MAST MAKES NEW CASE FOR CHURCHGOING
It has been said that going to church is good for the soul. In his new book, Dr. Gerald Mast asserts that the benefits extend much further.
"The church should not be taken for granted … just reading the Bible, baptizing and singing together help prepare us for life in the world," said the Bluffton University communication professor and author of "Go to Church, Change the World: Christian Community as Calling."
Published in January by Herald Press, the book explores traditional church practices such as singing, baptism and communion, and how participation in them determines how churchgoers see the rest of their world, including their careers.
The idea for the book goes back to 2002, when Bluffton received a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment for the Pathways to Mission and Vocation project, to study theological assumptions about vocation that shape curriculum. "There are other reasons for pursuing a major, or advancing a career, than success, status or salary. So what are these other motivations?" Mast asked.
He attempted to answer that question during his 2005 sabbatical. "I proposed to the university to study an Anabaptist theology of vocation and answer what gives meaning to our work, what gets us up in the morning," said Mast, who grew up in the Mennonite tradition and describes the church as "a central part of calling" in Anabaptist theology. During his leave, he read what other Anabaptists wrote and interviewed others in their workplaces.
After his sabbatical, Mast became Bluffton’s Pathways Scholar for 2006-07 and began writing the book, for which John Howard Yoder’s "Body Politics" proved to be an inspiration. Yoder, in his book, discusses the church’s calling today and the world’s ultimate calling. Following that model, Mast, in "Go to Church, Change the World," addresses "practices that offer a witness to the surrounding society on how to best live in a truly human set of relationships."
Those practices are not only crucial in church, but they also help determine how you act outside its walls, Mast said. "In order to understand how one ought to act in the marketplace, you root yourself first in the body of Christ, or the church, and that becomes a place of discernment, discussion and conversation," he explained. In addition, he continued, "the church’s roles as habit, routine and worship give you leverage for making choices in the workplace."
At the end of each of the book’s chapters, a reflection is provided with questions to provoke thought and discussion. "Go to Church, Change the World" was written in part for Sunday school and Bible study audiences, but more generally, according to Mast, for "people who go to church and are tired of it." The book, he said, is for those who wish to reenergize their beliefs and their relationship with church.
The book is the fifth either written or edited by Mast, who is a member of First Mennonite Church in Bluffton. The Holmes County, Ohio, native is currently vice chair of The Mennonite magazine board and editor of Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History. A Malone College graduate, he holds a Ph.D. in rhetoric and communication from the University of Pittsburgh.
Ariel Shuey, Bluffton public relations, 2/22/12