• A Story to Tell: A Study on the Impact of Peaceful Storytelling Within Liturgical Worship

      Wolf, Garrett David; McAfee School of Theology
      The contemporary American Christian setting is often described as a secular age, where the religious is often sequestered to specific places, people, and times. The sacred is regularly thought to be secluded to sanctuaries as opposed to something present and accessible everywhere. To counter the secular liturgies in which people are regularly immersed, the church must discover ways to help move people towards envisioning a different story. Our public worship gatherings are the primary places liturgy can be used to practice, rehearse, and envision our entire lives as being wrapped up into God’s story of reconciliation, redemption, and restoration of all things. By reimagining the liturgical element of passing the peace, this project explores how the story of God conveyed in liturgical public worship connects with the lives of parishioners. The research involves a qualitative method and uses a focus group consisting of eight laity from King of Kings Lutheran Church, who might be moved to seeing the sacred more in their daily lives. This project analyzes how liturgy can be reimagined to act as a tool within our public worship gatherings and church to shape and orient people towards the movement of God in bringing shalom to earth. Over a two-month period, interviews were used to evaluate the impact on the participants before and after each shared their testimony of experiencing the peace of Christ in their life during the passing the peace portion of a weekly public worship gathering. The conclusion of the project is that the focus group members who participated in the project were able to envision the sacred more in their daily lives because of their participation. While this research project did not enable them to define liturgy as the work of the people, their participation did immerse them more discernably into the story that public worship conveys. Finally, for future church development, this research project encourages exploring how liturgy in a variety of forms can help guide people to envision themselves in the rich story and sacredness of God’s presence everywhere.
    • Clergy Spirituality: A Spiritual Balance Construct for Cultivating Awareness of the Nature of Clergy Spiritual Well-Being

      Thomas, Audrey Banks; McAfee School of Theology
      This study sought to cultivate awareness of the nature of spiritual well-being and balance amongst clergy persons and provide a framework for addressing clergy spiritual health through the propagation of a spiritual balance construct and associated lexicon. The construct consists of four dimensions that form a framework for evaluating clergy spiritual health. The four construct dimensions were experiential, intellectual, social, and institutional. The intent of the research was to determine if immersion into this spiritual balance construct, to include engagement in associated spiritual practices and introduction of a common lexicon, resulted in increased awareness among clergy persons of the nature of spiritual well-being and balance. The qualitative ethnographic method with pre- and post-instruction semi-structured interviews was employed to conduct the study. Six associate pastors, active in ministry, participated in the research and were instructed on the construct over the course of five one-hour teachings. Each of the construct dimension teaching sessions included an associated spiritual practice exercise. These exercises were lectio divina, Bible and scholarly reading, spiritual service, and one-anothering. The four categories that emerged from the research findings were Defining Clergy Spiritual Well-Being, Importance of Clergy Spiritual Well-Being, Maintaining Clergy Spiritual Well-Being, and Assessing Awareness. Post-instruction research findings indicated that immersion into the spiritual balance construct did indeed beget increased awareness. Recommendations for future research include expanding the spiritual balance construct to include element-specific prescriptive spiritual disciplines. Another recommendation, based on research participant responses, entails exploring the possibility of adding an additional element to the construct that would represent clergy self-care (physical, emotional, mental) and family care. It is also recommended that the tool be used in spiritual direction as the foundation for the covenant agreement between the director and directee. To evangelize the tool, as well as respond to concern for clergy spiritual health, seminars, retreats, and a spiritual formation curriculum inclusive of deep engagement with the spiritual balance construct are recommended.
    • Haunted By Faith: An Ethnographic Study of Signals of Transcendence in Nones

      Napier, Nathaniel James; McAfee School of Theology
      Study after study demonstrates that Christendom is no longer the dominant regulative force it once was. Faith, specifically faith in the Christian story, can no longer be presumed as the dominant narrative in West. According to Pew Research, 1/5 of the US public and 1/3 of adults under 30 years of age, are now no longer religiously affiliated. To press the point further, Nones (persons who claim no religious affiliation) now comprise 20% of the total adult population and it is estimated only 15-20% of the US population regularly attends Sunday worship. The cultural landscape of American religiosity has shifted. This new culture, dubbed by philosopher Charles Taylor as A Secular Age, is milieu in which the church now finds itself. Given the rise of the Nones, the church now has a mandate not only to label them, but to understand them so that it can better understand how to communicate the Gospel in a changing world. While data demonstrates a lack of devotion to institutional religion, one may wonder if there are expressions of something more than immanence in the lives of those that claim to be Nones? Is there a non-reducible experience to which their lives attest, expressions that are regular occurrences but not empirically justified? If so, what are they and might these expressions be a means of connecting people of faith to people who are non-religious? To this end, this thesis ethnographically explores the sociological phenomena of signals of transcendence in Nones as a means of discerning where the old world of the gods may still be operative experientially for those that have never been a part of organized faith. As a point of further novelty, this thesis does not interview former Christians, but focuses on those who have been raised in this Secular Age and never had a personal confession of faith. To accomplish this goal, this thesis has three primary large movements: theory (chapter 2), method (chapter 3), and research (chapter 4). After introducing the parameters of the thesis in chapter 1, chapter 2, explores the philosophical, biblical, and theological foundations within which to understand this problem and engage it. Charles Taylor sets the stage of our problem, providing a history of ideas that lead to our context. Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theory then provides a frame for understanding human behavior from within his concepts of habitus and field. The Book of Acts and the Psalter provide biblical engagement. Finally, phenomenology as theological method is introduced, and an anthropological model of contextual missions issued. In chapter 3, method is specifically framed, with special attention to the various sorts of transcendence at work in persons. The project goes into greater statistical depth about the church’s cultural challenges, and then turns its attention to the qualitative approach at work in this thesis and the reflexive interviewing method employed. This chapter ends with a brief description of the participants and a pastoral understanding of the role of ethnography within the missional enterprise of the church. Chapter 4 is the main body of the reflexive interview process with human subjects and the application of ethnographic technique. This chapter uses five registers of Peter Berger and Edward Farley that occur across all interviews as a means of interpreting participant data. The categories of Tradition, Obligation, Play, Damnation, and Hope are explored in detail as viable transcendent signals in Nones. This chapter ends by framing these findings. Lastly, the thesis concludes by offering a summation of the research and offering a taxonomy of deep symbols that are embodied in Nones. It presents the novel findings of the research, including the new root metaphor of Home for all signals. Finally, it argues that ethnography must be included in any new missiological mandate of the church.
    • How A Philosophical Assessment of the Text of Mark 4:34-41 Illuminates an Understanding of Divine Authority in the Person of Jesus

      Robleto, Moises; McAfee School of Theology
      ABSTRACT (Under the direction of JEFFREY WILLETS, Ph.D.) Explicitly or implicitly and whether we like it or not, there are problems which arise when modern Christians read the Bible as a Christian text, as part of their religious practice. The focus of this study will be on the philosophical problems caused by the historical distance between the Biblical world and ours. Those problems arise when a modern lens is applied to an ancient religious text. In this thesis, I will give particular focus to the ways that conceptual confusions arise in understanding the text by providing a philosophical analysis of the concept of miracles in Mark 4:35-41 and how this Biblical account in the life of Jesus and his disciples illuminates the concept of divine authority. I will show how modern assumptions can distort readings and meanings of the text. I will also show how the reading of the text may be freed from these confused assumptions by making a philosophical assessment of the concept of miracles to support the claim of Jesus’ divinity. There are many philosophical questions to be asked about what we find in the text of Mark 4:35-41 regarding a miracle performed by Jesus and how we can ascribe sense to it as twenty-first century readers of the Bible. The stated purpose for undertaking this inquiry was to study the concept of “Divine Authority” this was accomplished by means of a thorough study of leading postmodern scholars own published writings, and lectures, giving special consideration to the work in Philosophy of Christianity by Gareth Moore. How are we to understand the story of Jesus calming a storm? Such writings tended and clarified what we find in the story of a Storm Stilled. The story is not told in causal terms, it is not a matter of cause and effect, in fact, the story is told as one simple command and nature obeys. And so in this essay I respond to the disciples question, not “How did he do it” but, the real question, “What sort of a man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?”
    • How Does Using a Trauma-Informed Preaching Framework Influence Hearers' Experience of Shalomic-Healing During The Preaching Event?

      Gill, Tara Ann; McAfee School of Theology
      (Under the direction of Angela Parker, Ph.D.) Ten minority ministers from four Churches of God engaged a three-part sermon series addressing trauma. The sermons exhibited features of the ICONS Trauma-Informed Preaching Framework. This study was designed to determine if people could experience those features of the framework and thereby experience aspects of Shalomic-Healing. The purpose of the study is to determine the efficacy of the framework as a vehicle for mediating Shalomic-Healing and to refine the framework if research findings dictate such. The study shows the promising effectiveness of the ICONS Trauma-Informed Preaching Framework as evidenced by participants experiencing the features of the framework, which is indicative of the in-breaking of Shalomic-Healing.
    • Ministers on the Move: Coaching for Spiritual Discovery for Ministers in Vocational Transition in the Baptist General Association of Virginia

      Peppler, David; McAfee School of Theology
      ABSTRACT (Under the direction of Denise Massey, Ph.D.) Eight ministry leaders from the Baptist General Association of Virginia participated in a six-session spirituality coaching relationship. All of these leaders were anticipating vocational transitions within the next six months of their ministry. The purpose was to evaluate the effectiveness of coaching for spiritual discovery in their transition discernment process. The model used for these coaching conversations was Dr. Denise Massey’s CARING model, designed to ensure the spiritual nature of pastoral conversations. Participants were given written and oral exit interviews upon concluding their six coaching sessions. Qualitative questions were used to determine the effectiveness of the coaching experience as subject matter varied with each participant. The study shows the promising effects of coaching for spiritual discovery for ministers anticipating vocational transition. Participants explored their connectedness with the Holy Spirit throughout the process. The confidential and subjective topical approach provided participants with needed space to process God’s leadership in light of the external circumstances encountered in their discernment process.
    • Nurturing Connection To God In A Small Group Of Women At Tomoka Christian Church With The Use Of Lectio Divina

      Humbert, Susan; McAfee School of Theology
      (Under the direction of William Loyd Allen, Ph.D.) Opportunities to connect individuals to God through engaging the Holy Spirit on deep levels, after the point of conversion, are not readily available to my constituency. With a desire to strengthen disciples in my ministry context, I sought a project that could respond to the problem. Through the method of qualitative research, eight women with no previous knowledge of or experience with Lectio Divina were gathered for an eight-week experience with this prayer method. The purpose was to learn if this method was effective in nurturing connection to God. A comparison of the pre-project and post-project interviews, along with shared journal entries in a weekly group meeting, revealed that there was perceived nurtured connection to God. This conclusion was based on the spiritual themes which emerged from the participants over the course of those eight weeks as well as conclusionary comments at the post-project interviews.
    • Sensing the Presence of God Through Online Worship at Heritage Fellowship in Canton, Georgia

      Bishop, Justin Dwight; McAfee School of Theology
      Can sensory experiences enhance online worship? In an era when church attendance is in cultural decline and online or hybrid worship is becoming the new normal, one wonders how to make the most of this limited time in worship, especially for online worshipers. This thesis examines the biblical and historical use of sensory elements in worship, and it seeks to reimagine them for an online presentation in order to examine the effect of these sensory elements on the online worshipers’ experiences. Ten participants volunteered to take part in four video worship experiences during the Lenten season of 2021, beginning with a survey and semi-structured interview prior to the actual worship experiences and ending with a similar survey and interview. The questions were designed to determine if the sensory elements “enhanced” the overall online worship experience without using the word “enhance.” The themes that emerged from the surveys and interviews indicated that sensory elements were disruptive enough to call attention to the act of worship, enhancing it by making it less of an event to attend and more of an act in which to participate. Finally, in conclusion, this thesis offers ideas for how worship leadership might incorporate more sensory elements in both in-person and online worship that might enhance the divine encounter.