I came to “Dancing the Reign of God” as the name for my approach to congregational transformation because my research and theological reflection led me there. I studied three Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations that others had recommended as having significantly changed in the right direction: from near death to new vitality and faithfulness. Without going into all the details here and now (I’ll be sharing information from my dissertation in this blog little by little and over time), two findings particularly pointed me toward describing the process of congregational transformation as a dance with the Holy One:
- The Reign of God –
One of the beliefs that congregational participants said changed from the time before they had begun transformation efforts to the present was a belief that the majority of their membership held about God. Before – when they were in the malaise of decline – they thought of God more as a distant deity, maybe loving, but not really involved in the nuts and bolts of being church. By contrast, at the point at which I was interviewing them, they reported that they now experience God as present, alive, and lovingly involved in their witness as church.
It was that their corporate belief system had changed: to one of trusting that God not only had a purpose for their church, but was also leading them in it. Said differently, God leading them equaled God “reigning” in the present. It occurred to me that this change of belief represents an enlarged concept of the Reign of God. Instead of primarily being a noun, a realm over which God exercises authority and a territory that only comes in the future, the Reign of God is a verb; it is action, and in relationship. These church bodies now perceived God to be moving and beckoning, holding and signaling to them how to move together with the Divine in the world. In other words, the Reign of God was happening now, as they allowed God to lead them, and this sacred relationship was transforming them into witnesses to God’s reign: the good news to which Jesus Christ himself testified!
- Dancing –
One of the traits I observed about these congregations in their present way of being was that the people and the leaders related to each other and to God with a playful grace. There was give and take, laughter, love, and learning in how they worked with each other and acted in the world. As they went about their transformation, it was like they were dancing with each other and with God, plus having fun at it. They now enjoyed each other in the process of being church – another dynamic change from before to the present, another feature of witness that they were embodying for all to see. Don’t get me wrong; they still stepped on each other’s toes and sometimes got in each other’s way. Indeed, some of the conflicts early on in their transformation work were fierce, but by dancing with God and each other, they seemed to have learned how to work through these better until they were fewer and further between. Dancing the Reign of God changed them.
Out of their congregational stories of before and after, and with the help of scripture and process-relational theology, I was able to identify a kind of “choreography” to this dance. All three communities of faith followed turns, moves, and steps as they followed God’s lead that rendered their dancing the Reign of God a practice that sister churches – maybe even yours – might also embrace.
More about this choreography in a future post.