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Re-imagining church producing sacred spaces for the experience of the transcendent in an evolving experiential culture

posted on 14.02.2017, 02:23 by Rose, Gerald David
This qualitative empirical study investigates how a religious organisation is responding to the shift in transcendent authority from the rationality associated with the modernity era in Western culture to the experiential authority foundational to contemporary culture. It is a case study examining how the clergy of an Australian Protestant denomination are adjusting to this experiential shift and its associated emotionally expressive turn. Forty-four clergy of the Conference of Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania were selected to participate in a one-off, open-ended and in-depth interview concerning their experiences in Ministry. The method used to select these clergy meant that the resultant sample was indicative of the Ministry practices, ways of doing church and attitudes of the Ministers and Pastors serving in the one hundred and twentyseven churches and agencies, Conference Executive leadership and theological faculty of the Conference across the two States. Theoretically the study drew from the Weberian typology of the three ultimate or transcendent grounds for authority in human societies: tradition, rationality and experience. This thesis demonstrates that since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s (epitomised by the counter-culture movement) Western culture has been shifting from the instrumental rationality of the modernity era to the experiential authority of postmodern experiential era. This experiential shift has been accompanied by a turn, particularly in 'popular culture', towards a new regime of expressive emotions. As a result, those religious bodies such as the mainstream denominations that privileged rational explanation and a more subdued regime of emotions, have all experienced serious decline. Those groups that favoured fonns of experiential religion incorporating expressive emotional responses have prospered. Consequently, Churches of Christ, a small mainstream denomination, has suffered serious decline in popular support except in those churches where experiential religion has been encouraged. The research identified four broad patterns of response within the denomination to the experiential shift in the culture: experiential fonns of Ministry identified as Intentionally Missional Ministry, Charismatic Ministry, Transitional Ministry and Culturally Resistant Ministry. Seven styles of Ministry associated with different ways of doing church were identified across these four patterns, two within the Charismatic pattern, three within the Transitional and one within each of the other two patterns. In addition, a broad range of strategies was identified that are used by clergy to adjust to, and come to terms with, the experiential shift in the culture. Significant among these were the intentional re-sacralisation and re-enchantment of human experience along with verbal and symbolic ways of de-secularising the world and the meaning of transcendent experience. Ministers are, in effect, re-imaging ways of doing church that not only incorporate a different understanding of the mission of the church but also accommodate aspects of experiential religion.


Principal supervisor

Gary Bouma

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Social and Political Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts