DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Insert Witty Secular Age Title Here

Written by: on February 27, 2015

Yesterday was one of the longest days I have ever had. Traveling westward across time zones made for a 33 hour Wednesday; however, 33 hours provides ample opportunity for reading and reflection! Of all of the mission trips I have led over the years, something like 60 or 70, I had a first yesterday. On the drive from Houston to Shreveport, those in my car picked apart the trip, the good parts and the things we will change next time. I posed the question, “What will you say to those who ask, ‘How was your trip?’” For the first time, there was no boast of accomplishment. Instead, there was a revelation of relationship. One by one, we told our favorite parts of the trip, and each of us spoke about a person we had connected with. Granted, this trip was unlike others, in that it did not have a specific project, but instead of answering the question of “how was your trip” with a list of tangible things we did, they answered it by telling of a relationship they made or how the trip changed them personally and spiritually.

IMG_8608Something happened last week. We created community. Even with the cultural and communication barriers, I witnessed the dynamics of true “fellowship of believers” established through authentic relationships. My relationship with Olga Lazareva is priceless. Watching God continue to create a true sisterhood between us was a joy and delight. I have learned that having Christ as the common denominator, even with miles between two people, can build spiritual bridges that I believe have far greater implications than we have not begun to explore within the Body of Christ.

In the context of Charles Taylor’s book, A Secular Age, the Russian community of faith with whom I spent last week was in no way in “immanent frame,” as described by Taylor. The individuals comprising this community came together through their simple Christianity. Whether from hardship, family influences or other needs or motivations, they have come together wholeheartedly and without reservation for simple and deeply spiritual worship. Taylor describes a world where each of us, whether through science, access to information, or other “cross pressures,” has created our own silo in which we live and from which we filter ideas and beliefs according to our own understanding. In the secular world described by Taylor, individuals no longer simply believe.

In this age, people are called to greater activism, to engage in more reform. Religious faith or non-faith becomes more a matter of personal choice as part of a quest for personal development. This shift in consciousness leads to some serious downsides. When faith is a matter of personal choice, even believers experience much more doubt. We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. Individuals don’t live embedded in tight social orders; they live in buffered worlds of private choices. Common action, Taylor writes, gives way to mutual display. Many people suffer from a discontent. They remember that many people used to feel connected to an enchanted, transcendent order, but they feel trapped in a flat landscape, with diminished dignity and ask the question, “Is this all there is?”

Is the simple faith of my Russian friends more or less genuine than that of believers who have navigated the cross pressures and arrived at their own unique belief system? Were Christians more or less fulfilled prior to the secularization of our society? While much of his book might give the impression that our society has suffered by the changes of the past 200 years, Taylor also injects hope back into the picture. Later in the book, the concept is introduced that it is possible for an individual who no longer blindly accepts the religious faith of his forebears to thoughtfully handle the cross pressures and arrive at a belief system that is genuine to that person.

People are now able to pursue fullness in an amazing diversity of different ways. But Taylor observes a general pattern. They tend not to want to live in a world closed off from the transcendent, reliant exclusively on the material world. We are not, Taylor suggests, sliding toward pure materialism. We are, instead, moving toward what he calls a galloping spiritual pluralism. People in search of fullness are able to harvest the intellectual, cultural and spiritual gains of the past 500 years.

I will continue to struggle through this book. Nothing about the concepts came easy to me. Perhaps it was because I am tired. Perhaps it was because I read it while in the Far East. Whatever the case, this may be a book I come back to from time to time and gain greater understanding to the world and time in which we live.

About the Author


Ashley Goad

Ashley is the Global Missions Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. She's a UNC fanatic, Haiti Enthusiast, Clean Water Activist, Solar Power Supporter...

15 responses to “Insert Witty Secular Age Title Here”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Well done, Ashley, especially considering the miles and hours you’ve logged while trying to get a grasp of this book. In the silo making world that we have become the concept of relationship becomes much more important. For this reason, the response of your Russia team is awesome because it speaks to the real reason for us to go on this trips – they now have the story of someone in Russia. By praying for this person, sharing their story and revealing how God was at work in both parties, there’s no limit to what can happen. The pluralistic silos of our times can be dismantled through purposeful relationship. May each of your team members keep that focus.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Deve, you hit that just right – they now have the story of someone in Russia. Our world becomes smaller. We are called to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are in Russia, El Salvador, Haiti and beyond. I’m still in awe of this week and how God worked so meaningfully.

  2. mm rhbaker275 says:

    News-Flash! Weary but Exuberant Missionaries Return Home!
    The weary mission team from the United Methodist Church, Shreveport, returned home after ten days packed with activities while visiting church “family” at sister congregations in Ekaterinburg, Russia. They traveled across time zones, the malaise and often chaos of global air travel, through diverse cultural encounters, all while enduring wintery weather. The trip culminated in a thirty-three hour flight home. One would think the team would be ready to be home, having rubbed all coldness stored up in their hands and feet – just thankful to be back in balmy Northern Louisiana. How did Ashley Goad, Global Mission staff member for the church characterize the experience? “Who wouldn’t want to go to Russia to visit their family in the middle of winter” Goad asked? “Exactly! … It was nothing short of perfect,” she exclaimed.
    Ashley, what a great narrative of joining God in what God is doing! The faith community extends across the globe! Building relationship is the ultimate experience of otherness. You observe it is not the “immanent frame” described by Taylor as disenchantment, disconnection that buffers the self from outside influence. It is however, a framework of family, friends creating and “intimate space” that is shared with others; intimate space shares a “buffered identity” of both the internal and the external. As Taylor notes, “[t]here is a close connection between inner space and zones of intimacy. It is in these latter that we share something of the depths of feeling, affinity, susceptibility, that we discover within ourselves” (Kindle, 8544).

    Thanks for linking our text experience (Kindle, 8558) so closely to your ministry experience which is shared, not only with your family in Russia, but your cohort family. You created this relational shared space even more as you invited the family to share in our online chat.

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      RON! Oh my goodness! This is the BEST REPLY EVER!! Thank you! I read it over and over… You are so kind! My mantra for the year is to “create shared moments.” This was a perfect example of creating shared moments, shared stories, and now it is rolled past the week in person to text messages and Skype calls. I love it, Ron. I love how God is working…and I am filled with ACTIVE HOPE! 🙂 You’re awesome, Ron. Again, best reply ever!

  3. Ashley…
    You may feel weary, but your post and your insights are refreshing. You have reminded me that while we struggle to respond to what is happening within western Christianity we also might be influenced by our brothers and sisters. This post and your commitment reveal why this program, “our” program is vital. Perhaps one of the aspects we are experiencing is a awakening to what fullness is or is meant to be, perhaps that is something we would not know apart from the secularization we see. Blessings to you on the work you “do” and the open (dare I say “porous”)
    presence you carry that creates and invites relationship. 🙂

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Carol, you’re so kind. One of the things I so overwhelmingly felt this last couple of weeks was wholeness. I felt complete in the body of Christ united by love and common ground. It was the first time I had really ever felt like that…and until typing this, I had not been able to formulate words. And yet, even now, the words do not do the feeling justice. It is as though this is how God intended us to live in Christian community and love. Wow. Something like this could change the world.

  4. Ashley,

    Thanks for your great post. It really helped me to understand some of Taylor’s concepts much more clearly. I so appreciate that.

    It was good to read of the faith of your Russian friends. I was mostly blessed with the sincerity and simplicity of their community. Why do we always have to complicate everything? What is wrong with a simpler faith? Frankly, I miss that a lot. I miss simple worship. I miss simple fellowship. I miss simple friendship.

    By the way, it is not because you were reading in the far East that the book was tough. I read it in the Pacific Northwest and I rarely connected with the text, hard as I tried. I spent early morning after early morning reading and still barely scratched the surface of Taylor’s concepts. I will read it again some day, but for now, I am just glad that Taylor is behind me. I am sure you agree.

    Welcome home!

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Bill, I have never been so happy to see the end of a book! And how fitting it was to have spanned the two weeks I was spending in Russia. After reading your blog, I’d love to visit Russia with you… It would be so unique, and you would add such a different perspective! Let’s work to make that happen!

  5. Russ Pierson says:

    “Location, location, location” is more than the mantra of real estate agents everywhere–it might also be one of the bywords that describes the DMINLGP program. And you’ve done a great job reminding me of that, Ashley!

    Context matters, and I love that you were reading Taylor as you were struggling through this bi-focal view (and the resulting tension) brought about by your trip to the east as a westerner. The “G” in “LGP” demands that our definition of “community”–that you describe so well–must expand to include others in contexts different from our own.



    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Russ, it’s amazing how God intertwined this program and learning with my ministry and learning. The two are feeding off of each other, and I never expected to learn so much. It’s energizing, and I am overwhelmingly filled with hope. Our community is now becoming the world. Just today, I have spoken with ministry partners in Russia, Uganda, and Haiti. That would have been unheard of, and terribly expensive, just 10 years ago. Our world is changing, and I pray our hearts will continue to evolve and change as we become the whole body of Christ.

  6. Russ Pierson says:

    P.S. – your title might be all-time fave! 😉


  7. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Ashley
    I’m very interested to learn more about Christianity in Russia as I admit I know nothing really. What is the church like there? Is it difficult to be a christian in that country? Must be such a blessing to meet so many wonderful people in your ministry 🙂

    • mm Ashley Goad says:

      Liz, I am in awe of the doors God has opened! The Orthodox church, the most prevalent church, is everywhere. It’s ornate, it’s ritualistic, it’s iconic… But it’s filled weekly with prayerful people. They just don’t quite make the move to acting out their faith. The Methodist and non-denominational Churches I’ve worked with are incredible. They are filled with righteous leaders, and the members are energetic and passionate. Their called to pray fervently and they live their daily lives in ministry to others. My favorite part is when they all get together to pray, they all pray aloud, at the same time… It’s massively chaotic, but isn’t that how God hears us all when we’re praying our individual prayers at the same time silently? It’s wow for me. It’s a completely different experience than one I grew up in.

      We filmed every day from Russia… So if you have a free hour to sit back with tea and Willy, you can watch! Here’s my favorite video one of the week:

  8. Liz Linssen says:

    Wow, that is so interesting Ashley! I had no idea the church was so alive in Russia. And they pray together…the Koreans pray that way too. How very cool.
    What percentage of Russia are believers? Do they get persecuted for their faith, or is there relative freedom? Sorry…lots of questions!
    Thanks for posting the video too. Will certainly watch it 🙂

  9. It’s your week Ashley 🙂

    So true Ashley to all that you say regarding the difficulty of both Taylor’s writing and also the concepts that he elaborates. How does one do justice to a mammoth book such as this one with a simple little blog post? I do believe however, you have done an exceptional job here in tying up so many loose ends and providing a personal reflection of the encounter of familial relationship.

    I really like your quote “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting.” I truly believe that that is every Christian’s struggle and also the testing of our faith. We are not moving towards only a secular age where reason will win out. Rather, we are moving to that pluralistic spiritual landscape where almost anything spiritual goes. We who are believers in the one true God must continue through our doubting and believe so as to help those caught in the malaise and labyrinth of spiritual hunger that marks this current secular age. Glad you had a great trip to Russia.

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