Friday, January 01, 2010

missionary congregation review

"...we are faithfully to indwell the gospel in a culture that has disembedded itself from that tradition."

missionary congregation coverIn The Missionary Congregation: leadership and liminality, a handbook for doing mission that you can read through in very little time and that'll take several readings and considerable pondering to understand and appropriate, Pastor Alan Roxburgh explores Victor Turner's book-length essay on liminality, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, (Cornell University Press, 1969) as a framework to help us understand the historical, contemporary and maybe even future call of the church. The experience of liminality, of being on the threshold between old and new, neither back where we were nor yet where we think we're heading typically applies to ritualized liturgical rites of passage that dissolve and dis-embed aspects of an individual's or a group's old identity and are at least the beginning of incorporation into a new group or community along with a new status. For Christians, baptism is our primal liminal experience. As we enter the waters, should we be prepared to drown? Yes! And we should be equally prepared to be surprisingly raised from that death by drowning! And then there's also the desert...

Although Pastor Roxburgh insists "The church's lived experience is marginalization," then he says center-margin language is obsolete and also cites the contemporary Spirituality Smorgasbord. And then he says a possible center-periphery relationship may exist between urban and non-urban, though he claims the urban center itself has no margins. This is fascinating and highly thought-provoking and brings us back to the tendency to equate modernization with urbanization as it evokes Max Weber and rationalization, too. Pastor Roxburgh strikingly observes (page 38): "...it is not marginalization that shapes our context but a liminality without center points from which to gain perspective or meaning." Continuing both/and, neither/nor language, marginalization presupposes a center and a periphery. Amidst all the talk about community, Pastor Roxburgh cites Christianity's shift to a "private, individualistic center." We still keep hearing far too much about a proprietary Jesus...

Pastor Alan reminds us historically the church building - the physical church structure - was a place of refuge, a place of sanctuary. As people of the Good Book we affirm wherever God meets the people is holy, sacred ground, "sanctuary." In biblical - in covenantal - terms, it is God indwelling the people, it is God's encounters with the creation to which Godself so passionately has "attached" Godself that sanctifies life.

Pastor Roxburgh definitely is not talking about business models and parallels as he considers the leadership of the church in a time of liminality, which requires leaders whose identity is formed by the tradition rather than the culture and leaders who listen to the voices from the edges where the apostle, the prophet, and the poet are found.

"...leaders whose identity is formed by the tradition rather than the culture." But he doesn't explain how the tradition has formed the identity of those leaders. I also need to quote, "...they are cries that long to be connected to a Word that calls them beyond themselves into a place of belonging that God gives within a people." "The alternative community...is formed as the prophetic word addresses the pained recognition of our liminality." For Christians, baptism into the alternative, counter-cultural community that daily walks the way of the cross and lives the reality of resurrection is our primal liminal experience. And then there's also the desert...

Finally, we can consider the re-symbolization and professionalization of church leadership, as it has become and continues becoming yet another clubby priesthood with all of the occultisms, rituals, secrets, insignia, gnoses - and bureaucracies - associated with all of those other royal priesthoods...remember the Jerusalem Temple? I hope this short selection of ideas from The Missionary Congregation Leadership and Liminality will encourage you to read the book, which would be an excellent choice for study by a parish mission or outreach committee, council, session or vestry. There's enough material in its less than 100 pages (71, actually) for at least 5 or 6 serious discussions.

edges, centers, culture and counter-culture...my amazon review

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