Thomas Edward Frank points out that the dominant paradigm of many contemporary books about church administration reflects an underlying “theology of progress,” a distilling of the gospel into self-worth, a conflation of basilea with market growth. According to Frank, good fortune and blessing are confused; praise and good feeling are identified. This paradigm of success and progress, however, fails to account adequately for the vision of the believers’ presence in the world as ecclesia. “The soul of the congregation,” argues Frank, is a way of being and being-in-the-world, and not didactic or productive.
Every congregation is a unique culture comprising the artifacts, practices, values, outlooks, symbols, stories, language, ritual, and collective character that makes it particularly itself. This culture--or soul--is an outgrowth of the life together of a particular mix of individuals, families, ethnic and community forms that have connected in a certain place over time. By carefully observing congregational culture, leaders and participants can deepen understanding and appreciation for the congregation as it has endured, and recognize possibilities for ministry derived from the congregation's values and strengths.
In a series of delightful letters and engrossing reflections, Frank invites us to practice this art of discernment, of seeing, listening, paying attention, and spinning webs of connection with experiences, memories, traditions, and ideas that have gone before. Rather than reach for some newfangled church marketing or growth paradigm that does not feed the soul, he urges us to lean on what we already have among us. In so doing, we will rediscover the soul of the congregation of which we are already a part.