Indigenous Ministry in the Context of the United States

by Tex Sample

Tex Sample is a native of Brookhaven, Mississippi. He received his S.T.B. from Boston University School of Theology and his Ph.D. from Boston University Graduate School. He has worked as a cab driver, laborer and roust-about in the oil fields. He pastored churches for eight years and served as Director of Social Relations of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, working actively in the civil rights movement. Since 1967 he has been on the faculty of the Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City where is he Professor of Church and Society. His books include: Blue Collar Ministry (Judson Press 1984), U.S. Lifestyles and Mainline Churches (Westminster/John Knox 1990), Hard Living People and Mainstream Christians (Abingdon 1993), Ministry in an Oral Culture: Living with Will Rogers, Uncle Remus, and Minnie Pearl (Westminster/John Knox 1994) and White Soul: Country Music, the Church and Working People (Abingdon 1996).

This appeared originally in Research, 1991, monograph on the genesis and ethos of public service campaigns; principles and case studies. In yet different form appeared as “Selling Consent,” Communication and Citizenship. Eds. P. Dahlgren and C. Sparks. London: Routledge, 1991. The sociological and public policy implications of establishment information compliance campaigns.


Nothing is more clear in the mission of the church in the United States today than that ministry must be indigenous and must take with the utmost seriousness the particularities of this culture. The author provides a way to look at the United States in terms of three very broad cultural formations, each one housing significant diversity. He describes and compares each of them, focusing on their specific relevance for mission and ministry.

Nothing is more clear in the mission of the church in the United States today than that ministry must be indigenous and must take with the utmost seriousness the particularities of this culture. The reasons for this are not only that ever more diverse cultural groups are moving into the United States, as important as this clearly is, but because indigenous ministry has not been given the centrality it deserves all along. Why this is so is a complex question and not the subject of this paper. Suffice it to say that only in a time when the country faces a new immigration and when "otherness" finds academic credibility do we suddenly discover that "we" are diverse and require contextualization.

Edward Said observes that a culture is a system of discriminations and exclusions. One may question why such previously silent voices are now receiving attention. Perhaps it because of emerging power among such voices and/or because the dominant voices are losing power in a world that has "suddenly become global." Certainly it relates to massive changes occurring at both the global and local levels.

Whatever the case, this interest becomes the occasion for the church to give attention to a matter always basic to the proclamation of and witness to the gospel. Indeed it is basic to the Incarnation itself. In the Gospel of John "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The word "dwelt" translates the Greek word skenoo, meaning literally "pitched tent with us." This is clearly an encultural event, The Word takes on ethnographical residence. It is the Word, and it is encultured.

What follows here is an overly simple, but useful way to look at the United States in terms of three very broad cultural formations, each one housing no little diversity itself. My format is to describe and to compare each of them. The foci I have selected for description/comparison are chosen for their specific relevance for mission and ministry.

The Cultural Right, The Cultural Middle, and The Cultural Left

The Cultural Right. The United States can be seen as an enormously complex culture that involves three large subcultural components. The largest of these is the group of U.S. Americans who are most traditional. Whether urban or rural, they tend to be local in orientation, territorially rooted, communal in relationships, conventional in morality, traditional in their values, socio-morally conservative in family and social life, and politically moderate. In terms of social class they inhabit the lower half of the income, education, and occupational structure. (Sample, 1990, and Vanfossen,1979.)

In ethnicity all of the minorities in the United States are well represented in this large population aggregate. A majority of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, and the largest plurality of Anglo-Europeans can be described as cultural right. Because of the large percentage of college-educated Asian Americans who have immigrated to the United States, the proportion of traditional people in this group, especially Koreans, may not be as high. To be sure, the ethnographic make-up of these traditional subcultures will be quite various, but traditional people of whatever ethnic group do share some common characteristics which are very important for indigenous mission and ministry. Faithful and effective work by the church will pitch tent with the rich particularity of each of these traditions. (Weiss, 1988; Garreau,1981; and Mitchell, 1983.)

On the cultural right one other distinction needs to be made between "the respectables" and the "hard living. "By respectables I mean the hard working, church going, patriotic, family-oriented people who find in respectability hard earned compensation for not realizing the dominant culture's valuing of winning and achievement, on the one hand, and their own rightful claim of dignity, on the other. By hard living I mean that sizable but smaller group on the cultural right who have given up on respectability. The larger society has a variety of names for them: poor white trash, underclass blacks and Hispanics, and so on. These are the people who struggle with employment, abuse drugs, experience household instability, and have histories of violence, either as victims or perpetrators or both. (Sample, 1993; Mitchell, 1983; Howell, 1973.)

The cultural right is important for indigenous ministry for at least two reasons. The first is that respectables constitute the most committed church people in the society if this is measured in terms of attendance, participation, giving, and service. The challenge of indigenous ministry is as formidable here as anywhere because of the education and professionalization of the clergy, on the one hand, and the increasing accommodation of the mainline church to the business and professional classes on the other. Secondly, in terms of the commitment of the church to the poor, the cultural right is where the poor are with the largest number of them being respectable in orientation, followed, of course, by the hard living.

The Cultural Middle. The people of this life style group most manifest the values of the dominant culture. These are the career oriented, business and professional people who seek out achievement and success. Profoundly utilitarian and individualistic they tend to be highly rationalized in Max Weber's sense of that word. Their social relationships beyond the nuclear family are closely related to business and career.

Because of the crossfire of competing claims in settings where they have to make decisions, a given in the locations and requirements of their work responsibilities, they tend to be situational and consequential in their approach to ethics. With their generally high levels of privilege and affluence they tend to be politically conservative and supportive of national defense, minimal welfare, and free enterprise economics, although these stands may be moderated among those most committed to the church and thereby influenced by its social teaching.

Career ladders typically require geographical mobility and hence an uprooting which begins when they leave home to go to the university. As a result traditional values play largely a nostalgic role or are relegated to the private sphere. The powerful goal orientation of this life style produces its special kinds of crises: stress, burn-out, failure, emptiness, loneliness, boredom, living too much in one's head, the unemployed self, life cycle traumas, and the distracted forfeiture of retirement, among others. While important gender differences can still be found in these characteristics, I suspect that these will be largely overwhelmed in the structural and institutional exigencies of career settings, still over represented by males, unless more basic changes are afoot from sources not yet evident. (Sample,1990,99-138; Mitchell,1983:11-14.)

As I intimated above a significant public/private split sharply characterizes this lifestyle. Certain dimensions of living simply do not get met in most of the jobs of the cultural middle. The result is that a lot of pressure is placed on the private sphere, where this is not squeezed out by the demands of career itself. For the cultural middle the church inhabits this private sphere and can play an extremely important role in "completing" life. This, of course, brings its own challenges to a more encompassing understanding of the faith and further poses the issues of indigenous ministry. (Roozen et al,1984.)

Throughout most of the history of the United States a strong self-denial ethic characterized the great majority of the population. This ethic continues to remain strong on the cultural right especially in terms of family. On the cultural middle this self-denial ethic can be seen around issues of career and, of course, family, but heuristically the ambiguity of the cultural middle on this question can be interpreted by distinguishing those more influenced by tradition on the "right side of the middle" and those more influenced by recent developments on the "left side," especially the developments following World War II among baby boomers who came of age during the 1960s.

The Cultural Left. The coming of the boomers brought a strong inner-directed, post materialist, self-fulfillment ethic. Some thirty-plus million boomers were strongest in their expression of this ethic and were its primary carriers. I call them the cultural left. These boomers reacted against the self-denial they found in their parents and the wider society with its more restrained conformity and the delay of gratification for the sake of long term gain. Cultural left life styles became more expressive, less instrumental, and more focused on the here and now. (Yankelovich,1981; Roof and McKinney,1987:40-71; Sample,1990.)

As is well known the boomers dropped out of church in unprecedented numbers. Alienated from and distrustful of established institutions the boomers, and especially the cultural left, walked away from mainline churches by the millions. More conservative churches, drawing their memberships from the most traditional people in the society, were least affected by these movements and some of them continue to grow. While some boomers are now returning, significant numbers have not and the difficulties of reaching them are well recorded in evangelistic and church growth literature.

When they were young they were called the "now generation" as an attempt to capture this more expressive lifestyle oriented to the intrinsic values of immediate experience. This 'now' orientation moderated as the U.S. economy worsened; and as they moved toward middle age, the cultural left boomers began a search for more structure in their lives. This search remains, however, an inner-directed one. While nothing will homogenize life styles in the United States like a child and a mortgage--both now increasingly characterize boomers--the cultural left will continue to be "different," and will not "come around" to meet the expectations of other lifestyle groups.

The politically liberal cultural left has perhaps made its greatest impact on the wider society with its socio-morally permissive views and practices around sexuality and its views on the relation of the genders. The impact of this on the baby bust generation is clearly evident. Born in the twelve years following the boomers (1965-1976), this younger generation is much more cultural right and middle in lifestyle, but nevertheless seems to continue the socio-morally liberal views and practices of the boomers although not their more politically liberal ones. (Roof et al,1993; Howe and Strauss,1992.)

In sum, the United States can be usefully pictured as a cultural continuum of right, middle and left with the first of these representing the most traditional and hard living people, the second the business and professional careerists, and the last a recent cultural formation of inner-directed, self-fulfillment oriented baby boomers now entering middle age. What is quite clear is that a single approach to mission and ministry will not touch the people of such different lifestyles, not to mention the even richer diversities of ethnicity within each of the larger formations. In the remainder of this discussion I will illustrate directions indigenous ministry will need to take if it is to pitch tent with the varieties of people increasingly characteristic of the United States. My focus will be differences in thinking, in approaches to faith, and in practices. These, of course, are not exhaustive, but are rather illustrative of the work before us to witness to the faith in indigenous ways.

Orality, Literacy, and Electronic Orality

Traditional Orality. Perhaps the first thing to examine is the radically different ways these three groups think and engage the world. The cultural right is basically oral in its approach. While most of them can read and write, nevertheless they tend to think in proverbs, stories, and relationships. This is, of course, not a primal orality in the sense of a culture without a written language. I call it a traditional orality to suggest that it occurs among more traditional people albeit in a culture that has not only a written language but electronic media as well, to which I shall turn presently. This traditional orality contrasts sharply with business and professional people who tend to think more conceptually and discursively, especially in their occupational lives. Cultural right people do vernacular; cultural middle people do discourse. (Ong, 1982:31-77.)

 The growing accommodation of mainline churches to the middle class and the higher educational levels of clergy make indigenous ministry even more difficult. Moreover, seminary education, like higher education generally, misfits people for work on the cultural right. Academic jargon, professional tastes, the logic of what constitutes significant argument, the focus of interests in recreation, leisure, and even subjective reverie constitute major barriers to communication, on the one hand, and make it difficult for clergy to serve in such settings, on the other. Meanwhile, cultural right people wonder what in the world has happened to the clergy. Were they not so loyal, they would have left long ago.

Think for but a moment about the problems posed by indigenous ministry. Oral people think in proverbs; in higher education such things are called cliches and old bromides. Oral people think in stories; in higher education the pressure is on to make the point. Oral people learn through apprenticeship; in the academy--when such things are a concern--the talk is about praxis. Oral people are more concrete life based in their engagement with the world; higher education makes one more introspective and oriented to one's subjective interiorization. Oral people are more practical in their thinking; the theoretical and categorical character of discourse distances professionals not only by their jargon but by the abstract caste of their levels of generality. (Ong,1982:31-77.)

Indigenous ministry and mission on the cultural right will require witnesses who find local traditional people mysterious and interesting, who are prepared to understand orality as a "language," and who are prepared to become "multi-lingual."

The Literate Middle. If the cultural right is more oral, the cultural middle is more literate. The kinds of things we do in seminaries are closest to the thought forms, if not the political commitments, of this business and professional group. The life styles of trained clergy are most congruent with the cultural middle, who find in their forms of life the tastes, the manners, and the fashions more in keeping with own training and careers. It should not be missed that this is a form of indigenization. The problem, however, is that it is often an outright accommodation to and a baptizing of middle class life. Still, the use of discourse, the high levels of education, the interest in understanding the faith, and the prizing of a thoughtful appropriation of the tradition of the church can be found among the cultural middle. (Ong,1982:78-138.)

The very fact of its more literate expression poses significant issues for the mission of the church. The fit between clergy and this lifestyle, on the one hand, and the commitments of such business and professional people to the popular intellectual currents of the times, on the other, promote problems of a syncretistic accommodation rather than an authentic indigenization.

In its accommodation to middle class society the indigenization becomes more difficult because the wholesale framing of the church may be in such congruence with the cultural middle that the distance between Word and world is lost, with the result that a healing, redemptive, transformative Word cannot touch the deepest hungers of people for life, for trust in God, for hope, for a righteous justice.

I think especially of the difficulty of proclaiming a gospel of grace in an achievement culture, of the difficulty of breaking through the popular forms of Enlightenment bourgeois commitments: the individualism and loss of community, the confidence in rationality and often of a life-depleting and hollowing kind, the belief in some common core of universal religion that obscures the profundities of the particularities of Christian life, and the faith-destructive idolatries of the nation state.

Add to these long term complexities the more recent challenges of a consumer ethic, the peripheralization of religious life, the privatization of core meanings and commitments, the growing subjectivization of belief with attendant losses of distinctively Christian practices and the waning passion for justice and peace, and the issue of communicating an authentic Word becomes challenging indeed.

With respect to the cultural middle the opportunity is to move from accommodation to indigenous ministry. I see three basic moves that need to be made. The first is a heavy critique of key commitments of the Enlightenment. These commitments abound in popular form in middle class life. Reclaiming traditioning, denting individualism with a more compelling understanding of human social life, calling into question easy universalities, demonstrating the inadequacies of rationality, relativizing the claims of science, and placing the nation state in a socio-historical context as a means to demystify its transcendent claims seem to be key dimensions of this critique. Second, the connection between Christian belief and faithful practices needs to reestablished. That practices are irreplaceable modes of knowing and crucial to the formation of feeling are ideas that have lost currency in the United States. They deserve a renewed, functional implementation in the church. Finally, the rational efficiency of the cultural middle involves a repression of the spirit. With their focus on introspection and their preoccupation with their own interiority middle class people are more than capable of seeing and understanding such dynamics. The release of this kind of power in their lives could provide a new grounding of meaning and purpose and the faithful strength to address issues of social justice looming so massively before the church today. (Lyotard,1984; Milbank,1990; Hauerwas,1991; Placher,1989 ;Devaney,1991.)

Electronic Orality. A distinctively new turn in patterns of thought, learning and participation is now occurring on the cultural left. If the cultural right is oral and the middle is literate, then the cultural left can be characterized in terms of electronic orality. While this form of thinking and communication is persuasively present among people under fifty in the society, nevertheless the initial carriers of it were the boomers.

Walter Ong observed this phenomenon more than twenty years ago. He noted that industrial societies had gone through a sequence of electronic stages from telegraph, to telephone, to sound pictures, to television, to computers and so on. On the basis of these technological changes we are moving from a literate society to an electronic one. While this new society is based on writing, print and technology, it represents a radical departure from a literate culture formation. More than that, a basic change in the "nature" of human beings is taking place. Ong maintains that the senses are socio-historically and culturally organized. He calls this organization of the senses the sensorium, and is convinced that a new formation is in the making. Subsequent events suggest that he is correct.

In three books Ong provides a number of characteristics of electronic orality: shared experience, simultaneity, spontaneity, dialogical in approach, open-ended, participative, short term, a preference for variety of choice, team work, ecological sensitivity, and a growing cosmic/global interest. As I look back on some 500 workshops in church settings in the last ten years. I can remember hundreds of complaints about the way boomers are different: their departure from the church to participate in gatherings like Woodstock, Farm Aid, Live Aid, etc., their interest early on in rap groups, and later seminars, their open-ended approach to truth as "true for me at this point of my life," their penchant for short-term events and sound byte focus, their insistence on a range of options the church did not usually provide, and a deepening commitment to the earth, nature, and environmental concerns. (Ong 1977:298-302;1967.) Over the years one of the exercises I have enjoyed most in workshops with church groups is to watch them rethink the format of worship using these characteristics as criteria.

This may be one of the biggest challenges that indigenization faces. What are the implications for preaching for example?

What does it do to Christian Education? Does such a form violate worship as such? Does electronic orality represent a form, so powerful in itself that issues of commitment are lost? Can such a form of life carry a tradition or is it, underneath, the deception of consumer culture preying on the created needs of the vulnerable young? Or, is it threatening because it is new? Because it requires change in the church? Because it misfits those of us who have built our own faith around literate practices and cannot or will not change? The next twenty-five years will tell us much. I am struck by the fact that the church is growing fastest in those parts of the world where electronic orality has not taken hold. In fact, the church is growing where traditional orality is strongest. The young people of these countries are deeply interested in the youth culture of the United States. Is this a harbinger of things to come?

Whatever the case may be, the situation the church faces today in the United States is one of large populations characterized by three cultural formations: a traditional orality among those in the lower half of the class structure, a literate establishment, and an emergent electronic orality powerfully present among the people least attracted to organized religion. We turn now to the ways in which these large groups address issues of faith.


Faith Language of the Heart, Explanatory Theology, and the Mystical-Therapeutic Journey.

It will no be surprise by now that these three large cultural formations will approach faith in radically different ways. Having discussed these in another context I will not simply replicate that here, but rather report on more recent work I have done in this regard. (Sample,1990.)

Faith Language of the Heart. Following Robert Schreiter(1985) I call the cultural right orientation to belief, folk theology, meaning by this that it is very biblical, oral, narrative, proverbial, testimonial, and usually characterized by an active believing and feeling. This folk theology is characteristic of both the respectables and the hard living. Their differences occur around practices of church attendance more than around issues like orality.

Recent work has led me to focus on what I call a faith language of the heart. My interest is to demonstrate that such faith language is oral not literate, relational not conceptual, proverbial not propositional, narrative not theoretical, and stated in vernacular not discourse. More than that, its concern is not primarily cognitive, except as a world view serves other interests. That is, it deals first of all with questions of need, survival, and coping. As a result, the concerns of cultural right people will be around trust rather than explanation, assurance rather than comprehension, survival rather than coherence and coping rather than consistency. (Mitchell and Cooper-Lewter,1986.) Second, a faith language of the heart has belonging and identity at its core. These, too, will take precedence over cognitive claims as such. Some may contend that this is not true of fundamentalism with strong propositional and dispensational theory. Such departure from a faith language of the heart as I describe it, however, is more characteristic of elites among fundamentalists and is not true of the great majority. (Ammerman,1987.)

With respect to indigenization important work can be done by the church in translating biblical faith, the tradition of the church, and contemporary theology into a language of the heart which addresses the life issues of the cultural right. The heavy cognitive emphasis of mainstream theology is simply not contextual in terms of this large population in the United States.

Important work needs to be done with the cultural right on the social issues of the day. Faithful mission with traditional people no more means mere accommodation to their lifestyles than to those of any other group. What is required, however, are more contextual approaches to social ethics, for example, which the church has hardly considered. Ethics is far too preoccupied with academic questions and virtually excludes the central issues of the moralities of flesh and blood people. The focus on highly abstract discourse of most ethicists has little or no influence upon or simply misses the lived reality of about half the membership of the churches.

Explanatory Theology. On the cultural middle the expression of faith becomes more explanatory in expression. Previous studies have shown that middle class people tend to think and know their faith more than to believe and feel it as people in the lower classes do. Such expression grows, at least in part, from the fact that cultural middle business and professional people find themselves in positions where a great deal of explaining goes on in promoting products, explicating a diagnosis, prescribing a solution and so on. Moreover, higher levels of education train them to think in discursive ways. It is hardly surprising, then that they should bring these practices to the expression of their faith. (Sample,1990:123-138.)

Indigenous ministry will pitch tent with such practices. Approaches to mission and ministry will respond to the questions that cultural middle members inevitably bring to the faith. As I suggested above, I see two tensions in this relation of the Word to the world of the cultural middle. The first is a framing of Christian faith in popular world views derived from the Enlightenment. The second is an emptying that occurs in the rationalized practices of the Enlightenment that tend toward a mind-body split, dualistic and reductionistic forms of thinking, and a linear rationality that misses a profounder ecological reason with deep ties to emotion and to explicit valuing. An indigenous ministry will come in the form of explanatory theology, but it will be one which challenges the Enlightenment assumptions and the self- and community-depleting forms of popular intellectual life. Basic to this work is a politics of gender and a critique of masculine cognitive, cathectic, and evaluative structuring presently dominant in business and professional life.

The Mystical-Therapeutic Journey. Cultural left faith claims widely employ the metaphor of journey, which I have characterized as journey theology. This approach is process and developmentally oriented, tends to privilege and have great confidence in the "natural," views the world--indeed, the cosmos--as profoundly inter- and inner-connected, and finds voice in a mystical, therapeutic and experimental spirituality, which usually avoids the institutional church. (Sample 1990; Roof 1993,61-148.) Doubtlessly, this journey theology is, in part, a reaction to the rationalization of life in the dominant culture. Like the dominant culture, it is highly individualistic, but it is expressive rather than utilitarian. It tends to be naive about the collapsibility of world religions, Native American spirituality, and, in some cases, magical practices into some common core of truth (an Enlightenment legacy except for a "syncretistic," unscientific, humanistic sorcery). It relies on a popular "true for me" logical "escape," the nihilism of which is hardly every fully addressed. And, in a profound accommodation to a consumer ethic, it adopts a 'pick and choose' attitude toward religious commitments and practices. (Johnson 1993:31,13-18.)

At the same time, the cultural left displays a pervasive spiritual hunger, an appetition the churches have hardly touched. Moreover, this spirituality finds a varied reception among a great mass of people under fifty years of age in the United States. An indigenous ministry will take such popular expressions seriously. The question is what kind of tent the proclamation of the Word will pitch. My own conviction is that a renewed engagement of the mystical and spiritual disciplines of the church which seek embodiment in an electronic orality offers a direction that needs to be explored. Such direction will certainly not be without critique, especially of the failure of the cultural left to see the role of tradition in any form of life and the consumer captivity of 'pick and choose' faith which turns believers into Romeos of religion.

At the same time, among the cultural left can be found a smoldering social compassion. A church committed to social justice and peace--one that takes material stands against the inequalities, the racism, the sexism, and the heterosexism of our culture and combines these with an informed spirituality--has the best chance of manifesting a faithful indigeneity on the cultural left.

Obviously, none of these efforts to contextualize the faith in the United States can occur in one's head alone. The embodiment of faithfulness in practices is essential to a church based in the Incarnation. The last section of the paper will address this concern.


Indigenous Practices

Much of what I have already done is focused on practices. The ways people think, believe, function, and just live are forms of practice. In this section I will add to what has gone before in order to fill out something more of the indigenous practices of the people of the United States.

Tradition and Practices. As we have seen cultural practices in thinking are oral, narrative, and relational, and their religious expression takes form in a faith language of the heart. In addition, cultural right practices are much in evidence in resistance--especially to experts and other outside-agenda bearing agents, including clergy--in story telling, in apprenticeship learning, factional conflict, in fussing and griping in contrast to the literate practices of critique, in being more gather-oriented than goal-oriented, in their commitment to folklore, and so on. (de Certeau 1984:29-42.)

In the space I have remaining I want to focus on one practice specifically as an illustration of indigenous ministry on the cultural right not only because it suggests the kind of indigeneity needed, but also because it represents an important corrective to an external practice typically imposed on them. I think specifically of the Marxist view of praxis which has been proffered to the cultural right, especially the poor. The problem with praxis is that it has a strong theoretical moment which is external to traditional people. It is worth remembering here that Marx was an Enlightenment thinker and had very little use for traditional people. My point is that more traditional people do not do theory and praxis but rather do tradition and practices instead. This means that an indigenous approach to social change will be one that pitches tent in the day to day tradition and practices of the cultural right rather than trying to bring in strategies and tactics from the university or corporate America, or a Marxist tradition.

The typical prejudice of modernity is that traditional people cannot change, an incredible misjudgment considering the thousands of years in which tribal groups inhabited the world, and the massive shifts that occurred in that period of time. Moreover, traditional people in the last century have perhaps endured more uprootedness and fundamental change than those with the security of the corporation, the university, and the affluence of Marxist revolutionaries who write books instead of shoot guns. Further still, Richard Flacks has established that the major social movements tend to be those of people who believe that traditional values are under attack and then engage in actions to defend those values and, in turn, bring about large scale change. (Flacks 1974:60.) Finally, it helps to remember that in such lifestyles the traditions of the past serve the integrity of the communal present, a fundamental source of indigenous change when creative selectivity from the rich resources of the past and a contextualized social ethic provide legitimate rationale for the faithful engagement of new challenges. the practices of a people.


Practices in the Territories of Unused Life. The practices of the cultural middle are quite different. Lacking a keen sense of a tradition, as modernity is wont to do, their actions are more situationally relevant and utilitarian. Practices are more goal oriented, and rationalized efficiency comes to dominate life. Sacrifices of the present serve long term gain. Meanwhile, a kind of management "cool" captures feeling in a restrained cathexis in the service of the advantage of the corporation, one's position, and the career.

No doubt such practices have served the institutional church well, and the key leadership among the laity and the clergy tend to manifest these procedures. One cannot help but wonder also how much these habituated methods strangle life in the Spirit, reduce faith to rationalized ideas and mere belief, rein in the emotional range of religious experience to the instrumental service of distant linear gain, and feed misogyny, racism, and hatred of the "disreputable" poor by the projection into them of the unclaimed and unanswered repressed dimensions of middle class life.(Ehrenreich 1989; Rubin 1976.)

Indigenous ministry dare not deepen these captivities. The point of contact for ministry here is precisely that of the territories of unused life, of a church that opens the doors to an unknown world. The point is not to trivialize the future but to sacramentalize the present, to claim a multidimensional, environmental framing of life that belies the reductionistic linearity of gain seeking. The direction for practice is in

intrinsic acts of ministry and discipleship fed by an expressive worship that forms emotions and that reconstitutes the self in community. The church itself will need to repent of its incessant round of instrumental meetings designed to achieve goals of efficient rationality, and to seek instead a life in the Spirit that deepens the interiority of middle class people while redefining the world as a new creation in Christ, a setting for mission.

Cultural left Practices. At one time one could presume that people had a basic commitment to the church. From this commitment a deeper relationship could be formed. Today the problem is just the opposite with the cultural left. A relationship must first be built, and then a commitment can be developed. An indigenous ministry thus begins with practices already at work in order to make contact. The practices of boomers and especially the cultural left tend to focus on experiences that are intrinsically valuable, emotionally expressive, relationship building, and societally conscious. They typically are drawn to programs that offer options for participation and that are short-term in duration. Church programs that reach them are those that provide opportunity for hands-on mission, that utilize their capacities, that help them find their own ministry. and that deal with the faith in a way that demonstrates its relevance to down-on-the-ground issues of every day life. These along with the mystical-therapeutic spirituality and the characteristics of electronic orality discussed above constitute an array of practices that characterize the cultural left presently. Indigenous ministry will begin with these, at least initially, as a point of contact to build a relationship from which a deeper commitment can be formed.


The indigenization of ministry in the context of the United States is long overdue. Major differences exist between three large cultural groups with each of these representing significant ethnic differences. The mission and ministry of the church requires sensitivity to very different ways of thinking, of expressing the faith, and of lifestyle practices. These differences have major implications for theological education. for the witness of the church, and for the teaching of missiology.



1. See Tex Sample, U.S. Lifestyles and Mainline Churches ( Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990). On social class the best integration of research and theory I know is Beth E. Vanfossen, The Structure of Social Inequality(Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1979).

2. For a fuller breakdown of U.S. lifestyles that specifies more fully the range of diversity, especially that of ethnic groups, see Michael J. Weiss, The Clustering of America (New York: Harper & Row, 1988). For a regional view of North America see Joel Garreau, The Nine Nations of North America (New York: Avon Books, 1981). On 'respectables' or 'belongers' in his language see Arnold Mitchell, The Nine American Lifestyles (New York: Warner Books, 1993),9-11.

3. Tex Sample, Hard Living People and Mainstream Christians

(Nashville,Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1993). See also Mitchell, 6-8, on 'sustainers.' For the language of 'hard living' I am indebted to Joseph T. Howell, Hard Living on Clay Street(Garden City, N.J. Doubleday and Co., Anchor Books, 1973).

4. On the cultural middle see Sample, Lifestyles, 99-138, and Mitchell, 11-14, on 'emulators' and 'achievers.'

5. See David A. Roozen, William McKinney, and Jackson W. Carroll, Varieties of Religious Presence (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1984).

6. See: Daniel Yankelovich, New Rules: Searching for Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down (New York: Random House, 1981); and Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney, American Mainline Religion (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 40-71.

7. See Roof et al., A Generation of Seekers (San Francisco: Harpers, 1993). For a recent study on the baby bust generation see Neil Howe and William Strauss, "The New Generation Gap," The Atlantic Monthly (December, 1992), 67-87.

8. I am indebted here to Walter J. Ong. See his Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Routledge, 1982), 31-77.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., 78-138.

11. Very helpful critiques of modernity can be found in Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1984); John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Cambridge, Mass., 1990); Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991); William C. Placher, Unapologetic Theology (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1989); and Sheila Greeve Devaney, Theology at the End of Modernity (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International,1991).

12. See Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy; Interfaces of the Word (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 298-302; and The Presence of the Word (Minneapolis" University of Minnesota Press, 1967).

13. See my Lifestyles, 45-56, 83-98, and 123-138. I am indebted here to Robert J. Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1985), 85-87, and 87-91.

14. My interest in a faith language of the heart was first initiated by Henry Mitchell and Nicholas Cooper-Lewter, Soul Theology: The Heart of American Black Culture (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986). On fundamentalists see Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World

(New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), esp.47-51.

15. See Lifestyles,123-138.

16. Ibid. For a more recent update of the spirituality of boomers see Roof, A Generation of Seekers, 61-148.

17.Benton Johnson, et al., "Mainline Churches: The Real Reason for Decline," First Things (March, 1993),31, 13-18.

18. See especially Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. by Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 29-42; Guida West and Rhoda Lois Blumberg(eds.), Women and Social Protest( New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990); and Katie C. Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).

19. Richard Flacks, "Making History vs. Making Life--Dilemma of an American Left," Working Papers for a New Society (Summer. 1974), p.60. Quoted on Harry C. Boyte, The Backyard Revolution (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980), 180.

20. See Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class (New York: HarperCollins, 1989); Lillian Rubin, Worlds of Pain (New York: Basic Books, 1976).