It seems to me that some of the people I have engaged with today have a real struggle before them when it comes to the issue of 'Fresh Expressions' in that so many are labelled (by those outside) as parachurch rather than church. The question is, what makes for a valid expression of church?
Church, for me has to be Sacramental - this means:
Eucharistic - this is the reason that Church has continued to continue to exist because it met weekly to break break and drink from the Chalice.
Baptising - A super comment I heard on a course was, 'You can tell when a fresh expression's arrived as 'church' because it starts to baptise new believers!'
It also needs to be Proclamatory - which means they preach from the Bible, teach from the Bible, uphold Biblical principles and tell people why they are doing in, and in whose name, and that means Jesus gets mentioned - for it is in His name we go out to do the stuff.
The 'Parachurch Clubs' label is rather harsh and perhaps a little unkind but then again I find some telling me that Fresh Expressions and new forms of worship, understanding and being church are the only hope the Church has. The old traditional church stuff is strangling whatever growth there is and the clericalism of the past is nothing more than the clergy trying to maintain their monopoly and their veto on what would otherwise live.
The problems is that as rigid as the old structure is the new isn't for it presents a flimsy house built on little more than sand! The bricks might withstand the wind and the waves but they are emptying as the inhabitants grow old and die.
'Better to have a thriving parachurch than a dying established church,' said one person as they defended their new project, pointing to the people who were content to diminish in numbers as long as church could continue to be what they wanted it to be.
'Better to be faithful in our worship than be blown by every wind of change down at a coffee shop!' came the reply.
And you know what - they are both wrong and are equally right at the same time. The tattoos, piercing and all the trendy stuff mean as little as the grey hair, BCP services and traditional services when it comes to being a stumbling block, after all didn't Paul say that we must be all things to all men (except of course accommodating and accepting everything to the point of being permissive) and so this is surely a red herring.
And speaking of red herrings I was told last week that older people can't reach the young in the way that they, of course being young, can! so taking this to its logical outworking only black people can lead black people into faith, women likewise for women, redheads for redheads and so on. Wearing a clerical collar prevents us from being engaged in effective ministry with anyone under the age of thirty and unless you have a great worship band no one can really worship (which of course displays a paucity in the understanding of what liturgy is all about)!
We need to understand what being missionally minded and sacramentally sensitive is all about - after all it wasn't that long ago that I was taken to task because I wanted to see something billed as 'renewal' offered to the high church churches. Silly me, I had apparently forgotten that renewal was the sole property and right of a certain type of Christian!
We need to preach the Gospel in and out of season, in places where it is popular and unpopular and engaging with as many as we can to make it take root - bear fruit - be sustainable.
We need people who wear 'Pioneer' badges to encourage others to learn about what being 'missionally-minded' means and to encourage them to learn - there's a Mission Shaped Ministry' course somewhere near you (and if not, then there can be) - to be that person who works with others to build the Kingdom (note: This is dangerous because it might not mean building your piddling self-obsessed expression of church that you are so fixated with) of God.
So, pass this message on to the people you know - and don't know. bang the drums. Blow the trumpets. Bang dustbin lids together. Shout in your Chapter meetings and telephone your bishop and get people enthusiastic about sharing the Good News, making friends, winning family, plundering hell and populating heaven. Ring your Archdeacon and tell them to forget about the Common Purse (Parish Share) and remind them what the Kingdom of God is like (There's loads of those 'the Kingdom of God is like a .... ' stories in the Bible).
Who gives a monkeys whether clergy are pioneers or not - stop worrying about it and get pioneering!
Am I bothered that pioneer ministers aren't leading people to the water and offering them one of those wonderfully happy Eucharistic 'Happy Meals'? Blinking right I am - stop making friends and start thinking about how you make disciples - numbers are great but only when they're counting the people who can say they're saved - all else is froth and folly!
Now you have to remember that all the words above come from someone who is the minister of 'a church in a phonebox' - yes that's right, a small church in an interesting estate in and challenging place in even more challenging times. I'm not clever or accomplished or any of the things that others around me are or will be - but I'm a member of a church that is full of wonderfully broken, flawed, failed and redeemed people and this is what it's all about.
Loving, sharing, giving and living together as people who know they're loved, forgiven and fit for purpose.
Now stop, take a look and tell me what you can see around you and in the mirror - and then praise God, because you're loved, valuable, valid and ready for service too should you take a pace forward and volunteer.