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Transformative Community Partnerships

2010/07/01 by Danie Mouton No Comments »

This is a summary of a speech given to an ecumenical group of Christian leaders in Port Elizabeth, on Thursday 1 July 2010.

1. What next?

As ecumenically representative group of church leaders we need to concern ourselves with the never-ending task of discerning the way forward. What do we do next as body of Christ?

(Note: By “we” I refer to a more or less undefined communitas of congregational leaders in the Nelson Mandela Metropole, a group of friends and like-minded visionaries who meet from time to time, e.g. to have breakfast together. The role of TCN (and Fountain Vineyard in another way) in keeping this band together is much appreciated.)

We have a commendable history of being enablers. We discern a common call, and work towards empowering churches and believers to take the necessary initiatives and further the common goals in a way fitting with their own particular identity, style, spirituality and gifting. The way the church cooperated with The Ultimate Goal-Project and with the National Prayer Day-Initiative are prime examples.

Whatever we promote, we need to do it in such a way that we empower the faithful at ground level to do God’s work. I propose that we continue to lead by focusing on an common vision and a common calling as church, and less on centralised management. That has been one of our habits, and a good one too. Jesus Christ as Head of his Church directs congregations and faith communities in such a way that a beautiful symphony of joint ministry evolves in a way that human effort cannot hope to organise. That is the promise given to those who seek God’s will and obey God’s calling: our efforts will be richly blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

In this short document I propose that we do more intentional what we have already been up to over a long period of time. We, at this point in time, need to promote transformative community partnerships at every possible level. Some may involve congregations directly, others will thrive in others spheres of society, e.g. Christian businesses, academics, teachers, the public, etc. Some will tend to be more formalised, others will be informal and may exist only for a short period. But all partnerships will have the common goal of doing God’s work in weaving healing, justice and joy into the very fabric of our society.

2. Theological framework

2.1 Identity of God

A proper perspective on God’s revealed identity and the coming of God’s kingdom in our world is necessary to develop a sense of evangelical social responsibility. We need to formulate – on the basis of the bible – what we dare to expect of God in our society. Our confession of who God is, and what God is up to, will influence our understanding of our calling in society.

The fundamental Christian confession is that God is a Trinitarian God. God is revealed as a holy Community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is diversity and relationships of love in God. God is relational and social. God is Being in Communion.

The intention of early church was not to formulate a Trinitarian dogma, but to describe the fundamental reality or landscape that we find ourselves in. We may dare to say that God created the cosmos out of and for relational love. We may also say that God “participates” lovingly in God’s creation.

The Bible portrays an active God, a triune God on a mission. Since the fall into sin God works actively to restore relationships, and to bring healing to the cosmos.

2.2 God and salvation

What we confess about God influences our expectation of God’s salvation.

Example 1: For some Christians God is not interested in the world. God just wants to save us from the world, for his heavenly kingdom. We are not saved for the world, our salvation is that we are whisked away from it. Salvation is only to be freed from sin in order to gain access to heaven. The world is damned and will be damned, therefore we do not contemplate the world, we contemplate heaven. Salvation is to have your eternal destination sorted out.

Example 2: Others see Jesus as a revolutionary who is not interested in a life bigger than the life we have at the moment. Jesus is only interested in social transformation. Salvation is an improved socio-economic set of circumstances. We are captives of the here and now, that is all we have and all we need.

Example 3: For some God is the God of the individual. Whatever we may expect of God, it will be localised in the lives of individuals, be it our individual justification, healing, or prosperity. If salvation benefits the individual, then evil, disobedience, illness etc will be localised in the individual as well. We are then blind-sides regarding systemic evil and illness, to be healed by a system-wide response.

The Bible says, I propose, that we take the world seriously as God’s creation. That is simply why so much is said about creation – and our responsibility for it. Creation is to be understood inclusively, it also includes us as human beings. Even after sin damaged creation, God is concerned with his creation. God continues to create a trustworthy world, where it is safe and joyful to live.

Indeed, the triune God is actively involved in God’s creation, bringing healing, justice and joy through the coming of God’s kingdom in every sphere of creation. As holy and loving Community or Partnership of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God brings restoration in relationships, and creates a trustworthy world through love and justice. He opposes brokenness, and brings restoration. God’s ministry is to weave peace into the life of God’s creation. This is a summary of the Christian Credo through the ages.

2.3 God’s call

God is up to something in every community, and invites Christians to join Him in pursuing God’s purposes. His calling is local and specific. Faith communities and individual Christians are therefore held accountable to – through spiritual discernment – identify God’s calling on their lives.

God’s calling cannot be reduced to involvement in a congregation’s programme or the maintenance of congregational interests only. It is broader.

God always call us in partnership with others. Through spiritual discernment we do not only discern our local and specific calling, but also the partners God gives us. Those partners are not only other congregations or Christians, but can involve any other person or agency, e.g. businesses, government institutions etc.

To be a disciple of Jesus, means to be called. To be a Christian faith community means to be called. And this call has – always – social and system-wide dimensions.

2.4 God’s kingdom

God’s kingdom and the church is not identical. The kingdom is bigger than the church. The church, as community of believers, is a sign, a foretaste and an instrument of the kingdom. The church is everywhere. It follows that the daily work believers do is also part of the kingdom, and serving the kingdom.

We therefore need to look at our daily work as sign, foretaste and instrument of the kingdom. The police officer, the veterinarian, the medical doctor, teacher, shop-owner, all of us are partners in the coming of God’s kingdom.

3. Transformative community partnerships

3.1 Conceptual

The concept of transformative community partnerships (TCP) is a way in which Christians and others join hands to weave trustworthiness, healing, justice, peace and joy into communities. We do it practically, with an eye on God’s future for us. The biblical expectation of a blissful future, energises us to change this world in the direction of God’s new world at the end of this age. We call this change biblical transformation.

A vital priority for Christian leaders is to strategise in order to bring Christians and agencies purposefully in contact with one another, in order to form transformative community partnerships as a way of taking hands to join God in God’s mission. These partnerships will include all role-players. The idea is to discover who the partners are that God gives us for our particular calling of mission.

3.2 The church’s collective role

What can the ecumenical or collective church in our metro pole do to further partnerships? A few ideas:

1. Promote the vision.

2. Train members to partner. Various agencies offer partnership training for specific purposes. We may also developed our own training.

3. Discover and introduce partners to one another. We need a strategy to help us see God’s call, to see various possible partners, and to meet them.

4. Workshop specific areas, let’s say education or the environment, and form partnerships to support the task of education.

5. Identify and communicate the stories of various partnerships that may already exist, although we do not see them for what they are.

6. Set believers free to do what God calls them to do – we do not claim their time and resources exclusively for the congregation’s program.

7. Prayer

8. Identify ways to represent, or invite, the community into the congregation’s life, e.g. during church services.

9. Promote an asset-based approach to community transformation. Those formed by Western cultural values often view so-called underdeveloped communities as empty jars in need of being filled with help from the outside. In this frame of mind the Western culture is superior and we need to bring those being left behind to the same standards by delivering a superior package of knowledge and skills. This approach disregards the resources God is providing in every community.

Note: What is asset-based community development?

ABCD is a methodology that seeks to uncover and utilize the strengths within communities as a means for sustainable development. The basic tenet is that a capacities focused approach is more likely to empower the community and therefore mobilize citizens to create positive and meaningful change from within. Instead of focusing on a community’s needs, deficiencies and problems, the ABCD approach helps them become stronger and more self-reliant by discovering, mapping and mobilizing all their local assets. Few people realize how many assets any community has, for example:

• Skills of its citizens, from youth to people with disabilities, from thriving professionals to starving artists

• Dedication of its citizens associations — churches, culture groups, clubs, neighbourhood associations

• Resources of its formal institutions — businesses, schools, libraries, community colleges, hospitals, parks, social service agencies

By the late 1990s, communities around the country were mapping and using these resources in imaginative ways, bringing them out of the closet and into creative synergy with each other, with dramatic results. Asset-based community development has provided leaders and institutions in all sectors with an approach that is relatively cheap, effective and empowering, that avoids paternalism and dependence — an approach that can be supported by all parts of the political spectrum and initiated at any level of civic life.

The first step in the process of community development is to assess the resources of a community through a capacity inventory or through another process of talking to the residents to determine what types of skills and experience are available to a community organization. The next step is to consult with the community and find out what improvements the residents would like to make. The final, and most challenging step, is to determine how the residents’ skills can be leveraged into achieving those goals.

4. The next step

This short presentation is intended to stimulate thought. We should workshop the idea of community partnerships as a possible way forward for the church collective in our metro pole to promote Christian change in society.

 

Abundant South African hospitality during World Cup 2010

2010/06/23 by Danie Mouton No Comments »

Ek dink lesers van Reisgeselskap sal in die volgende pragtige getuienis oor Suid-Afrika geïnteresseerd wees:

The Huffington Post
Shari Cohen
International development worker in the public health sectorPosted: June 15, 2010 11:35 AM

South Africa Rolls Out the Ubuntu in Abundance

I went on a rant the other day regarding the cost of the 2010 World Cup versus all the critical needs South Africa is facing and whether or not the most vulnerable of this country would gain anything from having the World Cup hosted in their country. At that time, I also had some very positive things to say about our hosts for the 2010 World Cup and I wanted to share that side of the coin as well, because it is equally important.

To say that I have been blown away at the hospitality South Africa has shown the rest of the world would be an understatement. I think back on recent Olympics and struggle to remember much reporting in the USA of athletes from other countries. I remember when a Togolese guy won a bronze medal in kayaking and NBC reported it and I thought to myself, “where are all the other fascinating stories like this one…like the Jamaican bobsledding team.” In today’s America, sadly, we have drifted so far towards being so US-centric that we only seem to root for the Americans.

Not so here in South Africa. I’ve been here since early May and each week I have become more and more impressed with the global embrace that South Africans have offered up to the world. On the way to the airport a couple of weeks ago, I heard a radio program that said each day they would focus on one country that would be coming to South Africa for the World Cup, and they would explore not only that sport’s history in soccer, but also their politics, religion, and socio-cultural practices. On the television, I’ve seen numerous programs that focus on a particular country and it’s history of soccer and how the history of that country is intertwined with their soccer history. I’ve seen programs on India, exploring why India enjoys soccer but hasn’t really excelled at the global level… yet. And I’ve seen shows on soccer in Muslim countries. Maybe it’s planned, maybe it’s unplanned, maybe it’s by chance, but it is happening. It’s not just about South Africans showing off their varied and multifaceted culture to their global guests, it’s also about using this opportunity to educate South Africa on the rest of Planet Earth’s inhabitants.

As I moved through my work here in the provinces over the last six weeks, I had a pivotal meeting with the Board members of a rural NGO. They were explaining their guiding program philosophy of Ubuntu. No, not the Linux program. I’m talking about the traditional African philosophy of Ubuntu that essentially says, “No man is an island.”

I found a better explanation from Wikipedia:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:

read more…

 

The Christian Identity of Congregations and the Struggles of the DRC: Past, Present and Future

2010/06/09 by Danie Mouton No Comments »

The metaphor, “struggle”, is indeed appropriate for the long and chequered history of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. It brings to mind Paul’s admonition in his letter to the church in Philippi:

“Live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ, … standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel. … For he (God) has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well – since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (Ph 1: 27-30, NRSV).

The Christian identity of congregations, understood in a trinitarian, missional way (as Paul does in his letter to Philippi), indeed implies struggle. This struggle should always be rooted in the gospel, and be guided by proper spiritual discernment. In the many struggles of the DRC penultimate concerns often led the church astray. We need to continually pray Paul’s prayer at the outset of the same letter:

“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Ph 1: 9-11, NRSV).

Let us then endeavour to enquire discerningly about the Christian identity of the DRC and it’s past, present and future struggles.

1.  The Christian Identity of Congregations

How would one describe the Christian identity of congregations?

Alan Hirsch, asking why the early Christian church (and the Chinese underground churches) grew so remarkably, answers: “All genuine Christian movements involve at their spiritual ground zero a living encounter with the One True God ‘through whom all things came and through whom we live’ (1 Cor 8:6)…. A God, who in the very moment of redeeming us, claims us as his own through Jesus our Savior” (Hirsch 2006:84).

Hirsch explains how underground Christians movements are stripped form religious clutter, e.g. institutional conceptions of the ecclesia, and are forced back to the core of the message, which they then are able to communicate along primarily relational lines. The core is found in the “substance of genuine biblical monotheism – an existential encounter with the one God who claims and saves us” (2006:86).

Hirsch argues that the confession of Jesus as Lord and Saviour is grounded in Israel’s belief that Yahweh is Lord. Shema Yisrael, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4).

The incarnation informs and restructures the practical monotheism of the Old Testament around the central character of the New Testament, Jesus Christ. Our loyalties are now to be given to the Revealer and Saviour. Jesus’ message of the kingdom is the triune God’s claim upon us. It is expressed in by confession: Jesus is Lord. This has serious implications for the identity of the church:

Our identity as a movement, as well as our destiny as a people, is inextricably linked to Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity. That is what makes us distinctly Christ-ian.

At its very heart, Christianity is therefore a messianic movement, one that seeks to consistently embody the life, spirituality and mission of its Founder. We have made it so many other things, but this is its utter simplicity. Discipleship, becoming like Jesus our Lord and Founder, lies at the epicentre of the church’s task. … It also means that in order to recover the ethos of authentic Christianity, we need to refocus our attention back to the root of it all, to recalibrate ourselves and our organizations around the person and work of Jesus the Lord. It will mean taking the Gospels seriously as the primary texts that define us. It will mean acting like Jesus in relation to people outside of the faith…” (2006:94)

This thumbnail summary provides us with a hermeneutical framework to guide us through our discussion of the past, present and future struggles of the DRC in relation to its Christian identity.

2.  The DRC as Christendom church

As technical term, Christendom Church refers to the privileged position of the church at the centre of power in society, a position the church in the West enjoyed since the Christian faith became the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 391 A.D. The reformation did not change this basic position (Keifert 2006:30v).

The Dutch Reformed Church came to South Africa with Jan Van Riebeeck in April 1652. It was the only church allowed in the new Dutch outpost, and remained in this position until 1795, when the colony fell into British hands. In the case of the Dutch, the state was the senior partner in the Christendom-fusion and regulated the church in no uncertain terms. Even after 1795, government continued to appoint a political commissioner to attend all church council and other governance meetings to ensure that government’s interests and policy prevailed. This situation came only to an end by 1843.

The Christendom-partnership meant that the Christian identity of the church remained subjected to the political interest of the Dutch governor. This is an important factor for an initial lack of organised missionary work by the church.

With the rise of Afrikaner nationalism in the 20th century and the gaining of political power by the Afrikaner, the DRC once again enjoyed the de facto status of a Christendom state church. During this period the church failed the gospel once again.

The ministry of the DRC was therefore traditionally that of a typical Christendom church, far removed from the ecclesia as a missional Jesus movement. It was powerful, and did not need:
●  to cross boundaries,
●  to build relationships with outsiders, or
●  to cultivate apostolic leadership.

The new political dispensation from 1994 led to a radical and sudden disestablishment of the DRC. Because of its close ties to the previous government, e.g. its
●  role in the formulation of government’s racial policies,
●  involvement in the formulation of numerous apartheid laws, and
●  chaplaincy of military action, aimed at maintaining political power,
the DRC had to endure tremendous shame when the full extent of state sponsored violence, crime and thuggery surfaced during the truth and reconciliation process.

The struggle to come to terms with this disestablishment still defines present reality in the DRC. A loss of membership, social status and financial hardship, illustrated by congregations struggling or dwindling and dying in areas where the church once flourished, underlines the painful reality of its marginalisation. The loss of the power to shape public reality in partnership with government remains a bitter pill to swallow.

One way of coming to terms with new realities is to completely disengage regarding public responsibility by fleeing into faith as a privatised, individualised spiritual-religious experience. There is also a loss of confidence regarding public witness. What guarantees do we have we will not get it wrong again?

A responsible church will embrace its liminality in a time like this, deliberately allow itself to be stripped of its institutionalised Christendom view of the church, and rediscover its identity as serving messianic movement. It’s a time to willingly embrace the dessert-experience, where we can re-connect with the gospel-story, can rediscover the missional God, can be refreshed by a renewed calling, and from where we can be sent into the world on a newly discovered mission, true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

3.  Church, missionary work and ethnic diversity

It is also true that the DRC understood itself right from the beginning as responsible for missionary work. It was expected of pastors and comforters of the sick to share the faith with heathen. It took, however, more than a century for strategically structured missionary work to start.

At first, individual members took responsibility to instruct the Hottentotte and other indigenous people like the Khoi in God’s Word. The first Hottentot, a woman called Krotoa, was baptised in 1662. Slaves were instructed in the Christian faith at the daily family devotions. Slave-owners were generally not eager to have slaves baptised, for the simple reason that adult slaves were set free after their baptism and public confession of faith (Marais 1984:30v).

For the first two hundred years new converts from the Hottentotte, Bushmen and slaves to Christianity became members of the local church. No special provision was made for separate ministry to them, and they shared in the table community when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated.

Towards the end of the 18th century the dawn of missionary zeal manifested in Europe and spread to the Cape Colony. Local congregations took their missionary task seriously. Various missionary agencies, mostly from abroad, but also a South African mission society (founded in 1799), became partners for the church’s missionary calling.

The first Synod of the Cape Colony (1824) instituted a special missionary office, with an ordination to administer the sacraments to heathen converts in the congregations formed through their missionary endeavours. These converts (all of them people of colour) would now become members of separate congregations. This was not a separate church, for when a member departed to an area where no such mission congregation existed, his membership was transferred to the local DRC congregation. The missionary societies also contributed to this pattern of separate ministry, for missiological reasons.

Since 1824 two ministry strategies towards converts existed: the one was to assimilate converts into existing congregations, and the second one to differentiate – the formation of separate congregations with separate buildings or foundations (Marais 1984:80; Van der Watt 1980:112).

During the 19th century prejudice against people of colour, always present right from the beginning in 1652, rose dramatically. In this vein a few rural congregations asked in 1829 for separate facilities for black converts, especially at the Lord’s table. Synod refused, saying that the Lord’s Supper should be administered to all baptised members “without distinction of colour”. (Smit 2007b:28).

It was at the Synod of 1857 where the principle of separate places of gathering for people of colour became official church policy, due to the infamous “weakness of some”. This “weakness” was the refusal of white people to celebrate holy communion in the presence of people of colour. The decision of 1857 is recognised today as a pivotal point in the development of the DRC’s mission policy, and in the later development of the ideology of apartheid.

The concession of 1857 soon became standard practice, and eventually determined the church order. The policy of separate ministry led to the NG Mission Church (founded 1881) and later the black DRC in Africa (1915) and the Reformed Church in Africa for people of Indian ethnic origin (1970’s).

What started out well – congregations doing missionary work and assimilating converts into their ministry – ended in a nightmare due to racial and cultural prejudice.

Let us fast-forward to present reality. Today, the DRC is involved in a tense struggle to undo these unbiblical choices of the past in a process of church re-unification.

Church re-unification proves to be a very difficult, complex task. The current strategy focus on the integration of formal governance structures, while cultivating organic unity at all levels in a unified church.

The process is under pressure. A recent process of consultation in the DRC (towards the end of 2007) suggests a 50/50 split in support for a unified model of church governance. The Confession of Belhar remains a stumbling block for many members in the white DRC. Huge support for mutual ministry projects exists, and mutual ministry endeavours are steadily growing as normal ministry practise in the DRC-family of churches.

There is work to be done. Because congregations are self-theologizing units, we need to guide and to challenge them to develop a theology of Christian unity. How does unity relate to the very nature of God? What is the link between church unification and the basic plot of the gospel? How does the mission of the church relate to unity?

Church unification presupposes a radical formation of Christian community across all kinds of racial and other barriers. The re-unification of governance structures, is but a small part of the radical transformation involved in being born by faith in the Lord Jesus into the one family of God. A radical unity of being together, of sharing in each other’s lives as we share in the life of the trinity, is what the Gospel calls for.

4.  Church and apartheid

The present struggle to re-unify the DRC Family of Churches comes at the end of the period of the unfortunate theological justification of apartheid by the DRC.

Between 1924 and 1938 the ideal of apartheid as total segregation was formulated. It was a period of social upheaval. The poor-White problem was increasing. Urbanization caused social and psychological dislocation for formerly rural Afrikaner people and a sense of rivalry with black people also flooding to the cities and mines.

Local Afrikaner theologies developed to support and popularise nationalistic notions. Particularly important was the role of neo-Calvinism. The emphasis on pluriformity in creation, stressed by Abraham Kuyper, a Reformed theologian in the Netherlands, played a major role. Each race had a God-given responsibility to maintain its identity. Each “people” was “chosen” for a specific “calling”. Accordingly each people also had a natural right to survival and self-determination.

A series of church, ecumenical and missionary conferences from the 1920’s to the 1940’s dealt with the challenge to organise Afrikaner political and economic power. Representatives of Afrikaner churches increasingly appealed to government for laws to protect the rights to cultural, ethnic and national survival and self-determination. Scriptural “proofs” were provided to legitimate the ideology. There was a clear development from pragmatic support for segregation and separate churches for missiological purposes to a full-scale theological framework giving biblical sanction to a total ideology. Gradually “nation” was used as a hermeneutical tool. The church was seen in terms of the nation. The unity of believers was regarded as a spiritual reality only (Smit 2007:27-39).

Once again, we meet a church which compromised its Christian identity.

A long and hard church struggle against apartheid ensued, in which Reformed churches played an important role. The DR Mission Church rejected the ideology of apartheid in 1978 as in conflict with the gospel’s message of reconciliation. In 1982 the DRMC declared a status confessiones and drafted the Belhar confession, confessing God as the God of one church, of reconciliation and of justice. In 1994 the DRMC and DRCA united to form the Uniting Reformed Church, with a church order explicitly based on the Belhar Confession.

The tide also slowly turned in the DRC in the years since 1980. In 1986 racism was declared a sin by the General Synod of the DRC. Prof Willie Jonker publicly confessed the sin of apartheid on behalf of the DRC at the Rustenburg ecumenical church meeting in 1990. In 1994 General Synod decided to seek unification with the other members of the DRC Family of Churches.

The struggle in the DRC against the ideology of apartheid is not yet complete. The church officially confessed its sin and repented of its theological justification of apartheid. It deserves ample recognition for this courageous act, but racism still remains a reality in the church.

We are in dire straits as a South African nation. We need leadership from the church. The recent walg-video of the shaming initiation of black workers in an Afrikaner hostel at the University of the Free State testify to the fact that churches failed to teach it’s young, those born right at the end of the apartheid era, what it means to be non-racial and to treat all people as being created in the image of God.

We need a reconnection to the biblical narrative, we need to be shaped by the Son of God who became flesh in order to serve us and to bring us all in communion with God, taking away our shame and our sin.

5.  Church and modernity

A few concluding remarks on the DRC and modernity. Modernity influenced the church at various junctions in its past, e.g. in the 19th century when critical European enlightenment theology were popularised in South Africa by DRC-pastors, a scenario which currently repeats itself.

Three examples of challenges posed by modernity:

1.  The private / public split of modernity may trap churches in a spirituality focused on the self, the inner needs and fulfilment of the individual believer. This may be true of liturgy and worship, and may support new forms of apathy regarding South African realities and public life.

2.  Developments within critical theological scholarship in the 19th century impacted in recent times on the DRC. It strengthens the idea of a disenchanted world (Max Weber) and may further processes of secularization.

3.  In the economic sphere the free market in the form of global capitalism seems to be the reigning idol (Smith 2007a:12). The consumer society may prove to be a much more powerful force in the spiritual formation of people than the gospel.

6.  Concerning the future

What lies ahead? What is God’s preferred future for the church, the future that focuses our obedience to the Lord Jesus?

The DRC is currently officially is a Season of Listening – listening to God, to each other, to outsiders and those marginalised for various reasons. Listening is the proper discerning leadership skill for times like these. It signifies a proper humility.

The DRC needs a fresh understanding and deep experience of being called and sent by God to the South African context. It needs to be shaped by the gospel of the Son of God who did not hesitate to become a slave, willingly giving up everything He had in order to free us and bring us into the shared life of the Trinity.

To quote Alan Hirsch again:

We need to refocus our attention back to the root of it all, to recalibrate ourselves and our organizations around the person and work of Jesus the Lord. It will mean taking the Gospels seriously as the primary texts that define us. It will mean acting like Jesus in relation to people outside of the faith…” (2006:94)

Bibliography

Hirsch, A 2008. The forgotten ways. Brazos Press: Grand Rapids
Keifert, P 2006. We are here now – a new missional era. Allelon Publishing: Eagle
Marais, DF 1984. Die Sinode van 1857 en die instituering van afsonderlike kerkverbande onder leiding van die NG Kerk: ‘n Sending-historiese verantwoording. Unpublished M.Th. dissertation.
Smit, DJ, 2007a. Mainline Protestantism in South Africa – and modernity? Unpublished paper.
Smit DJ, 2007b. Essays on public theology. Sun Publishers: Stellenbosch.
Van der Watt, PB 1980. Die NG Kerk Band 2. NGKU: Pretoria

 

Atonement : A Comprehensive Framework

2010/03/12 by Danie Mouton No Comments »

One sometimes start to read a book and immediately knows that it is going to profoundly influence you.  This is the case with Scot McKnight‘s brilliant A Community called Atonement (2007, Abingdon Press).

In these paragraphs I summarize the first part of this book.

McKnight uses the metaphor of playing golf with a whole bunch of clubs, not only one favorite.  This is the way atonement functions in the Bible – there are many facets, metaphors and contours to keep in mind to do justice to the biblical message of atonement.  Too often atonement theories are like a golfer with only one favorite club, let’s say a putter, using that for all his shots.  One-club-atonement theories waters the biblical message down. read more…

 

To Plunge : Congregations crossing Boundaries

2010/02/27 by Danie Mouton 4 Comments »

TO PLUNGE …
WHEN CONGREGATIONS CROSS THEIR BOUNDARIES

Danie Mouton
Bloemfontein
Paper read at the meeting of the SA Missionary Society on 2010-01-17, Bloemfontein

Plunging as missional strategy embodies what Henry Nouwen calls missional presence:

Missional Presence

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.

–  Henri Nouwen

1.    INTRODUCTION

Plunging, as strategy of the SA Partnership of Missional Congregations, is an example of a South African innovation in the process originally proposed to us by the Church Innovations Institute.  It intentionally builds the capacity of congregations to cross boundaries, or – more exactly – to discern the way in which God is already busy guiding them to those outside the current sphere of community.  Plunging takes place in Phase 2, the engagement-phase, although it is meant to become a lifestyle for congregations.

2.    LUKE 10 : CALLED AND SENT

Luke 10 verses 1 to 12 plays an important role in congregations sharing in the journey proposed by the SAPMC. The passage profoundly shapes their Christian imagination.  By means of Dwelling in the Word, that is an extended discourse in the world in front of the text over an extended period of time (Ricoeur), this text creates a world of new missional meaning and possibilities for congregations.

In the first verses of Luke 10 Jesus calls a number of disciples together and sends them two by two, ahead of Him, to every town and place where he was about to go on his journey from Galilee to Judea.  They are made vulnerable by the Lord’s instructions: no purse, no bag, no sandals.  They go intentionally in complete dependence on the hospitality of those they are sent to.  The task is to join people in their daily lives, to work shoulder to shoulder with them, to share peace, to heal the sick. That is wherever they are welcomed.  They form new community in the Name of Christ.  In this way they participate in the mission of Jesus, the One that was sent by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  In this way the Kingdom of God is made manifest, even where the disciples and the peace are rejected.

This communal missional imagination empowers congregations to develop a missional understanding of the Scriptures, which will gradually change and re-shape the culture in the congregation.  Those currently outside the congregational community will become more and more important.

Soon congregations will ask: But to whom is Jesus sending us?  Which part of the harvest was prepared in advance by the Father and the Spirit to whom Jesus is sending us, his body, now?

3.    WHAT IS PLUNGING?

Plunging refers to the capacity to cross the congregation’s cultural boundaries, which includes conceptual and geographical boundaries.  It is a way of extending the peace by deliberately moving outside the current sphere of community, to form new community.  The primary agent is the triune God, who sends God’s congregation.  In order to obey this call the capacity to plunge needs to be built in the congregational life.

On the SAPMC journey congregations will discern communities to plunge into, to discover if the peace is accepted.  They will use their experience to discover to whom God is sending them.

4.    PLUNGING AND CULTURE

A few remarks about culture:  culture refers to a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.  We all take part in, and are part of culture, and e.g. all churches are cultural institutions. They are governed by this shared sense of what it is all about.

It is often said that culture is like air to a human being, or water to a fish.  Fish are actually not aware that they are surrounded by water.  Water is just there, water is the way things are around here, it is accepted as an invisible part of life.  But take a fish out of water, place it in fresh air, bring it to other possibilities, and the cultural shock is very concretely and immediately there.

A plunge is to deliberately move from the context of your dominant culture to another culture.  It is like a human being plunging into water and moving around in water.  Suddenly everything changes.  Your weight change in the water, movement is different, you need to use your muscles differently, strengths on land, may become weaknesses in water, etc.

Our culture is often blind to other possibility, it is often a closed system where we cannot imagine other ways of being and doing, which make it very threatening for us to jump into the murky water of groups we do not feel comfortable with.  This activity needs to be conducted in the safe space of a shared journey, wisdom and experience.  Hence congregations are clustered in the partnership.

5.    THE LOGIC BEHIND PLUNGING : WHY PLUNGE?

5.1  To re-connect with our context and with God’s actions, and to be refreshed and re-energised

In the Reformed tradition, as is the case with many mainline churches (old or more traditional churches), reality is defined for us by our theological convictions.  We fit our theology likes glasses or lenses to our eyes and we see what our lenses permit us to bring into focus.

We are being taught that God speaks to us only through the Word, and specifically the Word as it is preached to us by well trained theologians or pastors.  In their sermons they (we, us) keep our understanding of the world, with its many cultural groupings (that is groups with a particular way of life, not only ethnic groups) intact.

That disconnects us with the world in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit are active agents, bringing healing and restoration to.  We can re-connect with God’s actions by dwelling, plunging in our world.

It reminds me of the inner-city congregation in Port Elizabeth which started to distribute Bibles to people form other nationalities living in the downtown area. They were welcomed by these people, friendships grew, the outsiders started to attend church services.  A complicated set of circumstances and leadership challenges grew out of this initiative, with conflict amongst members too, but the congregation feels alive, in tune with God’s mission, and energised in a way you could not imagine a short while ago.

If we take the cross-cultural movement, and the serial nature of Christian expansion (Andrew Walls, Lamin Sanneh) seriously, the importance of an embedded communal lifestyle of plunging becomes evident.

5.2  To grow in our teachability

Within our boundaries we have our ways of describing our world and our set ideas about what is going on.

Once we move beyond our boundaries, once we plunge, we experience a different reality.  Suddenly our ideas become problematic – we realise that we do not understand, that we need to be taught how to minister in realities that are vastly different from our presuppositions.

When God sends us to another group, we better learn out of personal experience about that group, we need to connect with them in spaces in which we are not in control of the situation, in order for us to learn.

We often learn what the Gospel is all about.  We may enter a culture thinking we know what the Gospel can offer people.  But as we see, learn, and grow we often grow in our own understanding of the Gospel and about God’s agenda in the world.

5.3  To become aware of our own invisible walls, which keep people out

Your own culture is like air, or like water to a fish, it is not visible to you.  The walls, habits, customs, values, and rituals created by your culture are not visible to you, but it is real, it is there, and it is keeping others out.

A few examples:

•      The role of silence in the church – for us silence may be holy, for people with small kids, or youngsters, the silence may be threatening;

•      Assumptions about proper dressing, proper language, proper greeting; etc.

5.4  To form new community (the Gospel of Plunging)

If being missional is about forming new community, and welcoming the people to whom you are sent into community, and it is, then plunging is the way to go.  The desire behind plunging is to be taken up into new community.

5.5  To form a bridge community that will be able to guide our ministry forward

We do not know how to minster to those to whom we are being sent.  Therefore we need to learn together with them how to minister to them, and how to receive ministry from them.  By plunging into communities the invaluable bridge communities are formed that guide us forward.

6.    THE GOSPEL AND PLUNGING

6.1  The plot of the gospel

According to Luke 10 the peace of Jesus is extended by strangers entering a world, a city, a place, a house, where a harvest has been prepared in advance by the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The plot of the Gospel is the Holy Community, the Holy Trinity, sending the Son as a stranger into the world to bring us into communion with God.  We partake in that mission when we are taken up into this ever expanding search of God to extend this communion.

To plunge is therefore at the heart of the Gospel.  When Jesus originally sent the first disciples into the world my forebears were living in Europe, far from God.  It was by plunging, and plunging, stretching over centuries, that new community was formed.  Some of those Christians came to Africa, as strangers, and brought the gospel here (unfortunately often with their theological and ecclesiological baggage, with a purse).

That dynamic repeats itself over and over as we take part in the dynamic crossing of boundaries wherever we are.

6.2  Taming the gospel?

We can tame the gospel by institutionalising it, by making it our way of caring for existing members.  It often happens in congregations.  You can use the gospel to run a congregation in the interest of the congregation.  We e.g. exchange the dynamic character of the gospel for the idol of exclusive mutual care for existing members.  Mutual, Christian care is part and parcel of the gospel.  But it is not the whole gospel.

The danger is that we may use the gospel to further the church’s institutional interests by changing it into a way of caring for one another.

It reminds me of our dog, a Belgian Shepherd, called Zoë.  She looks like a wolf – to some extend – but she is domesticated, tame.  We may domesticate the gospel, which turns the gospel into pseudo-good news to those fortunate enough to be included in or company.  By plunging we re-connect to the wild gospel, the gospel that never respects any border or boundary, but sweeps us into companionship with strangers, in order for us to meet God.

7.    THE BIGGER PICTURE OF PLUNGING

As a way of taking up ministry, plunging is part of a way is understanding that is vastly different from the traditional way we do theology and practise ministry.

We are trained to work with a theory – application model.  You need to see the truth, you need to have a good theory about ministry, and then you apply it.  You have a vision of the “true”, ideal church, and then you do “true church” at ground level.

This philosophical approach goes back over centuries and is deeply rooted in Western thought.  It reminds me of the metaphor the Greek philosopher Plato, used in his Republic-dialogue, likening us to prisoners being chained in a cave.  Behind us people are carrying stuff around, and a big fire is burning in the mouth of the cave.  We see only shadows against the walls of the cave, and we take the shadows for reality.  We need to be released from our chains, we need to walk in the light to see the real truth, in order for us to apply truth, in this case in the governance of the city.

It is first about theoretical seeing, and then applying it.  This model is the death in the pot for missional ministry.  It is this model that isolates us from real, vibrating, pulsing life, and which isolates us from God in our midst.  The active, triune Fellowship becomes a philosophical or theological construct.

Plunging is part of a model of doing ministry that we may call an emergent model.  In an emergent model, the rhythm is doing – reflecting – doing – reflecting.  It is dwelling in the world (plunging) and reflecting (dwelling in the Word).  It is about the Christian community seeking for God’s guidance by reflecting with the Word in one hand and the world (community) God is sending us to in the other hand, reflecting about our Christian identity and God’s preferred future for us.  And then to follow God into that unchartered future, while we keep on doing and reflecting.

In this model mistakes are important.  We need to give one another permission to take the risk of making mistakes.  By reflecting on our mistakes, we grow, and we learn.

Welcome to the dynamic, adventurous world of plunging!

 

Powerful people helpless: “We need you God!”

2010/02/16 by Danie Mouton No Comments »

Michelle Faure, from the town of Joubertina in the Langkloof, regularly and eloquently blogs about life in the beautiful town with its equally beautiful people.

In a recent post she writes about a public prayer meeting in the local NG Kerk for rain:

Its not often that I have been in such a meeting, when a community comes together, and acknowledges that they are powerless. Powerful people, money, possessions, land, all dependent now, on a force beyond their control. Make it rain. Please make it rain. The fruit is on the trees, not quite ready for harvest, and we need you God – please make it rain.

Pray with us here in a very dry Eastern Cape Province as you read Michelle’s entire blog post.

Yes, please God: make it rain!

>>  Read about a public day of prayer for the draught in Port Elizabeth.

 

“We Are Here Now”: Mapping the Missional Journey

2010/02/05 by Danie Mouton 6 Comments »

Introduction

Well-known Lutheran systematic theologian and church consultant, prof Patrick Keifert, outlines in his informative book, We are here now, the way forward for congregations at the end of the Christendom era, but also at the beginning of what he calls a New Era of Mission for the local church.

The book is his invitation on a journey of spiritual discernment for local churches, called to move from the maintenance of Christendom to innovating missional church in their time and location.  Keifert’s wisdom and insight was born out of, what he calls, excellent mistakes – the process of failing forward – learning out of your mistakes in a way that leads to positive outcomes.

What follows is a short summary of the book.  It is not intended to replace the book – please do yourself the favour of reading the well-written book.  It will prove to be a very wise investment of your time and money.  The book is available a www.bmedia.co.za, and was also translated in Afrikaans, published under the title: “Ons is nou hier”.

The Partnership for Missional Churches in South Africa uses the insights of the book, packaged as a uniquely South African process, as a journey of innovating mission in the local church.  You are most welcome to join on this journey by being facilitated in a collective journey, that is together with other congregations, in the Partnership process.  For more information please contact me at ngk.ooskaap@gmail.com.

Now for the summary of the book… read more…