2. Why congregations and congregational studies with a missional intention should read Acts today?
Let us be honest, we are desperately seeking for new imagination to help us re-discover the presence of the living God in our context. As practitioners and scholars we have been bombarded by the imagination provided by the sociologists and those who study the demographic movements in our global village. The result is a vision of a long but orderly funeral.
a. We need a new approach for the study of Congregations. To use the words of Pat Keifert, an approach that is theologically and Biblically informed, an approach that starts with questions about God and how congregations can participate in God’s actions. (Testing the Spirits, Eerdmans 2009) We have enough research on what the church is doing, or rather what the church should do, but too little emphasis on what is God up to in assembling people into faith communities. In this sense the “Acts of the Apostle” could be a name that miss direct us- should it not be the Acts of the Holy Spirit and how the Apostles participates in that?
b. We need ecclesial imagination that breaks the shackles of the Christendom paradigm. Imagination is one of the most important dimensions of participating in God’s actions. We will find it difficult to discover God’s active presence without narrative imagination. The Christendom era might be coming to an end, but it is still alive in the agenda and imagination of the church burocrats, the leadership of congregations, and those who study congregational life. It is a question of focus. If we keep on focusing on numbers attending, budgetary numbers, the patterns of church affiliation and the growth of decline of denominations in the hope that we will restore the church as an institution at the centre of our society, we might find ourselves looking at the wrong end of things. The Luke/Acts narrative tells a story of faith comunities a the margine of society, small in numbers with no political allies or economic power. (Danie Moutons presentation will draw this picture much clearer)
In contrast to the Christendom paradigm we will find in the Luke/acts narrative a surprisingly timid institution. In the Luke/Acts narrative we will re-discover how the Kingdom of God does not come through power and might but in “on-mag” or powerlessness! I believe this kenosis imagination as confessed in Philippians 2 and embodied and demonstrated in the Luke/Acts narrative is the imagination that will assist us to new images of what it means to be missional. For us who has been formed and shaped by the Christendom imagination that permits us to seek power for-the-sake-of-the-Kingdom, will find it a challenge to imagine faith community that lives with the intention to empty themselves and not to maintain or to preserve.
All set and done and that is why we are all here, because this story became our founding story. It is their vulnerability that laid the foundation for the Christian movement and the church that would grow out of that. If we are looking for a usable future in our past, the Luke/Acts narrative is one we should not neglect.
Dr Frederick Marais
Group leader of Study group 1 what do we learn about congregations and congregational life in Acts