Time for Tactics, Part 2

In the previous post I argued that the Church is distinctive from other institutions in that it need not develop its own strategy. Rather, as an eschatological community, the Church lives toward the strategic vision of the Kingdom of God. This is best exemplified in the gospel parables wherein Jesus describes this Kingdom vision; the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a lost coin, a widow’s offering or a bit of yeast mixed into flour. With this strategic plan set before us, the Church then must live into that vision. This requires that we live by what I identified as tactics. Though some of us wince at the militaristic connotations of tactics, the root of the term simply means an opportunistic, time limited action. Within that definition is also a subversive element. A tactic is an action which takes what is and uses it for another purpose all together. For instance, Michele de Certeau illustrates how an employee tactically uses work supplies for personal gain such as writing a grocery list on a post-it note. It’s innocuous, but the employee takes the opportunity to use work materials for his own gain. That is a tactical action.

The Church, as a resident alien, lives within this tactical context. Systems and institutions act in their own strategic interests. That is why our surrounding culture encourages the Church to set it own strategy. The world runs by the strategic, long range self-interest of persons and systems. That is, in essence, what we might call sin– the willful decision to act in the interest of the self rather than out of a relationship with God. The state of the world is such that sin defines all the world’s actions; it is fallen. Hence, the sin-riddled world must work strategically. In order to sustain perishing institutions, to feel some sort of control, the emphasis falls on strategies. As a tactical community, the Church takes what is, and uses it for a redeemed purpose. We as the Church subvert the strategies of the fallen cosmos to bring in glimpses of God’s strategic vision.

So, how might we as the Church live into this tactical reality? We need not look far since the Liturgy is the one practice which is truly the Church’s own. The Liturgy presents the practice of tactical action within a strategic frame.

There are so many ways to define the Liturgy, most of which raise significant questions about idealism and denominationalism, but here I am using Liturgy simply to mean the form of using repeated actions in daily settings, or what liturgists call Ordinaries and Propers. No matter the Christian tradition the phenomenon appears by looking at a month’s worth of bulletins. From these orders of service it is easy to see that there are some elements which repeat week after week; these are the strategic elements, or Ordinaries. Even the least liturgical tradition has repeating practices like a welcome, prayers, and the offertory. Within this ordinal frame, there are pieces which occur only once such as the specific scripture readings or prayers for the day; these are the tactical elements, or Propers. In more liturgical traditions these are exemplified in the Collect which is a short prayer which reflects the themes of the lectionary texts.

The structural aspect of our Sunday gatherings reveals just how tactical action function within the established strategy of the Kingdom of God. The strategic ordinaries remain constant, yet the tactical propers are contextual and responsive to the time and place. In essence they are the pieces we choose, we enact, and we contribute to the liturgical proclamation and celebration of the Kingdom of God. As an example, consider the prayers of the congregation. In some traditions this would be called the Prayers of the People or in others the Pastoral Prayer. During this segment of worship the world, its events, and its people are lifted in petition to God. As a tactic, these petitions respond to events around us with uniquely Christian response.

To be sure, the tactic is still shaped by the overall strategy, but we as the Church do not define the strategy. Our action is to tactically bring the world to God’s strategy. Outside of the liturgical assembly we do the same, except in reverse. Once we exit the building, we have the opportunity to tactically bring the Kingdom of God to the world, be means of our witness, service, and proclamations.  We are the tactical icons of God’s Kingdom strategy.


Filed under Discipleship

2 responses to “Time for Tactics, Part 2

  1. I have to admit that thinking in this strategy/tactic framework is new to me. For some reason it conjures up memories of a 2008 campaign debate between McCain and Obama, where the two were spatting on the distinction. So as Hunter critiques neo-Anabaptists and their use of the word “politics” as being too fraught with risk of being co-opted and/or confused with broader cultural understandings, I wonder if there is a similar danger here.

    Perhaps it’s fitting, though, given that the administrative machinery that drives denominations are enamored with this “strategy” thinking. For as many reservations I have about denominations (grr…even that word drives me crazy!) adopting a very Western professionalistic/organizational mindset…you do have to start somewhere to offer any corrective.

    Those are just a few of my jumbled thoughts. Thx, Josh!

  2. Joshua Brockway

    Well, my first run in with the vocabulary of Tactics/Strategies wasn’t from Michel de Certeau, but Hauerwas. He mentions de Certeau and the language of strategy and tactic in the opening of After Christendom. So, there can be the same danger….and probably is.

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