Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Willow Creek and Saddleback are Losing Influence While North Point and are Gaining Influence

Why Willow Creek and Saddleback are Losing Influence While North Point and are Gaining Influence

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Cultural shifts are ever with us... but to ascribe a single cause is to be in error. Perhaps the impact of the economic crisis is one of the causes of staff and program reductions. Nevertheless, an interesting trend, which raises questions about discipleship and community.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What are we ministering towards?

Christine Sine raised an interesting question which I have been walking with for a number of days now:
"Don’t you think that pastors and church leaders are preparing us to live in the world they inhabit not the world that most of us live in?"
Given that christians seem to be evacuating the traditional churches in large numbers, one suspects that the question isn't too far from the mark. It's not to do with the style of worship, or the language, or the furniture, but the vision of the world that is carried, and our role within it. Being in full-time ministry, much of my waking time is devoted to thinking about church and ministry matters. If I am not careful, these thoughts become framed without the backdrop of the daily realities faced by most human beings, or risk being disconnected from the issues which permeate broader culture.
Two models of ministry and spirituality come to mind: engagement and withdrawal. We generally aren't very good at melding the two. Over recent decades there has been a tendency to a spiritual activism which leads to burnout on the one hand, or an ascetic spirituality which seems disconnected from the realities of life.
Much of the language of church and faith reflects first century Palestinian realities and experience rather than 21st century society, which is both more affluent, and more globally connected. The tools of trade and the context of community and commerce are vastly different. How to love one's neighbour in a world as connected yet diverse (economically, spiritually, socially, and politically) as ours is deeply perplexing. Yet I have been to (apparently successful) church where not one mention was made of anything outside the building.
Jesus picked up and used the hands-on images of his day to depict the work of God - ploughs, pigs, lilies, mustard seeds... Not many of them resonate with our present experience, although they are somewhere within our knowledge bank. What images of the kingdom resonate in our 21st century environment, and how do they help us imagine God's ideal future? Reflecting on the Navman in my car driving experience is just one example of how we might reconsider our tools as images of God's purposes.
We cannot hope to prepare people to live in their daily world as followers of Jesus without pointing to ways in which present experiences might embody God's call. Some vision of what it means to be a christian in the 21st century workplace, community space, and retail places - amongst others - is part of today's ministry challenges.
What do you think?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pope Benedict on the Global Economy

I read with interest news stories of the latest papal encyclical - it read as a breath of fresh air into a world where profit and economic growth have been slavishly served to our detriment. Then I received this wonderful summary by email this morning, so post it here, with a link at the bottom to the full encyclical, which runs to 30000 words.

As the G8 Summit begins in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI has released a new encyclical on the global economy. Despite the sometimes dense philosophical and theological language, his message is clear: The economy must be guided by the criteria of justice and the common good. It is a comprehensive document, and while I haven’t yet read the entire encyclical, from news reports and a quick skim, a number of important things stand out.

Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), is rooted in a stream of papal teaching on economic justice that goes back to 1891 with the encyclical Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). It is a far-reaching look at the relationships and issues that the global economy has created, and their impact on the world’s people.

From the beginning Benedict states his basic foundation, that “charity in truth is the principle around which the Church's social doctrine turns.” It is:

a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action. I would like to consider two of these in particular, of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society: justice and the common good.

And, he says, those principles are both in service and involvement in the political arena.

The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path -- we might also call it the political path -- of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.

He deals with profit, writing that while it is useful, once it “becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” The current economic crisis, he writes,

obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment. ... The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.

He discusses globalization, which has “led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers,” and cites how

budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers' associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions.

The crisis of world hunger and lack of clean water lead to an affirmation that:

The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.

He writes about the “pernicious effects of sin” in a market where there is a “speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit” that does not make “a real contribution to local society by helping to bring about a robust productive and social system, an essential factor for stable development.” Financiers, he says,

must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.

The encyclical also addresses the rise of global inequality, the threats to the environment – “we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it” – and the need for new solutions to the world’s energy needs. “The fact that some States, power groups, and companies hoard non-renewable energy resources represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries,” Benedict writes.

The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future.

Perhaps the most provocative and controversial suggestion is his call for a reform of the United Nations that would produce a “true world political authority” and would give “poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making.” Such a world body would “need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power” to “ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties.” That power, he suggests, could include the ability

[t]o manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration...

Near the end of the encyclical, he underlines his basic premise:

While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human.

Caritas in Veritate is well worth our careful and thoughtful study. Its richness and depth will add new insights to Catholic social teaching. The entire text is available here.

(reproduced from Sojomail 07.09.09)