The Methodology of the Southern Africa Think Tank for Missional Theology
The Allelon Think Tank for Mission in Western Culture Project (MWCP)
16-18th of July 2007
Introductory remarks: A context of deep cultural transformation and surprising interest in Missional Theology
We experience in Southern Africa an exciting interest in Missional Theology and the Emerging Church Movement. Since we have started with the SAPMC 4 years ago the interest has grown unexpectedly. We are not sure what the reason for this energy is, but we except it as a gift from the Spirit and as an opportunity to discern together on what is going on regarding Gods calling and sending of the church in our region.
We life in culture that can be best describe as a “post”-culture. It is well known that we had a real power shift since the mid-nineties when the Apartheid regime handed over power to an ANC government. Although it is 13years since our first democratic election, the culture has not yet settled yet. The massive transformation that took place is still in process, it is true that the road to tomorrow is under construction. No institution can hide from this, certainly not the churches, the transformation have pushed us all out of our comfort into the pain of transformation. There is no place to hide.
On a local, national and regional level a re-thinking or re-imagination is taking place. The above might be some of the reasons why missional discernment has received so much attention.
Research community: Embody the community we are called to be
Before I give attention to methodology it is important to mention partnerships. Creating partnerships is in our context of vital importance. It is not easy because we have not solve all the animosity of our troubled past, but we need to learn how to build research communities that is bridge-communities in itself. We do not need armchair academics that critique the church (or any other institution) on its inability to cross divides, but do not intend to do it themselves. We have learned that it is more important to attend to the question who, as the question, what or where-to. Although this makes our progress sometimes extremely slow we believe this is the way foreword. Our region is socially still largely segregated, because of our history of social, political and economical apartheid. We have therefore worked hard on creating partnerships that will cross the historical divides of our past. We simply cannot afford to draw partners from only one section of our community. We are thankful to report that we have the commitment of theologians, students and congregations from a variety of Theological Schools, denominations and cultural communities.
Our Missional Research Community:
- Congregations participating in the PMC journey. Currently more than 200 congregations from almost all the mainline churches are involved. Listening Teams in all these congregations gather data from interviews. We put these data in a database for other members of our research community to reflect on.
- 10 students form the M Th in Missional Transformation (US) every year act as field workers in our research community. They are trained in missional theology and research methodology. Their research data also goes into the database. Prof Pat Keifert is one of the lectures of this course.
- Doctoral students apply to become part of Missional Research Teams to reflect on the gathered data in the database. The first three South African doctoral students has become part of the research community in May 2007. They will focus their research on Missio Dei as an African concept; leadership in missional congregations and the transformational impact of PMC on congregations. As soon as funding becomes available we hope to bring in students from Zambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
- The Southern Africa Think Tank for Missional Theology – meet twice a year with the doctoral students to reflect on the outcome of the research. A number of the most important missiologist and congregational scholars has commit themselves to the think tank including: Proff Tias Kgatla (University of the North and Moderator of URCSA); Klippies Kritzinger(Missiologist UNISA- the successor of David Bosch) ; Nelus Niemandt( newly appointment prof in Missiology and Congregational Studies UP); Jurgens Hendriks(congregational studies US and founder coordinator of NETACT); Xolile Simon(Missiologist US) and dr Coenie Burger(Director Buvton Stellenbosch)
- We hope to strengthen our network in the rest of Sub-Sahara Africa through proff Kwame Bediago and Andrew Walls(they visit us in March and some of our Think Than members send so time with them)
- The Allelon Think Tank for Mission in Western Culture Project: dr Frederick Marais and prof Tias Kgatla will represent the Southern Africa Think Tank. We hope to sincronize our methodology with members of the Allelon Think Tank in order to compare the outcome of the research in the diffirent regions. We hope that this protocol will be established at the Portland meeting in July 2007.
- Living in a post-culture that is still in flux, means that we have to experiment in our engagement. Our existing methodologies and skills misdirect us in these times of adaptive change( Al Roxburgh, The sky is falling) Almost nothing has settled jet we have to imagine and create as we move along. We have to do research with, under and against congregations. (Pat Keifert) We are therefore committed to an action-reflection-action-reflection rhythm in our methodology that includes scholars as well as congregations.
- Our research attitude would be to listen our self into understanding. Listening to the outsiders to the marginalized and the vulnerable people of our new society. That means that we are committed to a methodology of de-centered listening, or a deliberate abandoning of power. The careful reader will recognize the ubuntu theology in this methodology, you can only be in community with the other, you can only understand when you give away the power to speak and discover yourself in the words and acts of the other. In terms of missional theology this means the deliberate dis-establishment of the Christendom.
- Remarks on hermeneutics. The struggle against Apartheid has taught us the importance of the hermeneutics of suspicion and critical thinking. We will find it difficult to a position of Ricours first naivetivity or a romantic naivitivity. If we claim that there is no sin in us, we know the truth is not with us. The dramatic turnaround of events in the South African liberation, has taught us that we also need the hermeneutics of surprise or the openness to discover what God is up to. Gods reign breaks into our historic reality and we should be open to that. To receive the new as a gift from God. It is to put the reality of the Missio Dei into practice. We follow Bosch in the understanding that mission is not task of the church but an attribute of God.
- We are therefore in search for a Missional methodology of discernment
The focus of our research:
We are not clear about this. The following “wish list” exist amongst us:
- Study culture-ethnography. All the cultures in our society is under “construction”. We need reflection on what is happening and how the Gospel can be translated (Andrew Walls) into this new culture. A very interesting study was done by dr Steyn from UCT on the new culture amongst white people in South Africa.
- The impact of colonialism on the creating of an African christendom.(Andrew Walls)
- Constructing an African Missional Theology and ecclesiology
- Public theology- we have some of the best know public theologians in South Africa. Desmond Tutu, Allan Boesak, Beyers Naude, John de Gruchy, Charles Villa Vicentio(Institute for Justice and Reconciliation) to mention a few. On the other hand we experience the impact of the secularization and the creation of the private-public split that is foreign to African thinking.
- Non-racial faith communities- In the liberation theology a non-racial community were envisioned. There are signs that this vision has faded!!
- African understanding of Missio Dei- there are theologians that belief that Missio Dei is very close to the African understanding of God.
- As we live in the continent with historic levels of growth in the church, the building of leadership capacity if very important to us. Missional understanding of leadership will be vital to us.
- In search for an African understanding of Missional Theology