Monday, January 23, 2006

Mission Shaped Church, my thoughts....

For anyone who has an interest in these things here are my thoughts

During my recent trip to the UK I was fortunate enough to meet with Bishop Graham Cray[1] (Maidstone), Dr Peter Ward (Kings College London and former Youth Adviser to Archbishop of Canterbury) and several of my counterparts in the CofE. A main point of these meetings was to chat over the Mission Shaped Church report and it’s implication for Youth Ministry
The following summary from Jonny Baker I think explains nicely the gist of the report::
“The report argues that a 'mixed economy church' is what is needed in the new context we find ourselves in. One size no longer fits all. Parish churches and traditional models of ministry and church are to be encouraged and developed but alongside these we need a whole set of 'fresh expressions' of church. Examples talked about include youth congregations, network church, alternative worship, base communities, cell church, new monastic orders, traditional church plants, cafe church, multiple and midweek congregations, church in school and so on...
The report unifies all of this under an emphasis on all these expressions being mission-shaped at their heart. The theology for a missionary church underpinning it is outstanding both in its content but also in the way that it drives home the case that being mission shaped and a diversity of expressions of church is actually right at the heart of what it means to be Anglican. This canny move is a really welcome shift. The days of bishops saying to groups doing new things that it's fine but they don't want to know about it (i.e. 'it's fine but I'll turn a blind eye') need to be over - it's no longer good enough. This gives the church the opportunity to say wholeheartedly that the emerging/fresh expressions of church are to be celebrated, supported and welcomed as real church and not something to turn a blind eye to.”[2]

In Bishop Graham Cray’s words:
“The working group that developed the document was an attempt to be a strategic and logistical work that would bring the cutting edge of the Church more into the heart of the Church.” It is an attempt to support and encourage the church to be Creative, Inventive Agents of Change

While the intended outcome of the report is about starting a movement of strategically and logistical change as much as it was celebrating and describing the emerging models of Church it does so from a different theological stand point to what we might expect drawing more so on Missiology than Dogmatics (more influenced by Newbiggin than Karl Barth). Subsequently producing an ecclesiology that is far more of a go to rather than the often favoured attractional model that has been in vogue through the influence of the Church Growth Movement. This Theological shift probably has more in common with Vatican 2 and inculturation theory than the Willow Creek, Saddleback approach of if we build it properly then they will come. A major reason given by Cray for this shift has been the gradual movement of the established Church to the fringes of established Society. The attractional model does not work anymore. As the Structures of our Church are the servants of Ecclesiology as one might expect the changing ecclesiology has generated a need for the structure to change.

Key Outcomes of this report:
A key person in every region who is responsible for implementation in that region of the finding of the mission shaped Church, I met with one such person in Oxford - Andrew Gear - Parish Development Adviser, Andrew was very positive of the changes that MSC offered but given that Oxford is known for being an innovative Diocese then that is not surprising.

In the report there was a call for: “Priority and attention needs to be given by the Church of England to the identification and training of leaders for pioneering missionary projects. The possibility of a call to such work needs to be specifically identified in the vocational process.”[3] Subsequently a paper on guidelines for the identification, training and deployment of Ordained Pioneer Ministers has been drawn up with Fresh Expression[4] and theological education and the relationship between to two to become a priority amongst ministry educators. [5] In order for this movement to carry on momentum it will become necessary to find a new type of ‘priest’ a pioneer type.

Some of the canon laws relating to what is and what isn’t a ‘church’ have been and are being reviewed to allow for recognition of these Fresh Expressions of Church.

The development of a fund to encourage Mission initatives is being developed this will help with setup of relevant Fresh Expressions.

A website has been developed that will not only serve as a network for those involved in fresh expressions but will also serves as a resource centre
This in not just about flavour of the month but it is a genuine attempt to put structural changes in place that will carry the MSC movement forward. In discussion with Graham I described what I thought was happening in terms of surfing where the surfer looks for the right wave to ride into the beach. Graham commented that the changes that are happening are taking that a step further ridding the wave but ensuring that the wave is not just a one off, through structural change there is now an artificial reef in place to help the wave of change continue, this does not negate the work of the Spirit but rather ensures the work of the Spirit is not ignored.
The down side – in an attempt to make it bland rather than brand a lot of initiatives have been drawn into the fresh expressions basket, some of which may have been going for decades – Whether we should consider a craft group or kids play group as a fresh expression will be a point of contention[6]– hence it could distract from the real cutting edge that is in desperate need of the support.

Do We Need to take seriously the Mission Shaped Church Report?
While the New Zealand context is very different to the UK, I believe that the Mission Shaped Church report has a lot to offer. Firstly it’s proposed ecclesiology would better fit our context than our current North American influenced attractional model. While many of the growing Churches in NZ assume an attractional model the ‘pond’ of which they ‘fish’ in is limited and to reach the rest of society we too will need to come to terms with how go to models of Church might look.

Implications for Youth Ministry.
While the Space that Mission Shaped Church has produced certainly allows room for youth ministry to develop further it is worth noting that even prior to the changes this report has proposed a large proportion of Youth ministry in the UK was creative, inventive and certainly produced Agents of Change. [7]
Without it youth ministry would probably continue in much the same way, however it is worth noting that many of the people behind the report have quite a major section of their CV devoted to youth ministry, Graham Cray put this down to the fact that the Youth Ministry of the CofE that being the breeding ground for the Mission Shaped Church, noting that over the past 30 years the youth ministry of the Church has held a torch for the wider church through its attempts to keep evangelism alive. Engaging with the surrounding culture while maintaining the message of Christ – through the Mission Shaped Church youth ministry is returning that flame that gift to the wider Church. On the same note Ward commented that Youth ministry has tended to be a test bed for much of what happens in Church life with many major moves in the Church finding their roots in youth ministry. In order for a Youth Ministry to succeed it must be creative, inventive and involved people who would become change agents, if it has failed anywhere it is its inability to develop and/or change the structures that would support it and nurture its growth, the Mission Shaped Church could certainly offer that structure.

Youth Ministry then has played a key role in the development not only of the ecclesiology that has birthed the changes that a mission shaped church offers, but it has been a test bed for many of the recognised Fresh Expressions.[8] Given it’s value then the question then must be asked if youth ministry is such a key part of the future shape of the Church how much time and energy should the church be putting into it?
[1] Bishop Graham Cray was the chairperson of the working group that formed this report, but is also a strong advocate for youth in the Church of England.

[2] Jonny Baker article The Angli-CAN Church,
[3] Page 134 Mission Shaped Church
[4] Fresh Expression is the term that is being used to describe the outcomes of the Mission Shaped Church; it is taken from standard Priest installation document in the CofE.
[5] Available from attached appendices

[6] All those I met who were youth officers at a diocesan level commented that this was concern
[7] Soul Survivor, Oxford Youth Works and many similar programmes that have their heart in the CofE but have remained at a distance from her structures
[8] One of note is a group set up to cater for retired professional people, it is modeled on an youth after school club.


Mark said...

You echo my concerns with the "Fresh Expressions" brand... Mind you telling the head of FE that the brand made no sense as anyone could tell themselves they were a FE... inc. a church changing from Hymns A&M to 100 hymns for today! Was probably not my most diplomatic moment ;-) Mind you a self registration system only makes this worse IMHO, some of the stories in the FE newspaper were about as fresh as that old pair of socks I wear for decorating, but never wash!

michael said...

SO your socks aren't minty fresh...
It's seems to me that quite a few people have concerns about the lack of freshness to the whole thing. But maybe that is the nature of Church and institution that once it turns around to see what is happening at the grass roots then it either kills it or makes it's cheesy...

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