As part of my seminary education, I obtained an MA in Practical Theology. This degree is in addition to the Masters in Divinity, which is the requirement for ordination.
Practical Theology is an evolving field of study and one that is not easily defined. Generally, there are subfields such as preaching, worship, pastoral care, and Christian education. There is reason to also incorporate other areas of concern such as church growth, ethics, psychology, administration, and even social and political studies. Practical theology can’t really be separated into disciplines; it is a discipline into itself that is integrative of the life and practices of a church within its larger community and social contexts. Additionally, there needs to be an understanding that social contexts are conditioned through history by politics, access to resources, and the lived realities of people groups. These elements inform worship practices, and worship practices inform these realities.
The implications of this enlarged vision are vast. One of the challenges I have thought about in my preaching practice (my focus in practical theology) is how to teach about the world from the pulpit. I have been told that I can’t and that I shouldn’t. That I should proclaim a message of God’s love for the world and let the other “departments” of the Church handle people’s realities (such as through pastoral care). What I am gathering, though, is that we can’t and should not work in silos. Our approach to ministry should be integrated and all-encompassing.
To help illustrate practical theology for general audiences, I present the following metaphor.
Practical Approach to Ministry: Storytelling through Film
With a prior career in Film and Television production, I’ve learned the power of storytelling. Every culture across the globe has story, a unifying aspect of our humanity that, when used for good, can teach, connect, and inspire communities for just change and personal and spiritual growth.
From a practical theological approach, I witness ministry to be just like a film production. The final story is crafted through the work of producers, writers, directors, actors, lighting technicians, set designers, costume designers, art directors, prop makers, camera operators, continuity supervisors, graphic designers, musicians, editors, publicists, distributors, and the multitude of technical and assistant roles that make a production possible. No one person or department works alone; every aspect of a film is informed and crafted by various sources. Every decision is molded repeatedly as all decisions have knock-on effects on the rest of the production. If that is not enough, the final “product” is released to an audience that it informs and informed by in its creation. The results are reflected upon, and new projects are started, informed by the experiences of all that came before.
So is practical theology, informed by and informing the cultures and subcultures it serves. A pastor, educator, or theologian alone does not make the practice of ministry happen, nor does one skill alone make ministry happen. Contextual stories are crafted in our witness as they are crafted in our Biblical text, through the informed, practiced, and reflected upon engagement of people in community for community, searching for God in our midst.
And God’s role? God is co-creating with us, directing our steps while allowing us freedom in how we participate in the production. As the story of God unfolds, we are both spectators and active participants. God may know where the story is headed, but we are God’s technical instruments and operators. So, let us make ministry happen and study it along the way so that we may better understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we should shift our practices along the way.