The World is IN my Parish

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

It is not uncommon to hear complaints about the lack of connectivity between ministerial preparation and the actual ministry settings our students our entering.  For example, David Tracy laments what he calls the “three great separations of modern Western culture,” all of which have served to separate the task of theological education from actual ministry contexts.  According to Tracy, these three “fatal” separations are the “separation of feeling and thought, the separation of form and content, and the separation of theory and practice” (1998, 325).  However, postmodernism and globalization have created complex new forms of connectivity in which to reflect on the training for and context of ministry.  Christian ministry has never occurred in a vacuum, but the forces of globalization have created a situation in which every local context is today informed by the larger global context.  Globalization has been summarized as a complex connectivity whereby local events and social relationships are influenced and shaped by distant events (Tomlinson 1999, 2).  This complex connectivity has influenced every sphere of life, including politics, social relationships, economics, technology, science, culture, and religion.  Today, even if you are the pastor of a small church in Kansas, you still cannot think about your ministry apart from the larger global context.  Indeed, part of the power of globalization is our increased awareness of complex connectivity.

We live in a world of iPods, instant messages, YouTube, chat rooms, MySpace, and Facebook.  Such a world has produced a new kind of global connectivity that is very different from the metanarratives of modernism, which produced a single grand canopy of meaning.  The church and the message of the gospel are often reduced to just another message among thousands that might give meaning to a person’s personal narrative.  They can no longer pretend to be a normative claim for the world.

Globalization has also brought the world into a new kind of connectivity that our parent’s generation could hardly have imagined.  Dramatic new forces of migration, especially since 1965, have brought thousands of new peoples into the Western world.  Many of these ethnic groups represent the fastest-growing Christian groups in the West.

John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.”  Today we must amend that by saying, “The world is in my parish.”  The challenge for theological education is to learn how to teach for this kind of ministry.


  • Dr. Tennent,
    I agree with you concerning the proximty of the world to wherever we are.

    Let me point out that this reality is not only for America (e.g. Kansas) or the north and western countries: it is true for many other countries, I dare say, all countries in the world. Wherever I travel, I never know who I will meet wherever; or how this person will behave and for what reason they behave one way and not another under the circumstances.

    The lesson I draw from this is that we Christians are called to listen even harder than before in order to know our bearings and how to best interact with our social and cultural environment in ministry. The constant redefinition of who we are (not who we are in Christ but in the social and cultural context) and who the other is, is now a necessary mental state. In all this the Gospel does not change, halleluia! Only its application does. We are now forced to ‘go’ to distant lands that have come to our own neighborhoods, because there is no escaping them with globalization.