Grounded theology in the small, urban church

After writing my post about Stanley Hauerwas’ assertion that all theology is grounded, particular, practical, and pastoral, I dug out of my book pile a little book given to me by Mike Mather, pastor of an urban United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.

Mather did not offer the book as an example of Hauerwas’ point, so my use of his book may be unfair, but Hauerwas’ comment made me think of the book and I heard his words in the back of my head as I read the book.

Mather argues for the church as a place where every person is seen as gifted by God and is drawn into sharing those gifts for the upbuilding of the church and the community in which the church is located.

The stories of the Bible are the stories of people and their lives. Trust that God is active in the lives of each of the people of your congregation, and that each person truly has something to offer to the building up of your congregation.

In telling stories of how this has been lived out in places he has served as pastor, Mather tells stories of alcoholics and prostitutes invited to take active roles in the ministries of the church. He tells stories of teenagers drawn against their will into prayer meetings. He tells stories of confrontation and reconciliation over a man who liked to play his out-of-tune guitar during worship services. Mather is well aware some of the stories might be troubling for readers, but he argues that a gospel of love demands no less.

At the heart of love is the ability to see who the other is — in our sin and in our blessedness — and to pronounce it good. That doesn’t mean that we don’t hope for things to be better. But it does mean that we invest in the gifts and we meet that sin out of that context. If any of us were to wait to share our gifts until we were perfect, we would always be waiting rather than serving.

There are things in Mather’s book that cause my warning signals to go off. I long for Jesus to show up as more than a passing reference here and there. I’d like him to write more squarely about sin as an eternal and not just a social and economic problem. But there are also several stories that got me to draw little exclamation points in the margin or write words such as “wow” next to them.

With Hauerwas’ point in mind, what I find myself thinking about today is what I would do if Bill or Lucy or Guy or Adele showed up at my congregation. I wonder if my theology formed in the study and the library respond in ways that draw them closer to God and the life of God?


One thought on “Grounded theology in the small, urban church

  1. Though I appreciate talking about Jesus, experiencing him through others is, I believe, a far more potent faith experience. By living and serving as we are called to do, we reveal more about the life of God than words ever could.

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