The second movement in the public church framework is Interpretation. This is when we move from hearing our neighbors’ stories back into the stories of our particular faith communities. This is an incredibly important step and one that is tempting to skip for a few reasons.
- We want to skip this step because we might not know what it is we believe as a faith community.
- Or we want to skip this step because we think theological and biblical reflection aren’t as important as action. We want to move straight to action.
- We also sometimes think we can skip this step because interpretation will just simply happen without any intentional effort.
Interpretation is an important step in this process because people want to know how faith impacts their daily lives. It is the role of the faith community to help their people learn to see the world in light of God’s promises. We also want our collective actions to clearly express the essence of who we are, what we believe, and the world we believe God envisions for us. This interpretive move is what makes the public church framework different than many other outreach, or public efforts. Theology matters and this theological turn in our work needs to be intentional.
I have heard pastors say their faith community was not ready to do the work of interpretation because they did not know the bible well nor did they fully understand what the congregation believed. If that is the case, then we have our work cut out for us. Those who gather with our faith communities should know what we believe, they should understand the biblical narrative and how it might still shape our lives. If we plan to engage our neighborhoods in a way that is life giving, then we must think about that engagement theologically.
This turn and attention to habits of interpretation urge faith communities to move beyond what they are not – the markers by which they may define themselves against. “We are not like that kind of church or those Christians.” It moves a community to more closely claim what they are about, why they exist, and why it matters.
There are three strands, or narratives, that we weave together using the artform of interpretation. We weave together the neighbors’ stories we’ve heard in our accompaniment with our own stories as a faith community and with what we believe to be God’s story. Each of these strands help us better understand the other two strands we are working with. These three strands should enlighten one another as well as push back against and challenge one another. This is slow and tedious work but it is vital to forming both our communities of faith and our work in our neighborhoods.
Here are five main questions offered that guide the work of interpretation. How you chase after the answers to these questions is up to you, but we recommend involving as many other people from your faith community as possible. The more perspectives you get, the richer the dialogue will become.
- What are the core theological convictions of our faith community? It is not an expectation of this work that your entire faith community is on the same page with what they believe. There is no expectation of uniform, doctrinal agreement. However, we do believe it is vital for faith communities to be having these conversations even if they lead to the realization that your faith community is incredibly diverse in its theological convictions.
- What are the key components (stories, metaphors, etc.) of the biblical narrative that shape our life together as a faith community? Again, the expectation is not uniformity but transparency. There are certain aspects of the bible we think we cling to until we have time to consider it more deeply and we discover these aspects do not really serve a purpose in our daily lives. On the flip side, often lesser known parts of scripture might be more helpful or more transformative as you begin digging into them together. Who would have ever thought that we (the Riverside Innovation Hub) would have turned to some obscure vision of Ezekiel when looking for a biblical metaphor to frame our project? We have continued to be surprised and blessed by the profound depth of the Ezekiel text that has shaped this work.
- What are the significant events in your faith community’s history that have shaped your identity?Your community most likely has many stories of sadness and trauma as well as stories of hope and resiliency. Unearth these stories. Learn from them and allow them to show you how they both shape your view of your role in your community and allow them to empower you for that work.
- How do these theological convictions, components of the biblical narrative, and events from your past influence the way you hear and understand the stories you encountered in your accompaniment experiences?This is the key theological move. This is when you begin to see and learn not only what your community believes but how those beliefs shape your life together and life with your neighbors.
- How do the stories you encountered in accompaniment push back against, challenge, or affirm your core theological convictions and beliefs? The interpretive move is not a one way street. We should be careful not to assume that our theological beliefs are impervious and only help us understand our neighbors’ stories. We should also allow our neighbors’ stories to interpret our beliefs and understandings about God.Interpretation goes both ways. Our understanding of our neighbor will deepen when we see our neighbor through God’s story. Our understanding of God will deepen when we see God through our neighbor’s story.
The public church framework continues to move us to a place where we are ready and able to proclaim good news into the lives of our neighbors that will actually be good news to them because it is speaking to, confronting, or displacing the very real bad news they are facing in their lives. It also continues to move us to a place where we might actually begin to hear our neighbors proclaiming good news to us. In order to arrive in these places, it is vital that we make the interpretive move and learn to hear and see our neighbor through God’s story and vice versa.