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Invigorating the Church for Mission. Action Research with Local Parishes

By drawing together the insights of Action Researchers and a personal theological/spiritual conviction of the total and limitless Love of God I present a bridge between the discourse of faith, worship and spirituality on the one hand, and the discourse of management/organisation studies on the other. This bridge is akin to the steering platform on a metaphoric double-hulled canoe. I have brought the collective wisdom of each hull to the setting of the direction of my thesis and my guidance to its destination. An open, inclusive, and questioning epistemological approach implied by the integration of those diverse ontological assumptions was applied to a research project with members of five Anglican parishes who wanted to explore how they could bring about change among themselves and how they could connect more effectively with their neighbouring communities. I crafted a participatory action process described as ethnographic pastoral inquiry. Key characteristics of this process include a deliberate inclusion of spiritual considerations, a high degree of mutual trust, an unhurried pace, a willingness to change on the part of the facilitator and the target group, and an openness to the unexpected. The working groups in the five parishes were facilitated to identify several new initiatives of community-facing work. Reflections on the research project led to advocating for Missional Viability as the recommended organising principle for local parishes. If a parish is missionally viable its members can commit to reflect more adequately the Christian principles from which the Church as a whole takes its direction. Three components of missional viability were identified: a. An functional relationship with an observable community of people outside of its worshipping members b. A well-developed (or rediscovered) sense of the congregation’s mission, c. A commitment to a deepening of spirituality among its members and others with whom they have contact. By emphasising spirituality as a dimension of the research process itself rather than simply an insight emerging from but still incidental to the central point of a research project, I make a contribution to the elaboration of the field of intentional action research genres. I argue that an overt acknowledgement of spirituality should be an integral aspect of the holistic approach typically advocated by Action Research theorists. At the same time, the project reported here gives strong support to the view that in the study of churches and other religious organisations the methods associated with Action Research are particularly compatible with theological foundations of religious orientations to ‘being in the world’. The project draws on the emancipatory or salvific power of research as organisations are regarded as partners in the inquiry. The findings become material for their members to use in discerning their own sense of vision and direction, thereby assisting them in finding strength to take the necessary risks involved in bringing about change.
Type of thesis
Prebble, E. H. (2012). Invigorating the Church for Mission. Action Research with Local Parishes (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6769
University of Waikato
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