The Teaching Ministry of Congregations

Article excerpt

The Teaching Ministry of Congregations by Richard Robert Osmer Westminster John Knox, Louisville, 2005. 347 pp. $29.95. ISBN 0-664-22547-0.

ONE OF THE TASKS OF THE CHURCH in the twenty-first century is the recovery of an historically rooted and specifically Christian vocabulary. Our heritage is carried, at least in part, in the words we use to name God, ourselves, and the world, and to describe the expansive range of possibilities for their interactions. Richard Osmer has given the church an entry point into this vocabulary by introducing catechesis, exhortation, and discernment as central themes in his exploration of the teaching ministry of congregations. With the use of these and many other terms, including spiritual formation, formative practices, pilgrimage, vocation, etc., Osmer focuses our attention on the theocentric purposes of the church and then describes ways congregations transmit their theocentric perspectives to those inside and outside the church's walls. This conceptually and theoretically rich volume offers a breadth and depth of engagement with biblical, theological, sociological, anthropological, and historical sources, while never losing sight of the church's own theocentric calling.

The book is divided into three distinctive sections, each with its own theoretical approach. Part I begins with a solid biblical perspective on the teaching ministry of congregations as seen in Paul's writing to New Testament churches. Osmer identifies the central tasks of teaching ministries as catechesis, exhortation, and discernment. He explores each task, naming baptism as the foundation for all aspects of the teaching ministry of the church. Thus, for Osmer all catechesis is baptismal catechesis. The teaching ministry "seeks to help Christians better understand and participate in God's redemption of the world in Christ Jesus,... grow in their relationship with the risen and universal Lord,... [and] orients the members of the Christian community toward God's promised future for creation" (pp. 16-17).

Part II offers portraits of three congregations. Each is described and examined through the use of a particular theoretical framework. The case study of Somang Presbyterian Church of Seoul, Korea, uses the "practices" frame, taking note of both identity-shaping and peripheral practices including Sunday morning worship, dawn prayer, interpretation of scripture, Sabbath keeping, anonymous service, and leadership development. The examination of Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey, employs the "curriculum" frame, exploring it through the categories of educational pathways, developmental readiness, teaching approaches, and phases of curriculum. The description of the Uniting Reformed Church of Stellenbosch, South Africa, presents the "leadership" frame, which prompts a helpful reexamination of catechesis, exhortation, and discernment through the learning and teaching tasks of leadership. These narratives have a lively feel to them, helping readers enter into the real world and lived experience of the congregations and their members. The extensive theoretical framing helps to lift up unique aspects of each congregation and offers resources for assessing the place of practices, curriculum, and leadership in a broad spectrum of congregations.

Part III elaborates on ways of refashioning a congregation's teaching ministry and, taking an aesthetic approach, is titled "Inside the Artist's Studio." The theological framing for this section of the book is provocative, using the work of Jiirgen Moltmann, especially his conception of theology as "imagination for the kingdom of God in this world" and divine and human action as "Theo-drama"(p. 203). The Trinitarian construction and aesthetic display of this Theo-drama offers rich theological and pedagogical resources for the exploration of the church's life in God. …