A guide for congregations wanting to move away from "maintenance thinking" to powerful, creative engagement with the world God loves!
This book argues compellingly for the centrality of mission in understanding the church and provides a model for congregational leadership that will help move congregations beyond a maintenance mentality to vital engagement with the world God loves. Nessan's model of congregational leadership is strongly centered on worship life of a congregation and the entirety of the church's ministry. The chapters provide solid theological and practical direction on the themes of worship, education, fellowship, stewardship, evangelism, global connections, ecumenism, and social ministry. It is a book that will find a home in both the academy and the parish---a textbook for seminarians and a guide and resource for pastors and lay congregational leaders.
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Craig L. Nessan is a Lutheran pastor who earned his doctorate at the University of Munich. He is currently on the faculty of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, as Assistant Professor of Contextual Theology.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The title of a recent book by Wendell Berry asks the basic but penetrating question: 'What are people for?' By posing this fundamental query, Berry intends to probe the misdirection of farm policy in the United States since World War II. The operating assumption, that there are too many people working in agriculture, has shredded the fabric of rural life.
This book poses an equally basic and penetrating question regarding church life in the United States at the close of the twentieth century: 'What are congregations for?' It may be that we have grown so accustomed to the routine of congregational life that we have stopped asking this question. Relying on established patterns, we delude ourselves into believing we are providing clear theological vision and faithful leadership. Thus we succumb to what Karl Hommen refers to as 'the peril of ordinary days.' Although there may be security in treading familiar roads, the situation in which the church finds itself at the dawn of a new century calls for a renewal of vision about how God seeks to engage Christian congregations. When congregational leaders cease struggling with this question---the question of God's purposes for the local congregation---a myriad of other priorities arise to divert us from this most central concern.
Congregations exist for the sake of mission. This fundamental truth about the church is easily set aside in favor of what appear to be more urgent agendas. Chief among these in this age of diminishing resources is the challenge of institutional survival. The 'mission' of a congregation may eventually shrink to preoccupation with holding worship services and paying the bills. On other fronts, the vitality of congregational mission is narrowed by exaggerated emphasis on statistical growth, entertainment-style worship, or overly therapeutic models of ministry.
This book is written for congregational leaders, pastors, seminarians, and others in the church as a way of thinking systematically about the nature and purpose of the Christian congregation. It is an exercise in the art of 'contextual theology,' taking as our primary context the reality of congregational life as it has come to expression in North American experience. While we have much to learn from the varied expression of church life in other parts of the world (for example, the basic ecclesial communities of Latin America), the shape of the church in North America remains the familiar institution of the local congregation.
The thesis of this book is that Christian congregations are uniquely situated in North American society to serve as 'centers for mission' that both minister to the needs of members and carry forth the gospel beyond themselves to their communities and world. To this end a model of congregational life is proposed by which to examine how we can response faithfully to God'' calling. In order to maintain our focus on mission, we need to think carefully about what we are doing, both in terms of theology and praxis. This work aims to balance both of these emphases, allowing theology and praxis to inform one another mutually.
The 'theology of the congregation' here articulated revolves around two central foci: identity and mission. Neither focus my be omitted without distorting what I believe to be the congregation's divine calling. Under the rubric of identity, we will consider the centrality of worship, education, fellowship, and stewardship in forming a congregation's proper self-understanding. Under the category of mission, attention shifts to evangelism, global connections, ecumenism, and social ministry. One unique feature about this theological approach is the prominence of worship in providing orientation for everything a congregation is and does. The historic elements and structure of Christian liturgy continue to offer the church direction for reestablishing the vitality of congregational life, if only we can devote to these ancient rituals the creativity and imagination they deserve. ---from the Preface
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