In his new book “Practical Theology in Church and Society,” Dr. Joseph Bush Jr., Wesley’s director of Practice in Ministry and Mission, offers current and future ministers a rich, reflective look at the challenges of entering a new community.
“The first half of the book is very much focused on individual experience,” he said. “It’s looking at the experience of individuals as they enter into ministries of different kinds and as they engage with actual communities.”
The second half of the book invites the reader to reflect more deeply on those experiences and to expand upon them. “It begins very simply,” Bush said. “Then it becomes increasingly complex as you move forward.”
That evolution is evident in the book’s graphics, which present the reader with solitary elements of a reflective model, and then layers upon each until a reflective compass emerges, with points designating “Society,” “Christianity,” “Practice,” and “Reflection.”
“I invite readers to do their own reflection using that grid, starting from wherever they are,” Bush said. “The result is an increasing ability to understand other people’s theology, and one’s own. It’s a framework for developing engagement.”
In the book’s final two chapters, Bush models the kind of reflection that he hopes to inspire in his students, and in his readers – reflection that will help them find their feet in a new ministry setting.
“When students enter into a situation of ministry, they don’t usually warm up to the environment immediately,” he said. “They’re assigned tasks, then they worry about doing those tasks well, and then they worry about being liked.”
Such concerns have to be addressed before the student can begin the work of forming meaningful relationships, he said. “There are ways to help mollify that natural process that can assuage those anxieties and help students focus more quickly on engagement,” Bush said.
That learning process is at the core of ministry and is ongoing for even the most experienced pastors. “It’s about developing capacity,” Bush said. “It’s about thinking in concert with other people, with the community that you’re engaged with. It’s the work of a lifetime.”
As with his earlier book “Gentle Shepherding: Pastoral Ethics and Leadership,” Dr. Bush’s latest publication draws directly on his work in the classroom. “Both of my books are a kind of dialogue with my own teaching and my own ministry,” he said.
While developing the first draft of “Practical Theology in Church and Society,” Bush taught a course of the same name. “It helped me think through the material and how I was presenting it,” he said. “I learned what was valuable to students and what was not.”
Returning to the course a second time, Bush used the opportunity to fine tune both his pedagogy and his manuscript, which he gave to the students as assigned readings.
“The class experience was a huge help, especially for those last two chapters” he said. “That’s why they’re as self-reflective as they are. Those chapters are coming directly from my own reflective engagement with the students here at Wesley.”