Mark Lau Branson's Class Blog

Student participation in Fuller Seminary classes

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Roxburgh on Mapmaking

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on September 21, 2012

Alan Roxburgh continues to provide books that connect the dots between theological matters concerning the gospel and the Trinity’s life and initiatives, the major cultural shifts in late modernity, and how churches and their leaders can live faithfully into their contexts. In Missional Map-making he describes some of the maps that churches currently use, noting why they no longer serve us well. For example, strategic planning may have some usefulness in specific circumstances, but as a rubric for church initiatives it tends to fail. Roxburgh instead wants church leaders to become cartographers – because our maps are outdated. Student comments here will focus on the sources and shapes of our out-dated maps, the experiences we face in our own contexts that define our changing reality, and why old maps don’t work.


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Memories, Hopes & Conversations

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on February 14, 2012

Leadership, according to Alan Roxburgh, is about creating spaces and environments in which the people of God can discern God’s presence and initiatives in their lives, among their neighbors, and in their contexts. This is not the work of experts but rather a way of life among the everyday people in our churches. Keys to this work include how we ask questions, receive and interpret the stories and perspectives we hear, and then shape experiments for next steps. Memories, Hopes & Conversations (Alban, 2004) explains the theory and practice of Appreciative Inquiry. “The theses of Appreciative Inquiry is that an organization, such as a church, can be recreated by its conversations. And if that new creation is to feature the most life-giving forces and forms possible, then the conversations must be shaped by appreciative questions.” (xiii) The book walks through one church’s “AI” process – explaining assumptions, modeling steps, and describing outcomes. (A followup book is currently being edited which will provide stories about how AI was used by several churches to change their relationships with their neighbors and contexts.) Student discussion here will focus on essential assumptions and attributes of Appreciative Inquiry, theological and biblical parallels, and why it might be generative in their churches.

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Roxburgh & Boren on Church Transformation

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on January 5, 2012

In their book Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it matters, How to become one, Alan Roxburgh and M. Scott Boren  provide what Ryan Bolger calls “the very best on the missional church.”  For over 10 years, and most notably since Darrel Guder edited The Missional Church (Eerdmans, 1998), churches, seminaries, and denominational execs have been discussing the reasons for and approaches to engaging North America as a mission field. Some voices continue to offer the usual array of magic programs, strategic plans, and romantic ideals — but pastors quickly see that these lack theological depth,  significant cultural analysis, or an understanding of how cultural change occurs within an organization. Roxburgh and Boren instead walk us through the profound cultural changes that shape our new landscape — then they lead us to rethink how churches can participate with God’s initiatives in our contexts. With this book as background, I’d then recommend The Ministry of the Missional Church by Craig Van Gelder,  The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk, and Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood by Roxburgh.

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Churches, Cultures & Leadership – chapter 10

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on May 11, 2011

Chapter 10 – “Leading Change” – is rooted in the preceding chapters concerning cultural boundary-crossing. The usual priorities for pastors tend to focus on providing pastoral care, preaching, and programs for those who are already in the church and others who are “like us.” Our focus on following God into the diverse environments of our neighborhoods requires other frameworks and competencies for pastoral leadership. I use an extended case study for rethinking this work. I am not providing a model or road but new ways of engaging members and neighbors. Have you seen examples of how pastors engaged adaptive challenges? Are there approaches here that seem especially attractive or jarring?

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Churches, Cultures & Leadership – Pt II

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on May 5, 2011

The resources of cultural anthropology are helpful for those who want to increase their understanding of diverse cultures. We are all shaped by our social environments: the heritage of cultures, their approaches to identity and relationships and work, the diverse worldviews, and even how we perceive and think. When you consider a couple of these factors, what are you aware of concerning your own cultural formation in comparison with others whom you know?

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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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Pazmiño: Latin American Journey

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on April 7, 2011

In Latin American Journey: Insights for Christian Education in North America, Robert Pazmiño connects his North American Latino identity, an extended trip to Central and South America, and his passion and profession as a Christian educator. Too few leaders ask, “What can I learn from people of another culture?” For Pazmiño, that’s a key question. By studying and observing these Latin American contexts (including their history, politics, economics, relationship with the US, and churches), he gains theoretical and practical resources for US churches. The ways we interpret scripture, frame our faith, engage our neighbors, and shape Christian congregations are all matters of specific places and times (and their cultures). Pazmiño listens to these churches, learns how they live their faith and engage their neighbors, and connects what he learns with US church education. He is always clear that Christian education is about information (content), formation (of individuals and churches), and transformation (of our lives and our communities). He encounters matters of suffering, oppression, use and abuse of power, and how the gospel shapes and calls us. He carefully parses differing frameworks concerning social structures and change, and shows what our Latino neighbors can teach us about pastoral and prophetic calling. Student discussion here will describe key claims and arguments and provide responses that are either personal examples of what Pazmiño wrote or personal statements about how this  book is reshaping the student’s priorities.

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Soul Stories

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on March 28, 2011

Anne Streaty Wimberly teaches church music and Christian education at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.  Soul Stories: African American Christian Education is one of my favorite books on churches and discipleship (Abingdon, rev. 2005). While she writes about how stories are essential for Christian discipleship in African American churches, her insights and method (“story-linking”) are powerful and appropriate in any church. Our every-day stories about work and school, about relationships and events, need to be linked with biblical narratives and with the stories of our culture’s exemplars and other historic accounts. We gain insight into God’s grace in our lives, our true vocation, and the power of the Spirit’s  creative engagement as we join together in the telling, listening,  reflection and imagination of this approach to discipleship.

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Forming Church, Forming Mission

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on October 15, 2010

From 1985 to 2000 Nina and I were active in a United Methodist church in Oakland. The church had experienced serious decline and we were among a few new arrivals who began to experiment with alternatives for life and mission. After we moved to Pasadena I was invited to a meeting in Germany sponsored by the Council on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches. The purpose of the week was to connect church leaders from several continents who were engaged in the missional church discussion (picking up on the writings of Newbigin, Guder, Van Gelder, Hunsburger, and others.) I was asked to provide a case study on our Oakland experience; that presentation is the basis of this article: Forming Church, Forming Mission in the International Review of Mission vol 92 (April 2003).

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City & Empire & Church

Posted by Mark Lau Branson on April 30, 2009

Craig Wong’s article provides an insightful sociological and historical analysis of his city, San Francisco. He is especially interested in how this framework is important if a church is to understand its own identity and agency. He is on staff of a church in the Mission District, Grace Fellowship Community Church. They are always asking two questions: What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to be the church in San Francisco?  Wong writes, “Living in the most politically liberal metropolitan city in America has forced our congregation to look more closely at the substance of empire, and how the gospel raises a different set of questions than that of our fellow San Franciscans.” Even though the article was written during the previous presidency, churches in the US still find ourselves living within an empire that lives out basic assumptions about our interests, our economic priorities, and our military options. Among Wong’s conclusions: “Therefore, if our ministry in San Francisco is to have a truly salvific dimension it must expose the ’empty deceit of human traditions’ that disguise themselves as universal ideals promising personal happiness. Our mission calls for a confidence in the gospel that is willing to judge the American experiment as ‘an adventure that held the seeds of its own destruction within itself…its inadequate vision of human freedom [resulting in] self-centeredness, loneliness, superficiality, and harried consumerism’ (Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon). Given such judgement, we can regard San Francisco not merely as a woeful urban planning nightmare, but rather, as a window to the human futility of a dying order.” He believes their church’s San Francisco neighbors need to see in the church’s life a clarity about what the gospel looks like. “Were we to be faithful to the gospel, the watching world will see a peculiar people living under a rule that is foreign and offensive to the empire. A resistance group forsaking personal freedom and the “American Dream” to knit their lives together in Christian love and service.”

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