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Ethnography – Developing the Pastoral Skill of Mission

monkimage.phpYesterday, I noted that Dr. Robert Price, associate professor of evangelism and urban ministry at Northern Seminary in Lombard (IL), says, “Ethnography is the pastoral skill of mission. Leaders need to be ‘participant observers,’ to get inside the story of the context, from whence we proclaim the gospel.” When I read this quote it grabbed my interest and then made me pause and ask, “What is ethnography?”

Ethnography is a qualitative form of research aimed at exploring cultural phenomena. The resulting field study, or a case report, reflects the knowledge and the system of meanings in the lives of a cultural group. Ethnography is a means by which we can represent graphically, and in writing, the culture of a particular people. It is rooted in empirical data gathered from human societies and cultures and is rooted in the discipline of anthropology. It has become popular in the social sciences in general, and in sociology and communication studies more specifically. It is the outgrowth of what we call the “soft sciences.” The goal of ethnography is to reflexively respond

The Rise of Ecumenism and Why It Matters

images-3A little over 100 years ago the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh (1910) was a prophetic foretaste of a century-plus renewal of Christian ecumenism, a renewal that has proved to be quite substantial on many different levels. If the truth is told I believe we have made more progress than the participants at the famous Edinburgh Conference imagined at the time. I also believe the last century is a prelude to what is to come in the decades ahead.

We must begin by stating the obvious–full visible unity between the various Christian churches and denominations has not been realized. Nevertheless, Catholics, Protestants and the Orthodox have all found ways to reach new levels of understanding and mutual respect. Christians in the global Anglican Communion, to cite but one example, have made significant contributions as a via media (middle way). Even a growing number of voices within the Free Church communions have joined this dialogue. One could say that a rapprochement has been reached that would not have been seriously thought possible at Edinburgh.

The World Council of Churches (WCC),

The Missional Perspective and Its Meaning for the Church in North America

A_Missional_PerspectiveA theology of the church that confesses the Christian community to be missio Dei (mission of God) means that the church is much more than a voluntary association of members joined by various means and methods. It is – “the household of God” – the place where Christ dwells by the Spirit with his people upon the earth. When this understanding of the church is rightly grasped the church can never settle for the role of chaplain to society or the vendor of religious goods and services. It certainly cannot exist to serve the consumer’s needs by recruiting potential members.

Missional theology, when correctly understood as a way of seeing the church missio Dei, sees the church as an alternative community that witnesses corporately by living as the new community in the power of the Spirit. The church exists for others, not for itself. It is mission before it even thinks about “doing” mission. Read that sentence again. We have thought of mission as something the church does for many centuries. A fundamental difference between missional thinking

Theology and Missional Church: How Shall We Respond to Our Seismic Culture Shifts?

imagesTheology is vitally important. To listen to many progressively oriented voices these days you’d  think that theology really doesn’t really matter, only love for our neighbors. Christians who are serious about the once-for-all revealed faith must understand that this is a false contrast. Both theology and love matter. Indeed, they matter profoundly. Good theology will actually help you to understand what love is and then how to properly love God and others. Good theology fuels the fire of true love in action.

I am inclined to believe that a major problem at this point is a false contrast between the word theology and the biblical idea of true love. Some believe that theology is not important because theology is, to their way of thinking, only about being right in one’s views regarding various truths. But sound theology is really about humbly submitting both our mind and heart to the living God. The living and true God has revealed himself in Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). To reject theology altogether is a colossal mistake.

ACT3: A Network Rooted in Love

bodyofChristACT3 added the word “network” to our name last year. The reason for this is both pragmatic and utilitarian. The word “network” had its origin in technology, so far as I can tell, but it has become a useful modern word to describe “an informally interconnected group or association of persons, as friends or professional colleagues” (Merriam-Webster online dictionary, 2013).

ACT3 has always been about people, partnerships, building bridges and promoting Christ’s mission for more than two decades. We have always felt that this ministry was called by God for others, not for me or our name. I have honestly never understood why Christian ministries compete and promote themselves like products. I see nothing of this kind of emphasis in the teaching of our Lord or in the actions of the apostles. These brothers and sisters were first called “Christians” because of their following Jesus, not a party or a sectarian religious program. The first mention of the name “Christian” was as a designation for Jesus’ followers. It is given in a narrative that occurs in Acts 11.

ACT3: Where It Began and Where We Believe God is Leading Us

interfaith2I am often asked, “When and how did you first get the idea to launch a mission like ACT3?” I could go back to my childhood, at least on one level, but I think the most accurate answer is to go back to the year 1981. That was the year I began what we called: “The Whitefield Ministerial Fellowship.” This was a monthly gathering of pastors that I started in my local church in Wheaton. From an original twelve who attended the first gathering the group grew. We eventually had three fellowships running throughout the Chicagoland area. In 1991 I began Reformation & Revival Ministries with a board of four members. This ministry grew out of those Whitefield Fellowships. The new ministry was started in order to publish a quarterly journal on the twin themes we carried in the name of the new mission: reformation and revival. These two themes were the titles of the first two addresses given to the original Whitefield Fellowship in 1981.

One of the greatest joys of those early Whitefield Fellowships was meeting

ACT3 Network: A Journey of Faith

image002Now and then I take an opportunity on my blog to provide an update on the mission of the ACT3 Network, a ministry I began in 1991. For those who read my ACT3 Weekly (email) our news comes to you each week in the form of announcements, reflections and personal prayer requests. I encourage you to sign up for the ACT3 Weekly at When you sign up you can also download a free PDF of my book, The Unity Factor (Christian’s Library Press, 2010). If you want to connect with ACT3, and pray for me, then please get this ACT3 Weekly.

The next few days I will share more about the recent past, and pressing vision, of ACT3 – thus a survey of where we’ve been and where, in God’s kindness and grace, we seem to be going by faith.  The single most common visual image that comes to my mind when I think of ACT3 Network is that of “bridge building” with many others for work of the kingdom of God in mission.

First, where we’ve

Why Has the Missional Movement Not Pursued Ecumenism More Seriously?

In yesterday’s blog I wrote in the final paragraph:

Only in unity can we remove the scandal of our myriad schisms and heal our frequent divisions, divisions that destroy our witness to the world of the 21st century. Dialogue may not get us to where we need to be, at least not by itself, but it has to be the first-step. We share so much more in common than we disagree upon and we will only regain power in the public square when we speak as ONE. A new reality, one less political and angry, can emerge if we will pray together, love one another and radically seek what Jesus prayed for in John 17:21.

I pick up today where I left this off yesterday by asking a very direct question to those who promote “missional” theology as I fervently do? Question: Why has the missional movement, with all of its good and proper emphasis upon the church as the mission of God, not yet discovered the power of visible, catholic unity? Why is ecumenism not a serious priority inside the missional theology movement? I read

Missional Church and Why It Matters

WIPFSTOCK_TemplateI read a post earlier this week that claimed the missional church movement, which the author quite incorrectly said was about fifteen years old, would die soon. (The way he defined it I think he is right but the problem is in the word itself and how it has been used and abused. The “fads” will die but this theology is bigger than anyone’s fad and much bigger than evangelicalism!)

There are various paradigmatic ways to think about the church and the mission of Christ. All of these can help us to better understand the nature and mission of Christ’s church. If you are a deeply missional Christian you should get this point going into the conversation. Missional church theology believes that there is no single way, or theological paradigm, that fully expresses the whole truth about Christ’s people. Most serious ecumenists have come to recognize this through their shared experience, which is an extremely powerful way to encounter the living church that will take you far beyond books and ideas. I entered this process and conversation about

The Gospel of the Kingdom (8)

9780736949149_centered_283x437The Gospel writers plainly want us to see that faith trumps force. The cross exposes Rome as “en evil bully who uses death as a weapon of fear and terror to dominate its subjects” (Heaven on Earth, 201). On the cross, in his horrific death, Jesus secures a real, cosmic and earthly victory over the kingdoms of this world without lifting a finger to defeat man’s greatest enemies–Satan and death.

On the day of Jesus’s death Rome believed it had prevailed against this Jewish “false” King. The disciples were defeated and discouraged. The resurrection was “the” great surprise and by it Jesus proclaimed his complete victory! The resurrection accounts, and especially the epistles of the New Testament, reveal a great change that came about as Spirit-filled disciples witnessed to the power of God working through the exalted and enthroned Jesus.

Streett is insightfully on target when he concludes his chapter on the present reign of Christ with these moving words:

When we think of King Jesus and his kingdom, we must avoid the mistake of separating his death