Date of Award

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Erich W. Baumgartner

Second Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Third Advisor

Alan Kreider

Abstract

Problem. The problem investigated in this study is the struggle of church planters and their key stakeholders to develop common understanding about the churches that are being planted in complex social contexts while relating to a denomination in the midst of an ecclesial paradigm shift in mission.

Method. This qualitative research used a multiple case design with an emphasis on narrative inquiry. Data collection involved conducting semi-structured interviews with denominational and conference leaders, church planters, and key stakeholders. The four cases chosen included Anglo, Hispanic, Hmong, and multi-ethnic church plants.

Findings. The study found that the attempt to establish a missional culture within Mennonite Church USA has been subverted by an underdeveloped change process. The study recommended a narratological approach to organizational culture development that involves generative learning and reflexive dialogue. This approach is consistent with the desired ecclesial paradigm and historic theological commitments.

Common theological commitments among the cases of church planting in this study included the authority of Scripture, the normative teachings of Jesus, believers‘ baptism, community discernment in discipleship, justice, peacemaking, reconciliation of all things as a sign of God‘s reign, simplicity in lifestyle, and an understanding of the church as different from, yet engaged with, society.

Significant aspects of a missional ecclesiology present in the cases included the classical view of missio Dei, contextual sensitivity, hospitality by welcoming the stranger, holistic and incarnational ministry, and a reaction to modern expressions of the church as the steward and purveyor of normative social values.

Prior assumptions that threaten to derail the development of a missional ecclesiology include seeing the church as a vendor of therapeutic services rather than an alternative society, the inability of Mennonites to allow themselves to be hosted by others, and the tendency to replicate ministries rather than envision reproducing, contextualized ministries. Hospitality was identified as a significant multi-dimensional issue in developing a missional ecclesiology.

Significant social and cultural pressures with which church planters contend included growing ambivalence toward organized religion, the marginalization of the church in society, inhospitable immigration policies, language barriers, overwhelming social complexity, financial constraints, and the uncritical acculturation of Mennonites into mainstream American individualism.

Church planters understand their most significant contributions to be in the areas of congregation-based theological education and leadership development. An unexpected finding was the level to which church planters reflect on their practice. Creating opportunities for this level of reflection can provide important learning opportunities for increased competency.

Subject Area

Church development, New--Mennonites, Church growth--Mennonites, Mennonites

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