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Ministry in Context

So, What Is God Up To? A Reflection on Practical Theology

Finding God’s activity in the midst of our questions is a key discipline for ministers in context. What can be surprising is just how basic the reflective questions can be. Often times, the who, what, where, why, when, and how questions will lead to deep reflective praxis that unleashes remarkable evidence of a creative and redeeming God stirring in amongst everyday episodes of our lives.

Many students are considering the work of practical theologians as they engage in ministry sites through contextual learning at Luther.  A key commitment in the field of practical theology is that God is a minister inviting us into this calling in and through relational encounters.  As ministers in context, our key work is to faithfully reflect upon our ministry experiences through key questions, and to respond faithfully in light of our creative and redemptive God.

Richard Osmer, professor of practical theology at Princeton, has carved a pathway or "hermeneutical circle" that equips ministers with helpful questions that quickly submerges one below the surface. With this discipline, one will acquire an astute awareness of place, social factors, and the need to respond to situations with integrity and thoughtfulness. From Osmer's Practical Theology:

  • The descriptive-empirical task. Gathering information that helps us discern patterns and dynamics in particular episodes, situations, or contexts.
  • The interpretive task. Drawing on theories of the arts and/or sciences to better understand and explain why these patterns and dynamics are occurring.
  • The normative task. Using theological concepts to interpret particular episodes, situations, or contexts, constructing ethical norms to guide our responses, and learning from “good practice.”
  • The pragmatic task. Determining strategies of action that will influence situations in ways that are desirable and entering into a reflective conversation with the “talk back” emerging when they are enacted.

Another way of translating the above process, is by using common parlance or questions such as the following to guide one in the reflective process: What happened (descriptive)? Why did it happen (interpretive)? What should be happening (normative)? What action will be taken going forward (pragmatic)? Vested with these questions, the minister in context has opportunities for engaging in robust and transformative ministry relationships. Inviting others into these questions becomes a discipline that enlightens and informs for the greater good as well.

For more engaging texts in the field of practical theology, check out recently featuring Luther Seminary professor Andrew Root's work Christopraxis, which is a deeper look into the art and practice of practical theology.

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