Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cultural Contexts of Ministry

The first post in this series was The Pastor in the Church in the World, and related to the first course of the MDIV curriculum.  Today, I wanted to share my vision for the second one week intensive course in our curriculum:

1. Meaning is a function of context.  Humans share meaning in common only to the extent that humans share a common context. This is an incredibly significant insight and you cannot operate with a precise understanding of the world or understand the Bible or operate with a deep understanding of ethics, politics, or any aspect of life without this insight.

There is a tendency among many thinkers of all stripes to distribute meaning "down" in a Platonic fashion.  If this is x, then everything else is y.  If you are a Christian, then you are x, y, z.  All humans are x, therefore, you are a, b, c. Rather, general truths are built up from the ground by collecting similar things one by one.  It's hard work.  For you philosophers, this is not even Aristotle.  This is Ockam.

2. There are universal truths and ethics in relation to culture, but these result from commonalities in the contexts shared by all humanity.  We all have a similar biology.  There are commonalities to our world.  There are universals because we can collect every human individual under certain commonalities to the human context.  These are not as extensive as the default expectation, in which someone assumes that the way his or her culture does things is the right way.

3. Within this framework, we can see how individual contexts change the meaning of actions and words, as well as the application of Scripture.  Indeed, the meaning of Scripture itself becomes a function of its multiple ancient contexts and we begin to understand why there are so many different interpretations of it, as each individual interpreter mistakes his or her context for the appropriate context against which to read Scripture's words.

This course considers ministry contexts such as the following:

1. Local demographic research--what is the cultural environment in which my church is located?  My personal philosophy--your church would ideally be engaging the community immediately surrounding it.  There's something peculiar about a drive in congregation that has no relationship with its immediate environment.
2. My church's story--what is the "storied" context of my church, which gives my church some sense of its identity.
3. My "denominational" context--where does my church stand within the history of North American Christianity.  A major insight is to realize that so called non-denominational and independent churches are just as much a part of a cultural tradition of Christianity as any denominational one.  A few questions about the way the church does certain things and you have located it.  The "we just do what the Bible says" sentiment is self-deception and illusion.
4. The American evangelical context - by the way, I am thinking of a North American Anglo cohort of students in this post, it would be "localized" with a Hispanic group or an Aussie group, etc.  American evangelicals, even evangelical scholars, often do not realize their ideological location.  British evangelicals, for example, can often spot idiosyncrasies to the Evangelical Theological Society that are peculiarly U.S. American.
5. Socio-economic contexts.  How does urban-rural, black-white-Hispanic, middle class-poverty change the dynamics of ministry
6. The shift of the center of Christian culture to the two-thirds world.  What will the world look like when Africa and South America are guiding Christianity?

1 comment:

Robert said...

I'll add a live question from my church; how do we find a way to express ourselves in worship when we have a very different culture from traditional British Methodism? Experiements have been tried before, but unfortunately it's often been done in a cliquey, divisive way which hasn't helped at all.

We've got preachers in the circuit who are used to taking a one-hour service, and doing everything themselves. That's the traditional way, which gives the preacher a lot of power. We want to share it round, involve as many people as we can, and some of our people have been complaining that a one-hour service leaves them feeling unsatisfied.

We want to keep everyone on board, and show that it can be done, so we've just decided to keep half the Sunday services for our own preachers, so we can use those to develop our own style.