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

Social Imaginary and the Church

Written by: on April 4, 2013

Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries examines the history of modernity as the development of the public square, the economy and sovereignty. The basis of these three elements is a moral order expressed in mutual benefits of equal participants (loc 38). Taylor uses the idea of a social imaginary as the thread, which connects multiple modernities.  In reference to social imaginaries, he writes, “I am thinking rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally me, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations” (Loc 249).

There are two questions for me that arise from the book. First, do local churches have an ecclesial social imaginary which gives them a thread of identity, purpose and action that links their participants together? Second, does there exist a universal ecclesial social imaginary that connects differing churches, denominations? I believe Taylor would call these multiple modernities.

As with all churches, my church, Second Baptist (2BC) isn’t growing because we have babies magically appearing in the nursery who are then naturally absorbing the distinct language, life, practices and history of 2BC. Most people are coming from a different church and a few are coming with very little church background. As a Mission and Outreach Minister, it’s my job to help them assimilate into the societal norms, way of life and ethos of our particular church.  I believe this is important because the Gospel has a particularity to it. It has to be expressed locally and contextually. Furthermore, each church has it’s own distinct particularity, a way of being and doing that lives the Gospel. In order for 2BC to be all that God is calling us to be, it requires everyone’s participation, knowledge and involvement.  It requires us to, like a river, flow together to a common end.  Certainly this doesn’t mean we all have to think the same on every issue, but it does mean there’s a social imaginary that connects us within our local church and to our expression of the Gospel.

Not only do individual churches need to have social imaginaries, but the church universal should have a social imaginary that links or bonds us together. We are not isolated groups with all the answers and where the fullness of God is completely known. Each church is one part and we need the other parts so that we may see God more fully.  One of the things I love about my George Fox experience is that in some ways it’s a practice of creating a social imaginary that could be similar to one for the church universal. This semester we have representatives from four continents, different cultures and different denominational traditions.  We’re all moving towards the same goal but in differing contexts with different focuses.  Is it possible to expand this from our cohort to every Christian Tradition, where we’re in different contexts, with different focuses but all striving for the same goal?

Some questions:

What are the aspects of the social imaginary for your local church? How can we create social imaginaries for our church?

Does a social imaginary exist for the church universal? If so, what is it and how can we foster it?

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