The mould of Christendom is broken not by violent confrontation but by the creation and dissemination of a new theology of mission, shaped and empowered by the gifts the kingdom community. That theology we have outlined in earlier blogs. However the mould of Christendom is also broken by the introduction of forms, structures and styles of leadership (academically known as ‘ecclesiology’) which most fully reflect the diaconal model of institutions.
Of vital importance to the form of the diaconal church are communal collectives. Of particular note here are: the small group – the network – the communal institution – the partnership – and the hearing. However, for their diaconal potential to be realized they need to be collectives which manifest the kingdom community’s gifts of life, liberation, love and learning in an open and inclusive way.
- The small group is a diaconal asset in that it facilitates interpersonal communications and interaction. Its proto-type is the nuclear family. It lays the foundations of community through the 4Ss, not least socialization. On that foundation the 4Ls can be built. Until we can learn the meaning of community within the small group, there is little hope of us being able to replicate that experience within larger collectives. The diaconal church needs to foster the small group as a powerful communal entity.
- The network has always been with us – not least as exemplified by the extended family. But in the age of the Internet and social media its scope and influence has grown massively. Its strength is that it can link us personally and immediately across time and space. It makes possible the global strengthening of the 4Ss, and thus potentially the 4Ls, in a way that no previous generation had any chance of achieving. However, because participants usually interact on an individualistic basis, the network is probably the collective least able to sustain communal relationships.
- What of the communal institution? Isn’t this just selling out to Christendom again? Not necessarily. We cannot do without institutions – those collectives which offer continuity of social norms and thus stability and a sense of security. However, institutions of a diaconal nature, above all the diaconal church, must be able to foster the 4Ls in an open and inclusive manner.
- The partnership has also been with us for some time. However, we can now set up collaborative initiatives with an extremely large number of collectives – crossing previously insurmountable boundaries of time and space in the process. Partnerships are best at laying the foundations for co-operation between already exiting communal collectives. But these then have to be built on in practice, a key factor in the strength or weakness of the ecumenical movement.
The hearing. This is the opportunity to gather the views and comments of a large number of people on a particular issue or concern. It is more than a survey of individual opinions. However, whether based in one physical location or, via the Internet, ranging over a wide area, it can encourage a lively exchange of ideas and helps bond the participants. At present the church rarely employs this kind of learning collective.