Many people in the mainline churches today worry about the declining numbers, declining effectiveness, and declining spirit in the congregations. There is no mistaking that there are many crises in the modern world, but which ones should be addressed by the church? What are people looking for, and how can the church deliver? Is this even the right way to look at matters?
In 'A Celtic Model of Ministry', Jerry Doherty, an Episcopal priest from Montana, suggests that there are a few identifiable critical crises that the church can and should address. Like almost no other period in history, all beliefs and traditions are being questioned -- the very survival of Christianity (and other religions such as Judaism) is at stake. Doherty suggests that the true solution is a spiritual reawakening, the development of new relationships with God. Doherty sees in the history of the Celtic peoples and their relationships and patterns of community some intriguing answers. In much the same way that the ancient Celtic Christians revitalised and restored Christianity to the collapsing Roman Empire, so to can Celtic Christian patterns reinvigourate the church today.
The critical crises include a crisis of individualism, a crisis of faith, and a crisis of lifestyle. The crisis of individualism is a logical extension of the same individualistic idealism that helped make America great -- however, it has lost the complementary aspect of community, which Doherty proposes as crucial to the solution of the crisis. Doherty devotes several chapters to illustrating the idea of community and spirituality in Celtic worlds, as well as makes suggestions for the creation of new, similar communities in modern churches.
The second primary crisis is that of faith. Doherty traces the oriental-influenced aspects of Christianity, and writes of how modern Enlightenment ideas have removed some of the mystery (mystical) and the practical spirituality from the faith, making it in many respects a completely rational, academic pursuit that ultimately cannot be sustained in such a framework with a great degree of emotional and spiritual satisfaction.
The final crisis, that of lifestyle, shows the difficulties of living a 'Christian life' outside of the walls of the church. Part of this is the fault of the clergy, and part of the laity, and part society at large. Ministry needs to be a shared by all parties, and not relegated to or left to a particular subset of people. Doherty uses the examples of many of the Celtic missionary saints to demonstrate the Christian life of service and outreach beyond the walls of church and monastery.
Doherty draws on ancient authors and modern scholars, poetry and prose from historical and literary sources, hymn texts, and personal stories to demonstrate his processes and illustrate his points. The text is well-organised and coherent, with many practical suggestions.
One thing that could be emphasised more (and this is a general criticism of many books that put forward models or strategies for ministry) is approaching congregations and local communities where they are -- taking into account the history and personalities of those persons already in community. How the Celtic model would deal with conflicts that will inevitably arise would be an interesting question to address more fully.
Doherty provides a nice-sized bibliography (particularly given the small size of the book) and an index, always an advantage in a book designed to be studied. This is a good resource for pastors, lay leaders, and anyone interesting in building authentic communities.