Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Martyn Percy – Practical Theologian

Written by: on June 6, 2019

The reviewer considers Percy’s published writings both prodigious in volume as well as impressive due to the thorough manner in which he engages with other disciplines. The reviewer observes that the span of Percy’s scholarship and its depth probably have not been fully appreciated in the United Kingdom. The essays in this book began as a collection of papers given at a conference on his work organized by the editors, Ian Markham, and Joshua Daniel, in September 2016, at Virginia Theological Seminary, where Markham is the President and Dean. The mostly positive tone of the essays is connected to the fact that they are primarily written by North Americans; Percy’s work is probably both better-known and appreciated in America as opposed to his home country and The Church of England.[1]

This book is an introduction to Percy and a critical engagement with his work. Percy has been described as a contextual or practical theologian. At first glance, these descriptors appear to be curious (because of Percy’s substantial multi-discipline scholarship) as they typically describe theologians nearer the bottom of the academic hierarchy (in the view of the traditional academy). Percy is unique in that he is both well-versed in the academic tradition but can also connect with the local church as it is.[2]

My particular reading of choice came from his essay entitled “On Ministry.” In this essay, Percy describes the unique role of clergy attending “the marginality of life and death” in “expressing the correspondence between Creator and created.”[3] Percy certainly has a way of expressing his amazing scholarship uniquely and yet connecting us with the mystery of our distinctive, set-apart vocation as called clergy. I found myself almost holding my breath as I read this essay.

I found his examples of funerals compelling as these were examples of “tough” funerals; the town indigent, a young mother whose baby had died, and the son who had significantly departed from the faith of his youth. Funerals have always seemed to be the ripest opportunities to love, nurture, and minister to hurting and grieving people. The “easier” funerals have family well connected to the local church who are congenial to each other (even in grief) and have collaborated how they want to honor their departed loved one. More challenging funerals are when the family is nominally connected to the local church (therefore very little is known of the extended family and how to serve them best) or cultural expectations of the family make the attending minister (in this case, me) wonder why in the world he was called.

I smiled and shook my head as I recalled some of the odd and peculiar funerals I have been called to plan and preside over. My priorities have always been to honor the grieving family’s wishes, celebrate the life (regardless of the circumstances) of their departed loved one, and always extend the promise of the Scriptures to look to Jesus for hope and comfort. However, there are several times I wondered if the funeral and graveside or (more recently mostly) memorial services were effective at all in accomplishing my desired outcomes. At the time, I simply wished for it to be over and allow me to go home.

Percy reminds us, utilizing his rich and robust communication style that we, the clergy are simply, “an extension of God’s love that must surpass any interest in the protection or the interests of the (clergy) species itself.  It is inherently costly and sacrificial in its orientation, seeking not its own security (or comfort), but rather expressing the continual risk of incarnation.” [4] In our myriad mundane tasks of mothering (per Emma Percy) those we are called to care for, Martyn Percy gives us poetic and compelling language that we are uniquely called and positioned to “express the continual risk of incarnation.” That is, it is not about us, but how we are called to “occupy that strange hinterland between the secular and the sacred, the temporal and the eternal, acting as interpreters and mediators, embodying and signifying faith, hope and love.”[5] Sounds a bit like communication and cultural translation from the Twilight Zone!

Since beginning my seminary journey at the age of 61, I have always considered myself as a pastoral or practical theologian because while it is all I have ever known, it is also my passion. My practical theologian inclination is why I feel compelled to pursue a DMin as opposed to a Ph.D. and why I am so appreciative to our program for affording me this cohort opportunity. Martyn Percy has inspired and affirmed my self-assessment as a practical or contextual theologian.

I understand Martyn Percy is in a bit of trouble with the Church of England. I will be praying for this amazing church leader who has renowned scholarship skills as well as an obvious deep connection to the local church. I am so looking forward to meeting and learning from the Percys in Oxford!

[1] Inge, John, “Reasonable Radical? Reading the writings of Martyn Percy, edited by Ian S. Markham and Joshua Daniel”, Church Times, 21 September 2018 https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/21-september/books-arts/book-reviews/reasonable-radical-reading-the-writings-of-martyn-percy-ian-s-markham-and-joshua-daniel-editors Accessed 06/06/2019.

[2] Markham, Ian S. and Joshua Daniel, eds., Reasonable Radical?: Reading the Writings of Martyn Percy  (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2018) xv-xvi.

[3] Markham and Daniel, eds., Reasonable Radical?, 208.

[4] Markham and Daniel, eds., Reasonable Radical?, 209.

[5] Markham and Daniel, eds., Reasonable Radical?, 210.

About the Author

Harry Fritzenschaft

Harry is the Coordinator of Coaching for Multiply Vineyard (the church planting resource arm for Vineyard USA) and part-time pastor of business administration for the Vineyard Church of Houston. He is a certified coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is pursuing a DMin in Leadership and Global Perspective with a focus on internal coaching networks. Harry has been married to Gloria for almost forty-two years and has two grown children; Michelle, who is married to Brandon and has two sons (Caleb and Judah), and Mark, who is engaged to Cannus. He loves making new friends (living and dead) from different perspectives, watching college football with Mark, and helping global ministry leaders (especially church planters and pastors) accomplish their goals in fulfilling their call. He especially loves learning about and nurturing internal coaching networks.

9 responses to “Martyn Percy – Practical Theologian”

  1. Hi Harry, thanks for your post. Several years ago I was talking to a friend and expressed my extreme view about having too many academics. In other words, as I had implied, I thought contributing new things to a particular field of discipline had little impact and significance today. I have moderated my views a bit since that time. But I’m still convinced that, at least in the discipline of theology, we have too much “theorizing” at the expense of “doing.”

    We are getting obese in our knowledge acquisition as a church and we do not do enough of applying our knowledge to good works. It’s a shame. Had I known the difference between a PhD and a DMin earlier, I would have signed up for the latter much sooner. I too appreciate what we’re doing in our program. I hope many more come after us. As you know, the church is desperate for good leadership. I hope and pray our cohort can make a lasting impact in our generation that ripples forward to future generations.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      When I wrote my year-in-review story, I reflected how much our cohort members have impacted and affected change in my perceptions. I am very excited about the future of our Church as I see our cohort’s passionate, disciplined scholars, loving and nurturing His Church in our day. Along with you, I believe we will make a lasting impact and I am glad we get to do this together!

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thank you, Harry. I appreciate your focus on this topic as some younger pastors do not recognize the critical nature of this moment. After 38 years of pastoral ministry we have grasped the most important, transformative moments in peoples’ lives are usually their most vulnerable and a pastoral presence makes all the difference. May we have more pastors who recognize the power of incarnational ministry.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      You are a treasure to our cohort and the Foursquare movement. We need to leverage our experience and influence to encourage younger ministry leaders to seize the incarnational opportunities God opens before them. Incarnational ministry is typically not obvious in the moment but rather in the long slow work of “occupying the hinterland between the sacred and the secular.” Thanks so much for your compelling admonitions.

  3. Sean Dean says:

    Thanks Harry. Your combined experience with Percy’s insights are a potent combination. Thank you for your reflection.

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Perhaps in time I can convey how much creative insightful thinkers like yourself have impacted my evolving perception. Your passion and brilliance are a compelling mix, thanks so much for continuing to patiently teach me. Let us see what God will do in our midst!

  4. Mario Hood says:

    Great post Harry, I felt myself nodding yes a lot when Percy wrote and loved his contextual theology approach as well. How important was it for your specific research area?

    • Harry Fritzenschaft says:

      Great question! I love the coaching skill set as it always conforms to the context of where the client lives. That is why we always distinguish the role of the client who sets the content, while the role of the coach is to shepherd the process. My specific research area is the next level up from individual coaches within an organization, that is the mentor or supervisory coach role. They in turn much always remind their respective coaches to enter into the context of the client rather than the human default of the reverse. Thanks for always making me think!

  5. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thank you for your reflections Harry. I have often described funerals as holy ground. They are where I have found liturgy the most useful and comforting and yet also the circumstance where I am most desperate for the Holy Spirit to heighten my sensitivity. I have a good friend who walked away from faith completely because a minister got it wrong at the funeral of our high school friend, and as a result I’m so very careful—especially if they are community funerals. In helping me learn to do it better, what are your best questions you ask a grieving family to help you meet them where they are at? How would you invite a community family towards the sacred considering their vulnerability? I always appreciate your wisdom my friend.

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