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Flourishing Update - February 20, 2019

Current Musings

I recently finished reading David Baker’s book, The Schooled Society: The Educational Transformation of Global Culture. He argues from a Neo-Institutional perspective that schooling influences culture and not the other way around. For Baker (2014), this is what he calls the education revolution. The education revolution has transformed our culture into a schooled society. In Baker’s schooled society, defined as a “wholly new social order where dimensions of education reach into and define nearly every facet of human life,” (p. 8) education is a central defining principle—a major social institution—and understanding its effects on modern society in this way provides a rational explanation for many popular critiques of education. The schooled society pursues a different comprehension in which education and society are mutually affirming. The driving question for Baker is this: to what degree has the education revolution changed society? As I think about congregational life I wonder what implications does a schooled society have on congregations/parishes with respect to an educated laity, or in areas of discipleship and evangelism? One answer to the effects of a schooled society on congregations/parishes is this: an educated laity creates a robust religious culture and increased participation. For instance, Schwadel (2003) found that higher-educated Christians are more likely to participate in the organized activities of their churches, including religious services. A second effect growing out of the education revolution has to do with what Lee and Sinitiere (2009) document about thriving congregations/parishes use of managerial, marketing, and membership-participation innovations.

Two observations here:

  1. Thriving congregations’/parishes’ great innovation in worship, organizational design, recruitment of members, leadership, and many others strategies are being employed while keeping core beliefs intact (Finke, 2003); and

  2. While some congregations use innovative organizational methods, other thriving congregations/parishes are accommodating their spiritual message—that is to say, bringing together the passion of evangelistic spirituality with the theological sensibilities and realities of a post-modern culture.

Of course, more could be said. These musings are just a few thoughts of how the schooled society may have an effect on local congregations/parishes.


Finke, Roger. 2003. “Spiritual Capital: Definitions, Applications, and New Frontiers.” Prepared for the Spiritual Capital Planning Meeting, October 10–11.

Lee, Shayne, and Phillip Luke Sinitiere. 2009. Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace. New York: New York University Press.

Schwadel, Philip. 2003. “The Persistence of Religion: The Effects of Education on American Christianity.” Doctoral dissertation. Pennsylvania State University..


Plesionology is theology’s long lost twin, and why it’s renewing my faith​

I have had a persistent nudge of curiosity that I simply cannot shake. Every time I have breakfast with my neighbour Chris, or talk about gardening with Steve, or get together with our neighbours Colin and Kayla, I find myself astonished. These neighbours have become vital to my faith, and I don’t have a category for it, a frame of reference for why they mean so much to me. I feel like there is so much more happening between me and my neighbours than just a stream of niceties. Christ-in-me is meeting Christ-in-them and it’s profound. God is so remarkably present in my neighbourhood, and the implications of that fill my imagination.

Here is what I’ve found: Love of neighbour has become a hobby for the church and Christians who worship together each Sunday. Hobbies are something we dabble in on the weekends or in retirement. We pull our hobby down from the shelf when we have time and energy to spare. Hobbyists may be more or less enthused about their craft, giving a moment of themselves to their passion so long as it fills the need it was created for. When real life leans in, or the hobby loses its lustre, they are boxed up and eventually sold in a garage sale.

Love of neighbour, however, is not a hobby, Jesus does not give us the luxury of calling it that. It is a vital core practice of followers of Jesus and the Church. Baking or woodworking might be a hobby, but eating and safe shelter are essential. Love of neighbour, at least for Jesus and the early church, was clearly essential. Jesus said we are to love God and neighbour, while Paul wrote to the Galatians saying, “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

This is not hobby talk, it is foundational and pivotal work on which the rest of our life of faith finds its purpose and direction.

I think something is missing.

Seriously missing.

In the pantheon of disciplines, the discipline and practice of loving neighbour is alarmingly absent.

Jesus’s own commandment to love neighbour has been relegated to the hobby bin of the Christian faith, we simply cannot imagine there is much to discover there, not much to experience, probably because we have never ourselves truly experienced the life of Jesus in our neighbours. So we view Jesus’ words to love our neighbours as an addendum; a hobby for those Christians who have time to spare.

Serious seminaries and churches don’t teach hobbies.

They teach theology, the study of God. They teach soteriology, the study of salvation. They teach epistemology, the study of knowing. They teach ecclesiology, the study of the church. They teach pneumatology, the study of the Holy Spirit. They teach Christology, the study of Jesus. They teach Eschatology, the study of the end times. They teach patrology, the study of the early church fathers. They teach missiology, the study of the mission of God.

Love of neighbour? Real, actual, next door neighbours? Sorry, it’s simply not in the index.

While loving our neighbour is core to our faith, the church has found more energy in delving into mariology, hamartiology, and apologetics. More energy has been given to the study of Mary, sin, and defending our faith than we give to loving our neighbours — the very heartbeat of Jesus.

I would like to suggest we open a new line of study, practice, thoughtful discipline, research, and examination. Understanding how we love our neighbours should be so core to our seminaries, bible training institutions and churches and it should amaze us that it has been so lacking.

Jesus said that we are to love God and love our neighbours. We have the first half of Jesus’s Great Commandment down to a ’T’. Literally. Theology, the study of God, has so captured our imaginations throughout history that it was called the Queen of the Sciences. Alongside philosophy, theology glistened in the imaginations of those who studied her mysterious depths and glorious heights. Theological disciples blossomed as people discovered there was more to be found. Poets and prophets, pastors and academics revealed what they found. The study of God is vast. Soon we found ways to study God with systematic theology, practical theology, moral theology, historical theology, aesthetical theology, biblical theology, natural theology, spiritual theology, philosophical theology, liberation theology, ecumenical theology, pastoral theology and so on. There has been no end to the books written celebrating the first half of Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God.

But what of the second half. This invitation to love our neighbour?

The word Jesus uses in the Great Commandment to love neighbour is plesion (pronounced play-see’-on). Plesion is Greek and appears in all four Gospels. To the Jewish people plesion referred to a member of the Hebrew nation, but to Jesus it was extended to include people of other nations and religions. It comes from the word pelas, which means ‘near.’ Neighbour is a good English translation of plesion. ‘Neighbour’ comes from Old English root words neah“near” and gebur “dweller.” Neighbour is the ‘near-dweller,’ and plesion refers to the person who is near to us. Jesus says that the Great Commandment is to love those near to us; our neighbours, plesion.

Plesionology, then, is the study of neighbours. It is the close examination of how we relate to our neighbours and how we love them in obedience to the Great Commandment. It is paying attention to, being curious about, standing in awe of something so profoundly vital to being a human made in God’s image. Plesionology puts others, specifically those we can talk with and pass on the street everyday, and places them right in the centre of this human experience. It puts neighbours right in the midst of our faith in Jesus and says that we meet God when we love our neighbours. Jesus thought it was essential, and I’m starting to think it might be, too.

We are enamoured with theology because we can, as one of my theology professors said years ago, pick apart God like a frog specimen in science class. Theology and all of her branches of investigation does not often require much of us. We can think about God without having to become like Jesus. We can read our books and prepare our sermons without much changing in us. Theology, without plesionology can be hollow and void of any true life. Jesus never intended theology to exist apart from living out the very thing that God (who so loved the world) intended for his theologians. We were always meant to love our neighbours, and it is in loving our neighbours that we make sense of God.

So I’ve decided to follow that nudge of curiosity. I want to explore all that loving my neighbours means to growing in Christ. Why I love being a pastor in the neighbourhood way more than I ever did as the manager of a church program machine. Why my neighbours have come to trust Jesus, not because I was convincing. Why Christian spirituality finally makes sense within 90 paces of my front door. Why beauty and imagination compel me to love more and more. Why grace is truly Good News when it emerges between me and my neighbours. There are so many profound questions I have and they keep coming. Although I just made up the word ‘plesionology’ to serve as a much needed framework for these questions, there is deep joy in finally embracing the second half of Jesus’ words to ‘love God’ and ‘love neighbour.’ It’s making me more fully human, and I love it.

Jesus moved into the neighbourhood and it changed everything. Has our theology? Have we?

The blog was originally posted here


We’re Reading…

Change by Design

Tim Brown

Most innovations originate from a careful process where great ideas are named and developed before being recognized as something new and useful. This book introduces the idea of design thinking and illustrates how design thinkers see the interplay between people and process in solving complex issues. This approach is human centred in that in its practices it starts and takes seriously people’s various experiences and how those experiences are shaped by their contexts. By doing this, as Brown states, “The intrinsically human-centred nature of design thinking points to the next step: we can use our empathy and understanding of people to design experiences that create opportunities for active engagement and participation” (p. 115).

The design thinking process looks like this: Empathizing, Defining, Ideation, Prototyping, and Testing. Throughout the book, Brown provides real examples of how this process is used to solve multifaceted problems. Design thinking has conceptual applications to many aspects of congregational life such as leadership, discipleship, community development, and so forth. The many stories in the book will enhance these applications and hopefully inspire and show how design thinking might work in a congregational context.


Upcoming Opportunities

  • City Movement has worked behind the scenes with key national ministries, large churches, and denominations to wrestle with our rapidly changing world and how we can be more effective in our cities. They will be doing a Canada-wide tour promoting ways to foster collaboration in cities for greater Innovation and Impact. Find out more at:

  • We've updated the website!

  • Take a look around the website at some of the new resources and updated content.

  • May 7 - 8, 2019 - Flourishing Congregations Institute is partnering with the Ambrose Pastors Conference to share our research on Discipleship at Ambrose University. Stay tuned for more details.

  • Ambrose@Large invites you to be a contributor to . . .The Volunteer Project- Share the insights, tools and resources that you've discovered and used in tackling the challenge of enlisting, equipping and encouraging ministry volunteers. These contributions will be curated into an easy to access tool kit for staff and ministry leaders in Canada. Find out more.

  • Missed our National Gathering in November at Ambrose University?

  • Watch videos from many of the presentations here.

  • Missed our latest newsletters?

  • February 6, 2019

  • January 23, 2019

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