To highlight our newest certificate program – Leadership in the New Parish – we conducted interview with people who are doing the work of understanding the mission of the church through their neighborhoods. Today, Professor Dwight Friesen shares some of his passion around this pioneering certificates.
There are big shifts taking place. In the church, we are in what some are calling a Post-Christendom/Post modernism era. Our shifts are many and multifaceted, yet one of the biggest and most crucial changes that we are facing is how we define leadership.
In many respects, part of what has defined the modern era has been the prominence and importance of leadership. The modern era revolved around the idea of a great leader. Given the prominence of figures like Einstein, Teddy Roosevelt, and Churchill, it is clear that society trusted in genius. And in both church and pop culture alike, society set aside what a follower should look like.
With the Leadership in the New Parish program, we seek to ask not how church defines church, but rather how church is defined by neighborhood. With this model, the church must assume a listening stance, a place of humbler service. Thus, the church’s leadership begins with listening.
Jesus modeled this himself, knowing that “he had come from the Father and was returning to the Father” when he washed his disciples feet in the Johanine gospel. It is only when you have a developed sense of identity that you can listen to the needs of others. It is this Christ-like humility that we seek to emulate.
Part of this work is to attend to what it looks like to embody the gospel in the mundane, the quotidian. By extension, we can orient ourselves towards helping our communities thrive? In seeking out the gospel in the everyday, we can begin to act on behalf of our neighborhood each time we gather. By attending to the everyday in our environment, we can be more attuned to the social injustices that require our attention.
While many seek to offer new theologies, we seek to faithfully ask the question, what does it mean to practice a truly gospel-oriented faith?
Harvey Drake is an excellent model of this faith. A pastor from Emerald City Bible Church, Drake took on this invitation to see neighborhood differently. It started when he read in the the news that his church’s zip code was the most obese in Washington state. Shocked, Drake devised a neighborhood assessment, taking a second look at his community. He uncovered the contributing factors to this epidemic: a disproportionate amount of fast food was found in the neighborhood, but no health club within 10 miles. And the cost of even that club was prohibitive for his assembly.
Harvey took this need seriously, knowing than many in his assembly struggled with their weight. As a church, ECBC came to the conclusion that, in the Kingdom of God, if a person were overweight, they should have access to health club. Inspired, Dent opened a Health Club in the church parking lot, creating a pay-what-you-can system for members with a free option. It became so popular in their community that it was eventually turned into a full fledged non-profit.
This is what we believe gospel ministry looks like. To ask, what are the needs that my neighborhood has? What would make my neighborhood thrive? For some, this might take the form of how the church can steward the process of reconciliation? How can we make it a human experience so that, rather than forgiveness being an abstract theological concept, the neighborhood becomes a lab in which that concept is not theorized about, but rather lived.
We believe that these conversations contain the energy to send us back to our neighborhoods. We are excited by the possibilities that these conversations are sparking. And we are aware of the need for us to avoid considering these questions on our own, and turn rather toward discovering together.
We believe we are not meant to do this work alone, and we live for the possibility of what might be discovered together as we wonder together. To re-imagine neighborhood. To attend to the local and the immediate environment in our churches and parishes. And finally, to explore how that might bless our way of practice and worship.