"Mercer University, McAfee School of Theology"

The incarnation of blessing: How do worshipers at First Baptist Church of West Jefferson, NC experience blessing in the confluence of the sermon and liturgical response?

Abstract
The dialogical and incarnational nature of Christian worship provides opportunities for personal encounters with the Triune God. God speaks to people through the “liturgical language” of worship— the literal and figurative words used and the material signs and symbols of worship practices. Worshipers often respond by describing their experience in theological language (theology literally means “words about God”). Implementing the methodological approach of pastoral ethnography, this project sought to understand the relationship between the liturgical language of certain worship practices and the theology of worshipers at First Baptist of West Jefferson, NC. In particular, how do worshipers at First Baptist experience what they had previously described as the “blessing” of God’s presence and love through sermons with concurrent liturgical responses?

The researcher utilized the speech-act theory of J. L. Austin’s work How to Do Things with Words as an interpretive tool of the performative nature of six sermons with concurrent liturgical responses. The performative impact of these sermons and responses was explored for six consecutive weeks in the Sunday morning worship service at First Baptist. Through data collected from weekly surveys and a handful of focus groups, participants revealed the performative nature of the sermons and concurrent liturgical responses, and how they experienced the blessing of God’s presence and love through the liturgical language of the sermons and concurrent practices.

The project revealed important lessons about the performative nature of liturgical language, particularly how members of First Baptist experience the blessing of God’s love and presence through sermons and concurrent liturgical responses. The combined experiences of participating congregants and the participating preacher led to recommendations for how the preaching and worship ministries of the First Baptist Church of West Jefferson, NC can continue to be a source of the blessing of God’s presence and love in the lives of worshipers.

Truth by Surprise: Subverting Expectations of the Kingdom of God through Homiletical Humor

Abstract
The congregants of First Baptist Church, Oak Ridge, Tennessee are like people in many churches around the United States. They are long-time church-goers who have attended Sunday school lessons and heard sermons on biblical texts enough to breed a familiarity that can prevent further insight. The preacher must find a way to bypass familiarity, allowing hearers to experience the text anew. This study measures how six sermons employing humor subvert expectations to give a renewed experience of Jesus’ descriptions of the Kingdom of God in the parables in Matthew’s Gospel.

Twelve participants were interviewed in three sessions over six weeks to measure how effective humor is in communicating the complex and counter-cultural Kingdom of God that Jesus expresses in the parables. The group was interviewed together in three semi-structured sessions to allow participants to give their insights and experiences with limited researcher prompting.

Participant responses indicate that humor indeed aided in experiencing familiar parables with a new perspective, a sense of personal interaction, and a desire to act upon the principles of the Kingdom as presented in the sermons. Humor can provide a fresh experience for preachers and congregations alike. Further study should be conducted in utilizing humor to preach texts of other biblical genres, such as the Hebrew prophets, proverbs, psalms, and epistles. Humor is a broad category, and some research into the congregation’s varied responses to specific types of humor (wit, anecdote, or satire) could be illuminating.

A Building Ministry: The Role of a United Methodist Minister in the Major Building Project of Dublin First UMC, a Large Historic Church

Abstract
Dublin First United Methodist Church is a large historic United Methodist Church located in Dublin, GA. This church is much like many of its kind; it has a long proud history of effective ministry in the community in which it resides. For over 150 years DFUMC has been a faithful body of believers bent on making disciples of Jesus Christ from its location in the heart of Dublin. As time has progressed, the facilities of the church have begun to decline and the existing structure became much in need of renovation, remodel and new construction. The leadership of DFUMC decided that a Building Project was needed to directly address these acknowledged needs in order for the church to continue to be a place of meaningful worship, study and fellowship.

The purpose of this Project Thesis came as a result of this decision and of the desire to ascertain what the specific role the Senior Pastor of the church would be in this building project. In pursuit of this end, extensive research on pastoral identity, sacred architecture, institutional change theory and Christian leadership was conducted. Following this research, Qualitative Research methodology was employed through the utilization of subject interviews. The interviews were focused on similarly situated Senior Pastors of large historic UMC congregations that have or were currently undergoing a similar large Building Project. Four such Senior Pastors were chosen according to these criteria and were interviewed using identical targeted interrogatories. The data gleaned from these interviews was then analyzed by coding the resulting information. Specific categories and codes that were identified as pertinent to the study were identified and the data was examined accordingly. The findings were that there is indeed a specific role for the Senior Pastor of a large historic UMC in a Building Project of this type.

We Are All Thomas Now: Millennial Christians and the Need for New Theological Worlds at the First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia

Abstract
According to the Pew Research Group, the fastest growing religious identification in the United States is "None." This trend is particularly strong with the generation known as "Millennials," where more than thirty-five percent reported that their religious affiliation is "None." This report has been widely reported on and has generated incredible anxiety in churches. While many in the church blame culture for a rapid decline of religious faith, it is the purpose of this thesis to show that one reason for the precipitous drop in religious identification in the United States is that the church has ceased to speak about God in a way that connects to the lived-experience of Millennials. If the gospel is going to spread in a post-Christian culture, then the church must learn to use variegated language to speak about how God is to be found in the world.
This thesis uses the Five Theological Worlds from W. Paul Jones as a launching point to offer a better way to connect the lived-experience of Millennials to the way they understand how God works in the world. Six Millennials were chosen to participate in this project, which began with each individual taking the Theological Worlds Inventory. After completing the Inventory, participants took part in one-hour long experiences of each of the five Theological Worlds. After the completion of the experiences, they were invited to take the Theological Worlds Inventory for the second time, with the hope that any change in Theological World could be measured by their responses. Follow up interviews were done with each of the six participants with questions geared to measure how each of the experiences impacted their lived-experience and their theological understanding of how God is at work in their lives. There were also four people who acted as a control group.

Soul Sisters: The Intersection of Amanda Berry Smith and Selected Women in Ministry of the Atlanta North Georgia Annual Conference of the AME Church

Abstract
This project juxtaposes the ministry and call narratives of randomly selected women in ministry ("WIM") of the Atlanta North Georgia Annual Conference ("ANGAC") and Amanda Berry Smith, a nineteenth century evangelist of the AME Church. Her ministry is important to the study of clergywomen in the AME Church, particularly the ANGAC. The call narratives provide an avenue to examine critical intersections between Smith and WIM of the ANGAC as it relates to affirmation of call, the Holy Spirit as liberator, and challenges with gender imbalances in clergy leadership in the AME Church. The object of this project is three-fold: 1) to show a connection between the ministries and call narratives of the selected WIM of ANGAC and Amanda Berry Smith; 2) to show disparities in the ANGAC and Board of Examiners regarding gender and ministerial vocations; and 3) to show that Amanda Berry Smith's ministry recognizes the importance of the Spirit in the call process and forces the church to reconsider how it looks at ministry.
This project uses qualitative research, collecting data from a survey and two focus groups. The participants consisted of twenty, randomly selected women in ministry from the ANGAC. They were Senior Pastors (Itinerant Elders) and not bi-vocational, Deacons (non-Itinerant Elders) currently in the Board of Examiners, bi-vocational clergywomen, and former AME clergywomen who are no longer part of the denomination. They were divided into the two groups, one with women in ministry currently in the ANGAC and one with those who left the AME Church. The women currently in the ANGAC received a survey of interview questions. Those who left the church participated in a focus group. Both instruments captured the participants' experiences, beliefs, and reactions, resulting in beneficial data for this project.

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