The World is IN my Parish

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.