Beginning in September 2016, I have the opportunity to begin part-time doctoral research into the identity and function of congregations as “bodies” of Christ. Below is a brief sketch of the direction I hope to take this research along with details on the realities of the program and suggestions for lending support.
- What's the big deal?
- Questions & Answers
- How long and how much?
What if these relational patterns were to form our starting point for understanding the effectiveness of a local congregation?
This is where I start to get excited. You see, I grew up in the 80s in a mainline denominational church. When I was a kid, our church seemed to me to be a pretty movin’ place. We weren’t as hip as Calvary Chapel or as big as our city’s various “First” churches, but we had a core group of faithful believers committed to God, to one another and to living out the gospel in our city-center neighborhood. As time went on though, things got tough. What used to be the city-center in the 50s became inner-city in the 90s and many of our core members were driving 30 minutes into town to attend services or events. On a macro level, the wider culture had long since shifted away from a trusting relationship with religion and those that continued to attend church started were increasingly shopping for churches the way they chose their favorite TV shows. About the same time, new forms of church started to emerge that were specifically adapted to these emerging cultural patterns: cell churches, mega-churches, organic house churches. In this newly competitive environment it became harder and harder for this formerly effective community church to translate its communal realities into ‘industry standard’ organizational success. And yet somehow, they have pulled it off.
What internal realities allow some churches to adapt when their environment shifts while others fall apart?
My sense of calling in the church has been to find ways to help congregations adapt to the challenges they face without compromising their soul. This has largely meant focussing my attention on small and rural churches from mainline denominations who sincerely want to be missional, but don’t have the wherewithal to follow the modern consumerist church growth dogmas.
But as I’ve worked with these churches and their partners, I’ve discovered that this isn’t just a challenge for the small or the rural. Churches who are motivated to re-orient themselves toward an embodied, missional expression of the gospel are facing an identity crisis. Thankfully, there is a new wave of attention being turned toward the identity and function of the local church and this is where I want to locate my study of the Body.
I have no intention of leaving my congregation in Rapla. On the contrary, I am committed to continuing on here as pastor until the end of my current term (Lord willing) and hope to continue making pastoral contributions in the area afterward. My conviction is that theological study needs to be intimately tied to congregational realities so that both can feed and be fed. My mission in Rapla is far from complete and my hope is that my part-time studies and investigations into the relational nature of fellowship will help me to more effectively equip the Rapla church for a sustainably effective future.
Why a European PhD?
The simplest answer is pragmatic: a European PhD is close to home and astonishingly affordable. Without these realities, advanced study wouldn’t even be on the map for me (you can see a breakdown of the costs involved on the last tab of this page). But another very important reason is that European PhDs are oriented toward independent research (as opposed to an emphasis on coursework). Both result in PhD qualification but the European approach allows me to focus in on my research goals. And why a PhD? I want the research I am doing to meet the highest academic standards and I want to develop research skills that will help me to continue making contributions at that same level, while keeping my feet firmly planted in congregational realities.
What is the IBTS Centre?
“The International Baptist Theological Study Centre (IBTSC) Amsterdam [owned by members of the European Baptist Federation] … aspires to stand in the tradition of its predecessors and to deliver high quality theological education and research from a baptistic perspective in an international context. In this way it aims to provide research, researchers, educators, and leaders who can serve the mission and ministry of churches in Europe, the Middle East and beyond.”
Though I am ordained a presbyterian minister, my service in Estonia has been with churches belonging to the Estonian Evangelical and Baptist Church Union. Their association with the EBF and IBTSC puts Amsterdam VU (founded by Abraham Kuyper) on the map for me. The IBTSC focuses particular on missiology and practical theology so my interests and my study population line up naturally.
Why Amsterdam Vrij University?
Amsterdam Vrij University has a terrific theology faculty which has a particular emphasis on the practical theology and mission of the local church. The university also has an active emphasis in the sociology department on social network analysis. This is just the unique combination I’m looking to develop.
|Year||Milestone||Institution 2016||Acceptance to Research Masters||IBTS||Intensive Research M.A. Courses||IBTS||Proposal development||IBTS 2017||Proposal submission||Amsterdam VU 2018||Study, research, writing||Estonia 2022||Final writing, defense||Amsterdam VU|
||10.2017||1500 EUR||1800 USD Tuition Installment #3||12.2017||1000 EUR||1200 USD PhD Annual Tuition||2018 >||1000 EUR||1200 USD|
|Expense||EUR||USD Roundtrip travel to AMS||300 EUR||320 USD Room and board (2 weeks)||350 EUR||370 USD Ground transportation||170 EUR||200 USD|