Imaginary Philippians

Mark Lau Branson led a very helpful workshop on the role of narrative in shaping congregational identity. I was pleased and encouraged that he set appreciative inquiry at the foreground of his presentation; he pointed out that churches’ strategic planning frequently reifies and institutionalizes exactly the problems that they set out to solve. Mark drew on Paul’s thanksgiving sections as a case in point of starting congregational change. Some of you can imagine my surprised delight when he espoused the vital importance of enriching the gospel imaginary in the local congregation. He refers to this aspect of congregational life as “Interpretive Leadership” which

creates an environment and provides resources for a community of interpreters who converse about God, texts, context, and congregation. The fruit of interpretive leadership is in the truthfulness, adequacy and ownership of meanings. Often most available in narratives and metaphors, interpretive resources lead to discernment and imagination.

Mark exhorted us to observe the social imaginaries on which our communities draw, and to draw our congregations into an understanding of ways that the Gospel offers a different vision of what might be possible.

Before and after Mark’s session, we heard Steve Fowl expound the Letter to the Philippians in ways that connect very vividly with the lectures I give in New Testament class, and that resonate with some of my arguments about the imitatio ethic. Steve gave a tremendous, convincing account of what Paul was up to in that letter, to unanimous enthusiasm.

The Ekklesia Project annually refreshes my affection for the church; the admirable people who navigate from intentional communities, from ordinary churches, from faculty offices, from independent churches, to this family reunion charm and awe me every year.

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