About the Journal
Focus and Scope
Ecclesial Futures is an international, ecumenical peer-reviewed journal. It publishes high-quality, original research and theological reflection on the development and transformation of local Christian communities and the systems that support them as they join in the mission of God in the world. We understand local Christian communities broadly to include traditional ‘parish’ churches and independent local churches, religious communities and congregations, new church plants, so-called ‘fresh expressions’ of church, ‘emergent’ churches and ‘new monastic’ communities. We hold to an inter-disciplinary approach to theological research and reflection; the core disciplines being theology, missiology and ecclesiology.
Other social science and theological disciplines may be helpful in supporting the holistic nature of any research e.g. anthropology and ethnography, sociology, statistical research, biblical studies, leadership studies and adult learning. The journal fills an important reflective space between the academy and on-the-ground practice within the field of mission studies, ecclesiology and the so-called ‘missional church’. The audience for the journal is truly global wherever the local church and the systems that support them exists. We accept the following types of article: original research papers, narrative or literature reviews on a relevant subject, theological and missiological reflections, case study reports, conference papers and book reviews.
Articles of around 6,000 words are submitted to the co-editors in the first instance and further information on writing for us can be obtained from them. The journal is published twice a year in June and December.
Ecclesial Futures, as a completely new journal in 2020 brings together, at least in the initial phases, two groups of scholar-practitioners.
The first is a self-organizing and invitation only annual conference of around 20-30 people who meet together under the banner of The International Research Consortium: Researching Missional Congregations (IRC). They include people from USA, Europe, Australia and Africa and cross several denominations, mainly Protestant. They meet to share existing research projects and form a learning community around how local churches can be transformed by working with the theological concept of the Missio Dei.
The second is a “Study Group” called “Christian Communities and Mission” within the International Association of Mission Studies (IAMS) https://missionstudies.org/ which is the internationally recognized association for mission studies. It has a large, diverse membership and is truly global and ecumenical combining Mainline Protestant, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Orthodox participants.
Below is a full explanation of the theological and practical background to Ecclesial Futures from those who have been involved in creating it;
We understand local Christian communities as; a) the hermeneutic of the gospel and; b) meeting God’s future as it comes towards us in the shape of the reign of God within the particular time and place that each finds itself. This requires these communities to be in a constant level of change as they orient themselves towards God’s preferred and promised future for them in a rapidly changing world. We believe study and research in how local churches change to be increasingly faithful in their everyday apostolicity is urgently needed.
We understand local Christian communities broadly to include traditional ‘parish’ churches and independent local churches, religious communities and congregations, new church plants, so-called ‘fresh expressions’ of church, ‘emergent’ churches and ‘new monastic’ communities.
The sources of this work theologically are threefold at least;
- The missio Dei – we believe the missio Dei to be axiomatic for ecclesiology. A large proportion, possibly worldwide, of local Christian communities and the systems that support them were formed in modernity and therefore with the culture and norms of modernity, Christendom and colonialism (although see later discussion on the limits of this assumption). If adopting the stance of the missio Dei is indeed a paradigm shift as Bosch (1991) claims then it is no surprise that there is deep resistance to the implications of this ‘about face’ within such communities and the systems that support them. Researching how and why Christian communities may make this paradigm shift such that they might embody the missio Dei will be vital work.
- Andrew Walls’ (2002) has clearly shown that the history of the waxing and waning of Christianity over the centuries demonstrates that local Christian communities can both flourish and they can die, never to be seen again. For example there is no Christian Community in North Africa contiguous with that of the one present at the time of Augustine of Hippo. Thus while we appreciate the contribution of congregational studies, ecclesiology and ethnography and will need to draw on all these fields in our own work we do not believe they are sufficient in themselves for the situation local Christian communities find themselves in, in many places worldwide. Rather we require an orientation to the future of how God is both calling and sending the Church in our time and place.
- The ‘missional church’ movement, arising from the work of Lesslie Newbigin and later the “Gospel and our Culture Network” (GOCN) has been working on these questions for ten to fifteen years, particularly amongst Protestant mainline denominations in USA and elsewhere. While this movement has no monopoly on these questions this group will need to stay in critical contact with developments in ‘missional church’ and broaden the concerns across the spectrum of denominations represented in IAMS. There is a large amount of literature published over almost two decades, too large to cite here. A recent example might be Van Gelder and Zscheile (2011).
Further implications of local Christian communities taking mission seriously and areas of contestation in this field (which may prove fruitful areas of research and publishing) are;
- The return of the locus in which theology is generated to the local church.
- The relationship between ordained and lay leadership in local Christian communities.
- How and where leaders are identified, discerned and theologically educated for mission.
- The relationship between a local church and its ‘world’ or context. Issues of contextualisation or as some prefer “cultural negotiation” require urgent attention.
- The place of local churches formed outside of Christendom and modernity in this debate – we add a further paragraph regarding this here, especially in relation to “missional church”;
‘Missional’ is an important issue for the global church. A lot of existing research is emerging out of the challenges of mission in the western world, but many practitioners and theologians in the non-western world are also passionately interested in the mission of the local church and reimagining ecclesial futures. (cf. Bolger 2012) In order to discuss ‘ecclesial futures’ in the non-western world, we need to develop a missiological approach which seeks to contextualize the missional church debate in non-western churches. This is because western and non-western Christianities did not always share the same historical background. This implies that while Newbigin’s critique of the western churches and the subsequent discussion about the missional church among his followers (GOCN) emerged out of the new historical background of post-Christendom in the west, some non-western Christian churches did not share such an experience of Christendom and post-Christendom. Thus, when we talk about ecclesial futures in non-western churches there is a whole new task of listening, research, analysis and theorising.
Quoted sources and select bibliography for background to the journal:
- Bosch, David J. (1991), Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
- Bolger, Ryan, ed. (2012) The Gospel after Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions. Grand Rapids: Baker.
- Bria, Ion, (1996) The Liturgy after the Liturgy: Mission and Witness from an Orthodox Perspective, Geneva: WCC Publications.
- Clark J, Lee M, Knights P, Price J, Richards A, Rolph P and Rooms N, (2010) Foundations for Mission in the UK and Ireland: A Study of Language, Theology and Praxis London: CTBI.
- Stamoolis, James J. (1986) Eastern Orthodox Mission Theology Today, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.
- Tennet, Timothy, (2010), Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian missiology for the twenty-first century, Grand Rapids MI: Kregel.
- Van Gelder, Craig and Zscheile, Dwight J. (2011) The Missional Church in Perspective: Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation. Grand Rapids: Baker.
- Vassiliadis, Petros (ed.) (2014) Orthodox Perspectives on Mission, Oxford: Regnum.
- Walls, Andrew (2002), The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the transmission and appropriation of faith, Maryknoll: Orbis.
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