“Why do so many of the great religions which had their origins in the mystery come ultimately to be social service agencies, or in their religious life to be preoccupied with form and concerned more with the container than the content?” Abraham Heschel
In the first post in this series, I offered a hypothesis: To be faithful and effective in their peculiar vocation as participation in the mystery of the mission and action of God, Christian faith-based organizations require methodologies which are grounded in Scriptural language and categories.
I propose five critical categories to bring into the laboratory to seek a fresh model for how faith-based organizations think and operate with a Christian imagination.
- CHARISM: The unique gifts and vocation of the organization/institution available for the good of the reign of God.
With respect to its vocation or mission, every organization must learn its “yes” and its “no.” Along with naming the organizational charism as defined above is naming the organization’s limits. Limits are the unique ways in which the institution is confined while being true to its vocation (that is, confined by its human and therefore fragile nature). Bringing together charism with limits both affirms and tames (humbles) the organization.
- KAIROS: A moment of truth, opportunity, and grace, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action, and the implications for the organization.
Within the wide and local landscape and field of the organization’s charism, what are the signs of the times which speak to the organization’s fidelity to the intersection between God’s time and the human time and context?
- CAPTIVITY: The unique ways in which the institution is captive to powers which hinder or resist the reign of God.
What account of sin is needed to recognize the challenge of faithfulness for the organization within its charism and kairos?
- CONVERSION: Th unique means through which transformation happens in and through the institution.
How does change happen in and through this context and institution?
- CALL: The spirituality (disciplines, practices, culture, character) through which God’s agency continues to be embraced and to renew.
Over the long haul, how does the organization and its people keep God’s action and agency primary?
How would a faith-based organization change if this Scriptural language—“charism,” “kairos,” “captivity,” “conversion,” call”—entered the organization’s daily vocabulary? How would this begin to influence its sense of mission, theory of change, planning, program development, and fundraising?
“ … the most fundamental tension in missiology [is]: mission of God or mission of man, power of God or strength of man?” Rev. Dr. Chan Kim-Kwong, Hong Kong Christian Council
“The church is not an NGO.” Pope Francis
One place of growing concern for me in the last two years is keeping “faith” in so-called “faith-based organizations.”**
To state the problem concisely, with reference to the logos here, how did the YMCA become the “Y”? Given that faith-based organizations have become the de facto new bearers of Christian mission in the 21st century, the challenge is of immense importance.
Take the following two operational methods and language used by Christian organizations I have worked with: strategic planning via “SWOT” analysis (“strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats”), and “Logical Framework Approach” used for evaluating international development projects (with accompanying categories “outcomes, activities, outputs, inputs”). Even the term “faith-based organization” is inadequate for a Christian organization to describe itself. Faith in who? In what? And whose faith? Doesn’t a Christian understanding of mission begin with the faith of Christ?
The point is not that such methodologies are inherently flawed. (In fact, I have learned to be exceedingly grateful for organizations which understand that excellence must be taken seriously not only in vision and relationship, but in management and administration.) For the faith-based organization, however, such methods are insufficient, and must be brought into both synthesis and in tension with theologically-shaped methods and language. As Chan Kim-Kwong drives at in the quote above, what does it mean for faith-based organizations to make institutional judgements determined by convictions about the power of God and the faith of Christ, and not by faith in and the power of humanitarianism?
I propose this hypothesis: To be faithful and effective in their peculiar vocation as participation in the mystery of the mission and action of God, Christian organizations require methodologies which are grounded in theological language and categories.
What different terms might we experiment with?
In my next post I will propose five critical categories to bring into the laboratory to seek a fresh model for how faith-based organizations think and operate with a Christian imagination.
** This was the focus of my doctoral research.
Dr. Chris Rice is Senior Fellow for Northeast Asia at Duke Divinity School, U.S., and Northeast Asia Representative for the Mennonite Central Committee. Chris and his wife live in Chuncheon, South Korea.
A profound voice in my life the past 15 years has been The Journals of Alexander Schmemann. With few words that cut heart and mind, Schmemmann (who served as dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York) sums up matters of his everyday life freshly and differently and, I feel, profoundly theologically. Like, in an age of constant self-branding and marketing, what he journaled in 1975 about a new book he was getting ready to publish:
“I don’t know at all, not at all, whether it is good or bad, necessary or not necessary. I know one thing: it is what I feel and think. It is a simple and liberating thought: if what I feel and think is not needed or already well known, or weak, or superficial–then all that writing will fall into nonexistence and that is the end of it. But I can and must write only what is my own…”
I thought of Schemmann when I recently found out that two of my books are listed on InterVarsity’s “40 Books Every Student Should Read” List. When Spencer Perkins and I wrote one of those books (More Than Equals) we were writing what was our own. It could not have been more “It is what we feel and think.” And we were simply surprised and happy that someone would publish it. How hard in the years since to maintain that sense of surprise, and simple delight, and not surrender to the need and expectation and drive for “more.”
I’m happy that each book I’ve published has been a unique gift to me, and by the feedback, to its readers. But may I continue to write with the “one liberating thing” in mind: to write only what is my own.
P.S. Of course, I did just promote my two books. I confess, the impact of mentor John Perkins (who loves selling his books) is strong on me. “Chris, the books aren’t about you!” John would say. “They’are about the ideas, man, the ideas!”
Duke Divinity School has posted an article on the April reconciliation forum in Nagasaki, meeting 70 years after the atomic bomb, “Northeast Asian Christian Leaders Gather for Peace.”
From Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. three voices describe the “kairos” time in Northeast Asia. All were participants in Nagasaki in April at the 3rd Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia.
At Sojourners magazine, Atsuyoshi Fujiwara writes: “Those of us who take the teaching of Jesus as our norm need to reject not only the atomic bomb, but also weapons and violence as a means of forcing one’s will on others…” see more
From the Korean Anabaptist Center, director KyongJung Kim writes: “The truth that may shock everyone is that nations who are victims in a situation, can also be an attacker in another. However the question is church. Christ’s church can never be a victim who also becomes the attacking side and robs people of their lives, because self-indulgent work with national violence is contrary to Christ and blocks the work aligned with him. This forum was a time of peaceful fellowship to hear and see the deep thinking of reconciliation’s calling.” see more
And a third testimony (with terrific photos) from Sue Park-Hur at the ReconciliAsian website: “Imagining a ‘New WE’ in Northeast Asia”
It has been 9 months now in this new adventure in South Korea for Donna and me. It was at Duke that I began to think of Christian ministry as a journey of revelation. I do know I count on revelation, discovery, surprise. My colleague Emmanuel Katongole and I became fond of “claiming” things as if they are true–things that resonate with an intuition that they are somehow from God.
One revelation from these 9 months:
Serving at Duke for 10 years felt like a labyrinth of sorts. You get close to the center, that place of rest. Can see it, right there. Suddenly the path turns away, further, further, then close, away again. So many joys! Yet never felt “there.” In Korea, it has been the opposite: As if landing smack in the center, the place of rest, still moving out into the labyrinth and its twists and turns and surprises and disappointments. Yet what a difference, living from the center. Well, after all, I grew up here.
This is Richard Hay’s last week serving as the Dean of Duke Divinity School. He recently announced he is stepping down for treatment for pancreatic cancer (details here).
This image of Dean Hays is one of my favorites from the Christian Forum for Reconciliation in Northeast Asia, held in Nagasaki in April. Richard and his wife Judy joined the 60 participants from China, Japan, Korea, and U.S., and Richard gave a powerful teaching on reconciliation. On day two, we went on pilgrimage to a museum telling the story of Japanese military atrocities. Unexpectedly, many tears were shed, holy tears of desire for a new future. The next day in morning worship, we gathered around our Japanese brothers and sisters, and Richard led prayers for this very special group of Christian leaders.
Richard is one of the top New Testament scholars in the world. When I came to Duke as a student in 2000, his classes delivered a biblical vision for what we had lived in Mississippi. When he became Dean ten years later, what a pleasure to serve under him as director of the Center for Reconciliation. Yet over those years, more significant in God’s wisdom than the scholar or Dean, I have come to know the man here, the pastoral heart, the gentle and wise spirit, the man who seeks to embody what he teaches.
As he laid his hands in prayer, may we lay our prayers on him and Judy as they walk this unexpected new chapter before them. May much grace, joy, and faith for one day at a time be upon them.