Glocal discipleship

Monday, 21 November, 2011

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

The ultimate test of any local church's ministry, whether in 'inherited' mode or a fresh expression, is 'what sort of disciples are being made?' To what extent is that expression of church shaping people to be like Jesus? How effectively does it help those who belong to it to live their daily lives as Jesus would live their lives? To what extent are they a community whose life together shows the wider community a better way of living?

Such discipleship must be 'glocal' (to return to an ugly sociological term which I used in a previous e-xpressions) - both global and local. It must be 'global' in two ways. It must be recognisable as an embodiment of the historic Christian faith as it is lived across the world – all Christians are to live the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, and it must engage with the shared features of Western culture as they occur in our globalised world – consumerism shapes our lives all over the UK so we need to engage with it wherever we are. It must be local, or contextual, because the gospel is not detached from ordinary life, but is the power of God to transform local living.

At the heart of fresh expressions praxis is discernment, listening to God in context, to learn how to engage with local issues, serve appropriately, and plant a new indigenous community, rather than clone from another context. Accordingly Christian discipleship must take local shape. Those who are moving into a new context know that they need to follow this process, because they know they don't know their new community. But those who are planting a fresh expression in their well loved home community need to follow it as well. Many of our assumptions about local community prove to be misleading once we have done some prayerful listening!

But how to begin? The key is to identify the issues which most concern those you are wishing or trying to serve. While, at the same time prayerfully 'reading' the local context to identify the bigger issues which the gospel needs to address. This should not be a negative exercise. You are not looking for things to condemn. Often you will be looking for healthy longings and aspirations, causes for hope. When a call to repentance becomes necessary, as it must in any journey to the cross, then you will be calling people to turn from the things that diminish them, to the fulfilment of their deepest longings in Christ. It is this listening and looking which is vital. Once the key local issues, or the primary issues for the network you are creating or engaging have been identified, it is not hard to work relationally, to work towards a local light touch rule of life, and to focus the community and worship life of a fresh expression around these first priorities, in partnership with local people.

I recommend two prayer-soaked approaches. The first is conversation – you need to build relationships - so ask people about their community, their pressures and their aspirations as a way of getting to know them. Test out how your understanding of the gospel translates in ways that make sense to them. The second, which has a greater degree of analysis, is called 'participant observation'. This is a more detached and intentional approach, which tries to identify the main features of a culture by trying to get an insiders' view of it. It is a way of looking for shared patterns of behaviour, not just knowledge of particular people. (For more on this I recommend Nigel Rooms new book The Faith of the English as a case study in reading a culture, which has principles applicable to a more local context, or to different national cultures. He draws on Kate Fox's book Watching the English).

Two final warnings: Pay more attention to how people live than what they claim to believe or disbelieve. And remember, our logic about the way in which the Holy Spirit should engage with a person, or a community's life, is not necessarily the same as the way the Holy Spirit will choose to work. Once again we need to see what God is doing and join in!



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