overlook the needs of those in the pew next to us. Or there’s such an emphasis on sharing God’s love with people that we’re too busy to read Scripture to know what kind of God we even serve! Balancing attention to all three areas is a serious challenge.

    In the process of being a witness to God’s acts in Jesus Christ in the entire world–neighborhood and all–we have to consider a few things. First, what are the social forces that we face in our mission? Currently in the US, we have to recognize that a lot of our congregants and the people we’re trying to reach still have the image of Christendom in their mind. There is such a strong link between church and moral and legal systems that often people think all we’re concerned with is with their morality. Thus all the time we hear that “someone doesn’t have to be religious to be moral”–something that entirely misses the point of the Gospel. We have to convince ourselves and others that the God we proclaim is not the Democratic God, not the Republican God and not even the American God. He is the God of all creation, infinitely transcending our little blip in the universe. Next, how can we use our human capacity for imagination in our mission? What new ways of sharing God’s act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ have we failed to think of before? Also, what kind of person should be in the role of one who gives direction to the church? In the past, lots of times it was an aging white male who was not always charismatic! Do we want to keep limiting ourselves to this kind of leader? Next, how far is a church’s “jurisdiction” now that we are on the Internet? Does neighborhood mean physical proximity, or does it mean something much larger? Finally, what kind of resources are available to us as people linked to the Internet? Our ability to develop friendships with people is no longer limited by foot or even car. We can talk to anyone in the world now–how can we use this in our mission?

  3. Renee Rector said

    This book provides a wonderful framework for ministers who are looking to push their congregations into a deeper level of outreach. Focusing on how churches may expand their interests into a multi-cultural setting, the book includes information on practical theology, good definitions on what constitutes a society, culture, and a community, as well as the importance of examining your own ancestral culture to find how your thoughts and impressions of society and your own personality were impacted by your heritage. I personally was quite fond of the practical theology model. While to focus was to engage in other cultures, the model is a great way to evaluate and improve existing programs or implement new ones. The model includes 5 stages including naming a praxis, evaluating the praxis and gathering information on it, examining the praxis from a scriptural, theological, and historical basis, sharing personal stories surrounding the praxis, and then exploring and experimenting new ways to engage in the praxis. The method can begin with any of the five steps and can move between them in any order. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of theological consideration of the praxis. It seems to me that many church leadership models today are focused on a business style of leadership that is focused solely on numbers and the bottom line rather than examining where God may be at work and joining Him there. Another aspect I really enjoyed is the ability for this model to be applied on a personal ministerial level. I a m not currently involved in any form of leadership in my church. Yet, I feel that I am engaging in this model in a different way. I have begun investigating the Latino culture in an effort to learn more about my friends of that culture and find ways I might minister to them. I have been reading and watching movies based on that culture. Once I have gained information, I take my thoughts to my friends to share what I have learned. I then ask for their thoughts on my opinions and how their experiences relate. My next step will be to find a way in which I can fit into that culture. I have also been spending time in prayer and reading the account of the Exodus as well as investigating liberation theology.
    I also greatly appreciate the list of films relating to different cultures in each chapter. I personally believe that film is a wonderful way to expose yourself to new things and experiences.

    • T Hopkins said

      I totally agree with your evaluation of modern church leadership. And I appreciate the authors’ open method here, which allows us to move from one point to another, starting anywhere and moving anywhere. And like you, I appreciate that the authors included a theological evaluation of praxis. It is not uncommon at Fuller for Christianity, the church, whatever, to become whatever suits one’s particular social or political desires. Want to do social justice? Make Jesus into an ethicist. Want to fight inequality? Insist that Paul was sexist and ignore Biblical manhood and womanhood. So it is refreshing that the authors have given a legitimate voice to Scripture in regards to praxis, rather than simply a utilitarian approach, or one grounded in humanity’s own philosophies. I believe you’re correct with regard to the usefulness of films, as well. Film is an expression of culture, and I have read studies showing the correlation of certain moods and themes of films to real world moods of political unrest, economic despair, etc. Of course, film is also biased and, as entertainment, is open to honest exaggeration or suppression for the sake of appealing to audiences. But your method of conversing with those you’re trying to better understand seems like a good way to make sure that you are getting an accurate view of the world from which they come.

    • Definitely some of the films that were mentioned were memory joggers. SOme of them I caught and some of the I will definitlely check out. Investigating culture in terms of movies is fine as long as one realizes they are movies. Even though some authors seek to present an accurate as possible depiction of a subject many do not a present tha facts as you see it in a fictional tale of reality. Such is the case with a lot of praxis and thus must be engaged and as mentioned reengaged and evaulated to take into account the realities of the people and the circumstances being faced by individuals we encounter. it is a real world out there that different people of different ethnicities experience on different levels. IT is necessarh to recognize that just as we read of the experiences of Professor mark Branson and can recognize the relationship of teacher discussion, amongst several of the topics that are mentioned in the book and relate them to words he has spoken in class. The experience of real life comes to play and we must realize that the stories we read are real as well. We must engage context with reality of ethnic fears, pressures, lifestyle, faith, and the church in order to get an accurate account of the gospel and what it means to our neighbor.

  4. Hyukwoo shin said

    The United States of America is a cultural/ethnic diverse nation. In the past racism and prejudice were prevalent in an Anglo-conforming community but it is turning into cultural pluralistic society. I strongly agree with the authors that the churches should be committed to discipleship empowered by the gospel for reconciliation (or peacemaking) and social justice. Yes, it should occur not only on a personal level but also an interpersonal, cultural and structural level. I personally did not pay attention to the multicultural contexts of this nation but my mind was changed. The nation is led by an African American president now. It triggered many structural changes already even though we are not paying attention to them. Those changes will continue to happen quietly just like the demographic changes happening around us. For example, the elementary school next door to me did not have any Hispanic students a few years ago but the number is now steadily increasing. All Churches bear responsibility that Christians perceive our communities differently and gain competence for multicultural contexts and respond to God’s transforming initiatives for reconciliation desperately needed.

    We now pay attention but how do we change? The practical theology approach is based on praxis; reflection and study from which we learn and then initiate new actions and experience. It is clear that this repetitive reflection-action cycle combined with the five practical theological steps would introduce changes into our churches. But who is willing to do boundary crossing and deal with other issues needed for missional expansion of the church? Who will participate to discern and shape the new praxes? These types of questions are immediately addressed with the leadership triad and church formation model. The triad with three types of leadership with different activities is suited for the practical theology steps. It is leadership team effort with participants having specific gifts to serve the triad and the praxes cycles and further form a body of unity for God’s initiatives.
    This model sounds quite exciting but can a CEO type pastor and his elders really change their mind filled with traditional norms in a traditional Korean-American church? Our church introduced a new ministry system developed by another Korean-American pastor. The church is still not thriving after 8 years because many struggle or refuse to follow the rules of the system. It clearly shows that the CEO cannot do everything by himself he needs lay followers.
    I personally think that spiritual formation in the context of the trinity is the most important commitment for missional church formation. With the help of the trinity we can embrace the differences, cross boundaries and be messengers of go the gospel. I belong to a Presbyterian Church where the sovereignity of God is emphasized over a thicker Jesus or the guidance by the Holy Spirit. I strongly believe the Holy Spirit enables the clergy and laity to understand that God’s imagination is among God’s people. The unbalance in my church needs to be fixed so that people with an incarnational discipleship commit to God’s initiatives for shifts to a missional church like in Table 2.1.
    I also agree that our churches need to be “communities” where you share the same hope of having a future life together. The congregational life of immigrant churches is intercultural because the first generation was exposed to Korean culture and the second and third generation is growing up in an American culture. We just had joint service last night, the youth group worshipped together with their parents in the Korean ministry. It is an important effort to repair the gaps and rifts building up in families with a different cultural context. Hopefully, we will be able to embrace more interracial couples and their children in the future so they will stay among us and we will be able to form a truly missional church together.

    • Ciprian Boitor said

      I think you bring up a great point regarding the difference between noticing multi-cultural realities and actually doing something about them. I think it is important to outline the obstacles that stand in the way of moving from ethnocentric focus to embracing multi-cultural realities. I identified with the point you made regarding the multi-cultural challanges within a immigrant church. My church is mostly Romanian, but there are a few people that have married outside of the Romanian community. they seem to be well accepted in the community but i have hears stories of several other members who have had more trouble with being accepted. One of the members of our church who married someone of a different ethnicity encountered opposition from their family until they got the opportuntiy to get to know the girl. Similarly, my parents have been against myself or my sisters marrying outside of the Romanian community. My mom’s standard response, and one that I have heard often among other members is that it is difficult enough to make a marriage work among a couple of the same ethnicity but that it is even more difficulty with the added stressors of seeking to understand the differences of another culture. When I reflect on the realities of my church, I am sad to say that many people have overtly racist attitudes toward multiple nationalities. I think this stems from the fiercely nationalistic attitude stemming from the attitidues of the government in Romania. Romania is predominantly composed of Orthodox Romanians, with little outside influence. There is a bitter rivalary and hatred between the Hungarians and Romanians and maybe this carries over into a suspicion of other races. This is my reflection on step one of the praxis framework. It is helpful to be able to identify the status of the church. At the same time, my pastor’s vision is to help Romanians. We serve the poor in Romania, and as a church sponsor a seminary in Romania. Our pastor visits the Romanian church in various parts of the world and provides them with encouragment. What if the call of our church is more toward the Romanians within our community? My generation and those younger than me might be more willing to engage the American culture and other minorities, but those older than me typically are not as comfortable with the culture and enjoy the comforts of the Romanian language, food and lifestyle. I think they might be threatened if the church was to move toward a mutli-cultural approach. These are some of the challanges that I could think of.

    • Renee Rector said

      It seems that for both these situations a primary concept to be considered is the class discussion about fear of what may be lost being the primary barrier to change. I understand and respect the desire to cling to ones own culture. I think there is much value. However, I don’t feel that exposing yourself to another culture means that you have to change yourself. Rather, learning about and experiencing other culture may enrich your own culture as you see how you fit within the global context. If your church is in a community that is largely of another culture, your church may still be the only example of Christ that those people have. Of course the concept of not reaching out to the community seems to be one that plagues churches in general regardless of culture. The idea that the gospel is for me and I’m going to keep it for myself rather than share it with those around me is seriously problematic. Ultimately this is a problem with the individual heart and one that must be approached primarily with prayer. No matter what programs are instituted or how great the leadership nothing will happen until we are convicted by the Holy Spirit of our selfishness and accept our call to reach the rest of the world.

  5. Pisey Sok said

    In terms of missional ecclesiology, Branson and Martinez looks at the church’s identity (who we are) and the church’s agency (what we do) through triadic lens of spiritual formation, congregational formation and missional formation. Spiritual formation takes into consideration how we understand and learn about God’s activities and character through participation in God’s life and initiative in the world. This aspect of formation engages the study of the narrative of Scripture, church history and tradition, and actively living in commitment to participating with Gods’ activities in the world. Congregational formation attends to the social development of the faith community. It focuses on God’s presence, grace, and reconciliation which are made visible through the local community living out the narrative that God has modeled for us. This is where the reality of the Gospel is made present in the lives of people that are still being shaped by the grace of God. Every aspect of life with its beauty and scars are encountered in life together as community on the journey of renewal. Missional formation is how God calls and equips the community of faith to participate in God’s love for the world.

    The assumption is that every local community of faith is called, equipped, and sent to be agents of God’s reign in various contexts. The theology of this model is grounded on God’s nature and activity in the world. The church’s identity is shaped by theology of the Trinity; God’s very own nature there exhibits both unity and diversity in community. Likewise the formation of the church will encompasses an aspect unity and intimacy that does not overlook diversity. The church’s agency is informed by God’s action crossing cultural boundaries and calling God’s people to message of reconciliation and love. This theological narrative of God’s nature and action in the world frames the triadic formation that embodies spiritual, congregational, and missional formation.

    I appreciate this wholistic approach to formation because it is ground a rich theology of God and Biblical narrative, while taking serious the needs of community formation, and the church’s role and commitment to the formation of the world. The model takes serious the cultural narrative, habits, language, and mental frameworks that informs and shapes the personal and corporate dynamics of how we see and follow God. The social formation emphasizes the relational and organizational dynamics that foster an environment of care, appreciation, empowering, and equipping God’s people for missional living and formation in the world which seeks to uphold justice, peace, and reconciliation. The model of formation is not grounded on socio-political theory or humanistic utopianism but on the narrative that God’s essence is missional, meaning that God is a God who is active in the world and among God’s people. This wholistic model offers checks and balances against a myopic theology that only focuses on seeing God’s work in the church or shallow social emphasis that overlooks a deeply informed discipleship. The mission of God is not bring people into the church, but gathering a redeemed people in a community of faith that will join’s Gods work out in the world. The missional emphasis of this model invites leaders to continue to deepen their understanding of their social context, which includes ethnicities and cultures, socioeconomics, and issues of class. The assumption is that God is infusing the imagination of missions not just among church leaders, but the entire faith community. It calls leaders in to equip and form all of God’s people for service in a localized setting. The missional approach takes the localized neighborhood of the church seriously and shapes the imagination of the congregation to be able to see how God is present and at work among them. The framework challenges the people of God to continue to cross cultural boundaries for the sake of inviting others in joining with God in the redemption of all peoples through grace, justice, peace, and reconciliation.

    • Jason Sisk said

      Pisey, I agree that this book has a rich, holistic approach to mission and formation. I remember during either the first or second class that Professor Branson talked about the economic Trinity and its importance for missiology. These chapters show just how the perichoretic life of God serves as a model for embracing each other and the rest of the world when while we remain oriented to God. It is a rich and challenging vision of how we can build bridges in our world in the name of the one who has embraced us.

  6. T Hopkins said

    Reposted from the forum, since the blog post was not up on time:

    Branson and Martinez present the church in a threefold identity – spiritual, congregational, and missional. This last aspect is the focus of an interesting chapter in which the authors discuss what missionality means, both in terms of definition and implication. The definition includes that the church is primarily a “sent” entity. The assertion is made that this fact arises as a reflection of the Trinity itself, as God sent the Son, who also sent the Spirit. I would argue that while we can certainly find “sentness” in the Trinity, it is poor theology to suggest that an eternal being is by nature a “sent” being, which would imply that existence of some eternal “other” to which things may be sent. Nonetheless, one can take away from the authors’ discussion the observation that the triune God is in fact in the business of sending, and that the Church is part of that work of God.

    This is part of where the authors set out to make clear what the Church’s role as a “sent” entity is. Mission is not the task of the Church, but it is the task of God, according to the authors, and the Church is the tool which God uses to accomplish the missional work. It is good that the authors should define the Church primarily according to this revelatory role. If the Church is not reflecting Christ, then surely it cannot be the body of Christ, for what else does the body do but outwardly present He who it belongs to? Briefly, the authors seem to twist this into a primarily social work, which is unfortunate. Reconciliation is put primarily into the context of the world, rather than into the context of the eternal God, thereby reducing the unique task of the Church to mere worldly happiness for its neighbors. Christian leaders should not run with this strand of thinking, lest they unravel the very garment which Christ has given to the Church, leaving it naked and ashamed on the day of the judgment as one improperly attired for the wedding of Christ.

    The primary point I wish to consider in relation to contemporary Christian education is related to the twofold focus of the authors regarding the Church’s focuses as a missional institution; geography and networking. The second point is assumed by most people and can be satisfied here with only a brief mention. The local church is responsible for the connections it makes with its members and those in the networks of those members. Family, friends, colleagues, are all within the influence of the church, and mission work should extend throughout this entire internetwork. The first point addresses the local church’s missional responsibility to the community in its immediate vicinity. However, in the digital age, one might wonder whether these immediate surroundings are nearly significant as Branson and Martinez make them out to be. Appealing to Scripture to demonstrate the function of the local church is to single out a particular time and situation which is quite unlike our own in many regards. In the age of Facebook, communication and relationship takes place online. Knowing your neighbors means forming a network of friends who interact largely online. Certainly the local church has a geographical neighborhood, but how much does that church truly exist within that neighborhood? In the commuter age, it is quite common for church members to travel from even an hour away to attend a Sunday service. No matter how involved these members are, they will be forever isolated from the physical surroundings of the church building. Is it fair to say that a church is responsible for missional work in San Diego, when half of its membership is from Pasadena, and the other half drives at least 20 minutes to get to the building? Church leaders should examine the best way to influence local communities, but this requires a closer look than than the authors offer in these beginning chapters. There must be a way to view the church’s obligation to local community in light of the fact that the members are scattered across a large area, and that the sanctuary is not even local to the worshiping members.

    • Justin Beck said

      I think you are right when you talk about us living in a media culture where our relationships occur largely online and that we live in a commuter culture where a large amount of people travel to church from a variety of locations. However, I am not sure this is the way the church is suppose to exist. Yes, this is the reality of our culture, but do we accept this reality and just try to adapt or do we encourage our churches to live counter culturally. Are relationships that happen primarily online really authentic relationships? Are people that travel long distances to church really invested in the community of the church? We can have relationships online, but if online relationships are the only means in which we interact with people, then I believe we have lost touch with reality. I believe we are called to be in relationship with one another and I believe authentic relationship has to have face-to-face interaction. In the same way, I believe that to be truly invested in a community you have to build relationships with the people in the community where your church exists. You have to understand how the community works and be willing to invest into the lives of those living in the community. Our media driven and transit culture is a reality, but that does not mean we need to accept that reality. We can choose to do church in a different way.

  7. Justin Beck said

    The Missional Church is a fascinating movement to me. I believe the Missional Church is tapping into something new yet rediscovering how the Church was originally created to exist. The six claims about the Missional Church listed in Chapter 2 of Churches, Cultures, & Leadership were interesting to me (66). I was intrigued by the fourth claim about the Missional Church being a sent group of people to a specific location. Chapter 2 noted that sent does not mean that the Church is constantly moving from place to place, but that sent is being called into the world for the sake of the gospel (65-66). Before coming to seminary, my idea of being sent was defined by missionary work. The Church would send people to different places in order that the missionaries might share the gospel with those that they were sent to. However, my seminary experience has deepened my understanding of what it means to be sent. While I believe that going to different locations around the world to share the gospel is important, I would also say that being sent to the neighborhood that you live in is equally as important.
    My wife and I became apart of a church plant in North East Los Angeles when we moved to Pasadena a year and a half ago. The community that we are apart of is deeply missional at its core. The church launch team picked a specific location to plant the church in and believed that the Church community was sent to the specific location of Silver Lake and Atwater Village. Our church has become interwoven into the fabric of the community by participating in community activities. For example, the Silver Lake City Council was doing a beautification project along the river walk and our church partnered with them to assist in beautifying a specific space. Members from our church community worked along side Silver Lake and Atwater residents. The time was spent building relationships and creating a beautiful space in the community. Our church does not just want to exist in the Silver Lake and Atwater community, but we want to share our lives with the people in the community. We have been sent to this specific location and we strongly believe in sharing the gospel with these people by sharing our lives with them.

    • Ian B. said

      I completely understand the paradigm shift where you go from viewing “mission” as an external exercise where you bring the gospel to other countries, to seeing the Church’s mission also as a close involvement with the local community. In college, I got the sense that mission included those geographically near to us by taking part in visitation evangelism with Campus Crusade for Christ. However, I have since realized that this also misses the point, or at least fails to completely grasp what it means to be missional. Rather than just viewing my community as a market for the gospel, I have realized, as you noted, that mission involves such things as “participation in community activities”. Our community is not simply a mission field, but something we as the church are genuinely part of.

  8. Ian B. said

    A couple of particular points in this reading inspired me to consider my own church upbringing and intellectual frameworks for Christian leadership. I found the description of the missional leader to be especially useful. Branson and Martinez state that the Christian leader’s primary role should be to help the congregation discern God’s “missional imagination” and then take part in this imaginative vision through concrete action. This simple definition reveals that the church body as a whole is responsible for discerning the Holy Spirit’s direction, articulating it and affecting God’s missional imagination in the world. This rejects the excessively limiting notion of leadership that puts exclusive responsibility for the church’s “vision” in the hands of the few elite leaders. If only the top leaders control the discernment of God’s will, then the rest of the congregation is reduced to “consumers” or cogs in a machine. The missional vision of leadership does not see members as individuals with talents to be exploited for a purpose, but as a group interacting with God and discerning God’s passion for outreach in the outside community. Also, the concept of missional leadership downplays the “banking” system of education. When educators are seen as storehouses of knowledge who merely dispense their expertise to the consuming members, praxis will be de-emphasized. The importance of action, however, is inherent to the book’s definition of missional leadership, because the church’s responsibility is not to soak up received knowledge, but to capture God’s imagination for missional work.

    This model for the missional leader also helps us to more clearly give meaning to the church institution. I have read a good deal of Alan Roxburgh’s work on the missional church (which Branson and Martinez cite in these chapters), but until recently I did not consider the consequences of how one views the mission of the church. If, for example, leaders state that the main identity of the church is as a “worshiping community”, then there is no clear sense of the church’s need for outreach beyond the boundaries of Sunday worship services. On the other hand, if the church identifies itself as a community interacting with God’s missional imagination, it should be led to engage in the multicultural outreach that is evident across the biblical narrative of God’s call to all different people. I think the simple act of imagining or framing the purpose of the church will therefore affect how the church operates. Of course, it is not enough to just intellectually shift the way we imagine the identity of the church and its purpose. However, changing our basic conception of the church should begin to inspire us to envision new ways to act as the church.

    I also appreciated the book’s treatment of the concept of “praxis”. Generally, I have understood praxis as an equivalent word to practice – the book notes this is a flawed understanding, because practice indicates a two-step process where theological skills are acquired and then imposed on the outside contextual world. Instead, practice is defined as a “cycle” of experience and engagement where reflection on experience should produce new forms of engagement. The prior simplistic view of theological practice is abstract because it does not explain how we move from theology to proper action. Cyclical practice avoids this murkiness because reflection takes place repeatedly in the life of the church. If initial study fails to translate into adequate engagement, further reflection on the experience will produce fresh engagement. Praxis becomes more than a singular event, but identifies the Church’s mission to constantly reshape its practice in the context of its changing communities.

    • Pisey Sok said

      Great summary Ian, I remember thinking the same thing about my understanding of praxis being “putting to practice” a theological concept that is abstract and making it practical. The Branson and Martinez model of praxis being an ongoing renewal process of the church’s identity and practice is a helpful one. It keeps the church humble to learn and open to the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, I think the cyclical model of praxis puts us aa Christ followers in a posture to repent or remove any logs in our eyes when we think we have the right solution or quick answers to often complex contemporary issues.

      I realize that working with second generation leaders, who parents were immigrants to this country, there are often misunderstandings between the two groups. There needs to be a model of discernment, assessment, and evaluation that invites groups with different life experiences and narratives to come together to renew practices of the church that are in tuned with the present work Holy Spirit in the church and outside the church. The expand understanding of praxis according to Branson and Martinez offers the potential to renew church practices that allow the conflicting generations to discern what God is doing in constantly changing context. I appreciate cyclical praxis model because it invites all peoples in the faith community to contribute their voices, gifts, and vision to the discernment process. At this point I am trying envision how to implement the praxis model within the ethos of a local church context which is often driven by control, tradition, and power. Would it be through congregational meetings, Sunday school class, sermon series, etc? Any thoughts on how to integrate the praxis model into the life of the church?

  9. “Churches, Cultures,” & Leadership by Mark Branson and Juan Martinez is an excellent work about the changes of society in a multiexthnic context. Written by two authors of different ethnic experiences of faith. Bransdon with a heavily African American church influence contributes to the book with an ANglo Saxon viewport point of faith and its history gives a great examples of exercises to practice in regard to discovery of self and the surrounding environment be it Anglo European present day United States with a sense of self in exile; Or Is your faith in support of the country or the people who you may feel are oppressed by the country.

    Delivered in Three parts, Part I being devoted to relationships between theology, society and ethnicity introduces Praxis and how an idea of faith must ultimately be tested in a legitimate context hence life practice. Missions, ecclessiology of the church from its beginnings which include ethnicity, race and intercultural life are also discussed in the midst of the current social context.

    Several of the great exercises introduced by Mark Branson in the book favor a teaching style that is familiar and engaging. The exercises are questions that dig into the deepest secrets of self in order to bare them to complete strangers. It is liberating and faith building in the midst of a class or church setting.

    The book is a wonderful tool produced by two authors from different regions within the greater Americas to present an awareness of multicultural ethnic faith that it personal and unique. Let us practice these exercises to discover more about how faith can intermingle with cultures and provide a better explanation of self within the church context.

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