Social Design for mission and ministry (9): it begins and ends with identity

Towards the end of the chapter on ‘Jesus-shaped community’ in Joined-up Life Andrew Cameron gives an evocative thumbnail sketch of New Testament churches (page 172):

[These churches were] bands of people ‘in Christ’ … who came together to learn, train and grow the Jesus-shaped version of their identity in small, reconciled groups.

I love this — especially what it suggests about the dynamics of mission and ministry in and through churches.

First and foremost, it says that what we’re on about begins and ends with identity.

It begins with the new identity we’re graciously given through Jesus. We are people ‘in Christ’. That’s the reality. That’s the reason we gather together — to reflect, express and enact who we are — individually and together.

But it’s also the goal and purpose of our gathering — to enter more and more into the reality of who we are in Christ. To experience it more deeply. To grow and develop in practice this Jesus-shaped version of ourselves together — because we can’t go it alone.

And this is where I think the Facebook Social Design guidelines about curating identity can help.

For as we heed their wisdom about being context-relevant, we’ll learn to stretch our community and activities between two poles:

  • The particular people who have been given to each other by God — their specific gifts and personalities as well as their unique histories; and
  • The common God-given identity we gather to embrace — our oneness in Christ, etc.

Among other things, this means thoughtfully negotiating the tension between language expressing the particularity of the people gathered and language drawing us deeper into our Christian identity.

So, among a group of ex-prostitutes, for example the language of shame and victimisation will be affirmed, critiqued and transformed as it interacts with biblical categories and narratives.

Likewise, as we take on board the advice to curate content and tell stories, we’ll learn to draw on the identity-forming resources of word and sacrament to help people inhabit the story of Jesus.

We’ll continually recall the new life Christ’s death and resurrection has secured for us and how it continues to nourish and sustain us. We’ll learn its patterns. And together we’ll discern its particular texture and feel in our situation (e.g., where it rubs up against our ‘natural’ ways of thinking, feeling and ding).

And, finally, we’ll apply the injunction to highlight interesting information by finding ways to help each other focus on the living and active, judging and sanctifying presence of Jesus in our midst.

That is, by listening obediently to his voice we’ll seek to allow him to illuminate our individual lives as well as our common life.

In this way, we’ll strive to stay in orbit around him — stirring each other up to adoring, prayerful, humble responsive action that joyfully embraces our new identity in Christ.

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