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The goal of this study is to explore the cultivation and diffusion of new habits of engagement with neighbors through experimental actions and the introduction of four bodily practices: Lectio Divina, daily prayer, weekly Eucharist, and inhabiting a third place. It is argued that the introduction of bodily practices within a praxis form of theological reflection can alter the habitual engagement of a church with its neighbors. The thesis was tested at Northside Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi.

Through an examination of ecclesial formation, the study identifies desire as central to spiritual, congregational, and missional formation, and it argues that in order to cultivate or transform desire, a congregation needs new bodily practices coupled with receptive presence in their neighborhood. In order to test this hypothesis a missional action team was formed at Northside Baptist Church and led through an examination of their congregational praxis of neighborly engagement. The team took up the four bodily practices and met to explore neighborly engagement in light of Scripture and theological resources. The team was then led to create four short experiments of receptive engagement with neighbors and finally gathered back to reflect on their findings. The entire process was framed within the liturgical seasons from Epiphany to Pentecost.

The study concludes that habits of paternalistic engagement can restrict the capacity of a church to recognize its neighbors as ends unto themselves to be enjoyed for their own sake and that congregational formation cannot be separated from receptive missional presence among neighbors. It commends an experiment aimed at neighborly presence. It recommends further work in spiritual formation through a process of Appreciative Inquiry, participation in a broad-based community organizing effort, and partnership with a neighboring church in its exploration of missional praxis.

Content Reader: Alan Roxburgh, DMin

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry (DMin)

First Advisor

Roxburgh, Alan J.

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Northside Baptist Church (Clinton, Miss.); Lectio divina; Missional church movement; Spiritual formation; Church renewal


Missions and World Christianity


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April 2018

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