Toward a Practical Theology of Institutions to Serve Faith-Based Organizations

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Bretherton, Luke
Dykstra, Craig

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U.S. faith-based organizations (FBOs) founded by Christians have gained wide recognition and influence both nationally and internationally and have become, to a large extent, the de facto bearers of contemporary Christian mission in an increasingly post-denominational landscape. Yet the focus of this thesis is how FBOs suffer from a separation between missiology, ecclesiology, and theological reflection in ways that inhibit their participation in the mission of God, or missio Dei.

The thesis draws on history, sociology, and missiology to provide a critical framework for an inter-disciplinary analysis of FBOs that illuminates the problems they face and describes what is required for a recovery of faithful witness. The thesis begins with the emergence of FBOs as a uniquely Protestant story, locating their origins within the history of Protestant missions, the emergence of the voluntary society, and their evolution into humanitarianism and the problems which emerge out of that history. A move to sociological analysis situates contemporary FBOs within a wider social ecology of powerful forces that cause non-profits to behave like for-profit corporations, often giving themselves over to bureaucratic models shaped by a technological understanding of practice. The final move to missiology and ecclesiology makes the claim that the critical reference point for evaluation of the FBO is the flourishing of the practice of Christian missions.

This constructive missiology provides the basis for proposing marks of a faithful mission-type organization in the contemporary context which can sustain the practice of missions not primarily as humanitarian activism, but as participation in the missio Dei. The thesis re-narrates FBOs and the marks we should look for in FBOs by proposing several organizational disciplines that provide a response to the challenges facing the contemporary FBO. These marks are displayed through brief case studies from three FBOs: L'Arche International, the U.S. national organization InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and New Song Urban Ministries in Baltimore.


Doctor of Ministry




Rice, Christopher Paul (2014). Toward a Practical Theology of Institutions to Serve Faith-Based Organizations. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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