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Case study on together towards life and ministerial formation.


When asked over the years why I believe the World Council of Churches is so important to the life of the church, my response has been not so much because of what its programmes do but because of its work in building a common ecumenical vision and bringing the diversity of the world church around that vision. This has been so valuable in shaping the life and ministry of the church ecumenical at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries. Together towards Life gives us a fresh opportunity' to do this again in the area of mission and evangelism.

My Personal Story with Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation

This is certainly one of the reasons that Together towards Life (TTL)'s predecessor mission statement, Mission and Evangelism: An Ecumenical Affirmation, was so valuable to my church and to so many others. This was the place where I entered the story of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME). I had the good fortune to be named as a youth delegate to the World Council of Churches (WCC) Assembly in Vancouver in 1983, which affirmed Mission and Hvangelism as the mission statement of the WCC just a few months after it had been adopted by the WCC central committee. I also had the very good fortune to be named as a member of the CWME following that Assembly, an experience that probably more than any other formed me as a Christian with a deep and abiding passion for mission.

One of the reasons that Mission and Evangelism had such an impact was that it broke the binary pattern of evangelism or justice toward a much more inclusive, welcoming framework--inclusive rather than exclusive, pulling together major themes of ecumenical missionary conferences throughout the 20th century in a winsome and prophetic way.

The Seven Hcumenical Convictions in Mission and Evangelism reshaped mission formation and practice in North America. These commitments set the context for ecumenical mission for the next 30 years around these themes:

1. Conversion

2. The Gospel to All Realms of Life

3. The Church and Its Unity in God's Mission

4. Mission in Christ's Way

5. Good News to the Poor

6. Mission in and to Six Continents

7. Witness among People of Living Faiths

This document shaped a generation in new and inclusive patterns of mission and mission formation. In my context, it gave us fresh definitions of mission and evangelism. It made mission as relevant at home as it had historically been abroad. It led to an understanding of the US as a mission field. It found creative expression through the Missional Church Network. It led Conciliar, Evangelical, Orthodox, and Catholic missiologies to a "both-and" missionary commitment to justice and evangelism, and it led to a beginning openness to mission in an inter-faith context.

It also helped to reshape the teaching of mission; even if it did not reshape very much the practice of mission in local congregations, it did make an important beginning.

The Need for a New Ecumenical Mission Statement for a New Context

However, as the years went by, it became clear that Mission and Evangelism had not anticipated many of the trends in American culture that cried out for a fresh missiology (and I imagine that is true for other parts of the world as well):

1. 9/11 and the "War on Terror," which made clear the importance of religion--for good and for ill--for the destruction or redemption of humanity and the world.

2. The rise of the "nones" and the growing trend in our culture to be "spiritual but not religious."

3. The reality of the global church at our doorstep. (The margins lived among us and were part of our family.)

4. The rise of Pentecostals and the decline of the mainline churches.

5. The rise of the religious right and the resurgence of racism.

During this time, I made vocational transitions from being director of our church's Worldwide Ministries Division to being the stated clerk and then to becoming a seminary professor--finding differing lenses through which to see the realities from the vantage point of the world missionary movement, from a church perspective, and from academia.

Changing Theological Education for a Ministry amid Religious Difference

In my most recent transition, I was asked to come to Louisville Seminar)' to combine these perspectives for ministerial formation in our new context. The seminary's mission statement (which goes back over 150 years) is: "Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary is called by God through the church to educate men and women to participate in the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ in the world." Being in 21st-century faithfulness to this mission statement means we need to equip all our graduates for Christian ministry in a world of religious difference, the focus of the Doors to Dialogue program (D2D) that I was asked to lead.

We have tried to do this in a number of ways:

1. Through engaging students in the Seminary Consortium on Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) and its urban pastoral encounters in Chicago;

2. Through a joint January' term course on mission in context with the faculty and student colleagues here in Matanzas using an engaged pedagogy to learn from one another about mission in our different but inter-related contexts;

3. Through Doctor of Ministry programs that pursue study of the "spiritual but not religious," of congregations reshaping their ministries with leadership from people from the margins, and of new forms of pedagogy' to match a changing mission;

4. Through mission courses that have a hands-on engagement of the context; and

5. Through lectures, discussions, and conversations with global partners on the changing demographics of world Christianity.

Next Steps with TTL for Missional/Ministerial Formation

In all of this, TTL is a resource. It names the new realities of our contexts and gives us a new sense of the power and hope of the Trinity, and especially the Holy Spirit, for the new challenges we face in mission. It has made a real impact, but we have a long way to go.

A next step we hope to take is not to see TTL as one resource among many, but as the undergirding architecture or foundation for a course that will shape the curriculum for mission/ministerial formation and that will provide a structure for preparing our students to become agents of God's mission in our context.

The structure of such a course might be something like this.

In our system, each semester has classes for 13 weeks, plus a week for research and study and another for exams. We would build such a course around class sessions for 13 weeks, with each of 10 of those sessions focused on one of the 10 Concluding Affirmations of TTL. The other three sessions will be to introduce the course and to provide for dialogue around student research papers (see below).

Each session centred on one of the Concluding Affirmations of TTL (as noted below) would involve study, at some depth, of the theological/missiological foundations of that affirmation and would pursue the practical implications in ministry of that affirmation in our context and the global context. The themes for the sessions would be as follows:

* Week 1: The Purpose of the Triune God's Mission as Fullness of Life

* Week 2: The Enlivening Power of the Holy Spirit for Mission as Creation, Healing, and Reconciliation

* Week 3: Spirituality as the Source of Energy' for Mission

* Week 4: Renewing the Whole Creation

* Week 5: The Implications of the Shifting of the Center of Gravity of the Christian World to the South and the East

* Week 6: The Marginalized as Agents of Mission

* Week 7: The Economy of God based on the Values of Love and Justice

* Week 8: The Proclamation, in Love and Humility, of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in All Ages and Places

* Week 9: Dialogue and Cooperation for Life

* Week 10: God Moves and Empowers the Church for Mission

Using a critical pedagogy, we will ask students in small groups to directly encounter and engage those involved in these practices (Earth Care Ministries, missional churches, ecumenical mission endeavours, communities of other faith traditions [Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.], churches composed of people from the global South living in the global North, movements of incarnational evangelism, etc.).

The course would expect each student to prepare (and share with their colleagues in the course) a research paper on one of these affirmations, how and where it is being lived out (best practices), and how they would see such an affirmation transforming their congregation and their practice of ministry.

An Ecumenical Invitation

We are just beginning to think about implementing such a course. While it will be of value to do this at Louisville Seminary, it would be much more valuable if several of us, from different traditions, different parts of the world, and different patterns of missional formation could develop and implement such a course together. Using Skype and other technologies, we might develop such a formative course around Together towards Life that would be coordinated by CWME and that our seminaries and theological and mission academies might do together. If there is an interest, let's talk further.

Clifton Kirkpatrick

The Rev. Dr Clifton Kirkpatrick is professor of World Christianity and Ecumenical Studies and the William A. Bebfield Jr. Professor of Evangelism and Global Missions at Louisville Seminary, Kentucky, USA. He is former Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and former president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
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Author:Kirkpatrick, Clifton
Publication:International Review of Mission
Article Type:Case study
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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