Here I want simply to collate a couple of challenging and inspiring quotations, from my recent pickings.
What loosely holds them together is a vision of authentic, practical ministry itself inspired and shaped by serious and engaged theological reflection. That’s what I think we really need to be about, those of us in this ‘church’ thing.
Nancy Ammerman, in her Congregation and Community (1997) presents this provoking idea:
‘Someone has to see the connection between the congregation as it now exists and the congregation as it might someday exist. Someone has to imagine that it might remain spiritually and socially rewarding for its participants. While lay leadership is important, pastors emerge here as critical players in the process of change.’ (page 326).
Loren Mead has written a work on Transforming Congregations for the Future (The Alban Institute, 1994). She offers at pages 48 – 52, a brief sketch of the nature of ministry in a local congregation. The elements of this ministry are not all that we might have imagined, but they are rather inviting!:—
strangers meet on common ground;
fear of the stranger is faced and dealt with;
scarce resources are shared and abundance is generated;
conflict occurs and is resolved;
life is given colour, texture, drama, a festive air;
people are drawn out of themselves;
mutual responsibility becomes evident and aid possible;
opinions become audible and accountable;
vision is projected and projects attempted;
people are empowered and protected against power.
Holding these two thoughts together, I find myself asking how we get from what we currently know to this latter vision, and in such a way that the reality of faith and life in God is preserved. The latter vision is not just a social vision. It is a vision of responsive and responsible life together, which values human community in relationship. This must be seen as the character of community with and in God. It is a community of and like the community of God. As the first quote says, someone has to make this connection, in thought and in practice!
This is a vision to pursue. Much to be thought about, and much to work through together.