Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Mission Shaped Introduction

For the next six weeks, beginning tomorrow (Wednesday 23rd September), Tamworth will be hosting  a Mission Shaped Introduction course. This has to be one of the most impressively effective courses I have attended or delivered as we look at what 'mission' really means for those who call themselves Christian and for those who pass by the church buildings without a clue about what really goes on in them or the message they long to tell. 

This is a course which seeks to get us to think of the ways in which we can bring the Gospel into the lives of people where they are and when they are able to receive, and hopefully, live it for themselves.  

It is about thinking of new ways of being, and doing, Church: Often referred to as a 'Fresh Expression'. Which, for those who aren't sure about what a fresh expression is, here's my definition:
Christians coming together to live the Christian message in ways that those outside of the traditional (or inherited) church can understand and embrace. 
Basically it is: Christians 'doing church' for those who are not church.

Many people, when they hear the words 'fresh expression', if they have heard the term before, jump to the conclusion that this is 'Messy Church*' but in many cases they would be wrong because there are many more forms of fresh expression than that.
What we are actually talking about is planting new communities of Christians, these are what we usually refer to as 'church' and that can cause some real difficulties in the minds of some and the realities of others.
What the Church needs today is a combination of the older and 'established' expressions of church working together with newer 'fresh' expressions to build a Christian community across our villages, towns and cities. We call this a 'mixed economy' model. What we are doing is creating new churches to work with the old: The problem is that some think that we are merely creating something to bring people into the church that the new church came out of - here's an example:

St Blogspots, residing in it's wonderful Norman building, offers Messy Church' to the people around them. The project goes well and by its first anniversary there are eighteen families coming to the services and it is beginning to develop its own identity and character. Just after the first birthday celebrations one of the PCC members asks when those who come to Messy Church will be seen in the 'proper' services and is more than a little disgruntled to be told that they quite like will never come. "What's the point of us paying for it if they're not going to come in to our (declining) services," they ask - And they ask that because what they thought the PCC had agreed to sponsor was 'Messy Evangelism', something that would bring people into their services! 

Whilst some of those who come to the fresh expression might indeed come to services in the sponsoring church (or one of the sponsoring churches if sponsored by a Churches Together group) the reality is that what you are hoping for is, like any parent; for the child to mature and become an independent adult with a good relationship with them.

There are many views regarding the venue of these fresh expressions and all of them are right and yet many of them are also perhaps just a little wrong too. Here's are some attitudes I have encountered to reflect upon:

i  If we 'do' the fresh expression in our church building that makes it ours.
Our service, our people, OUrs, do you hear me, OURS! (you can add a maniacal wahahaha if you wish!)

ii. If you 'do' the fresh expression in a different building (venue) then we just have to wait until they are led into the church that gave them the money to do it!
After all, we paid for it and so it is ours.

iii. If we do a 'fresh expression' then we might lose some of the members of our own church to it (and the subtext here is that they are already losing member) so surely it's better to keep those we have rather than send them off to start their own thing. The should be committed to ours.

iv.  if we do a fresh expression and it is successful it could become more popular than our church and they'd soon forget that we are the parent and they are the 'daughter*' church - they might take the place in the hearts of the community that is by virtue of the time we've been here, ours!

v. If we did a fresh expression and it took off and worked and attracted young people and those who have never come to church that would be great. What a privilege to have been part of birthing a new Christian community here. We long for the day when we can have like-minded partners working together for the Gospel in fellowship together.

We find thinking like this because we are all human and struggle when the places we cherish are also struggling. Our desire to see Christ proclaimed can sometimes be tempered and even chilled by our desire for stability and maintenance of the familiar - and with the right mindset and actions both of those can be achieved without being limited as Church or as a person. This course is a remedy and a spur to achieve great things for God (and be blessed as well).

This is what the Mission Shaped Introduction (and the fuller course which may follow on) is all about. So here are detail of our MSI course:

And if you can't attend ours, then ask your Vicar / Pastor / Minister about running one in your church, deanery, Churches Together group

or contact Fresh Expression by clicking HERE

* Messy Church is a fantastic coming together of people as a church in its own right. It is attractive to families, accessible for all ages and fun - and there's often a meal and a chance for real engagement and encounter: Just like the early Church. It is about creating a new structure, not a tunnel into the church that might have started it off as a means of bringing people into their building (that's Messy Evangelism).

* 'Daughter church' - a term far too often used to point to a church that is inferior or subservient and under the control of, or at least looked down upon by, the 'Mother Church'. We should have partners and flat structures in church (and that works both ways for those in churches founded by an older parish church).


JonG said...

Those who look down on "daughter" churches obviously forget what most mother-daughter relationships eventually become: A frail fading mother being cared for by the daughter. Seems quite apt, in fact.

If I have any sort of concern about Messy Church and similar ventures, it is to remember that the Great Commission talks about making disciples. If it is legitimate to talk at all about the success or otherwise of such ventures, I would suggest that how well they achieve that goal should be one of the main measures. I can only speak from second-hand anecdote, but have heard of some new ventures that achieve plenty in terms of numbers of attendees who enjoy coming, but do not seem to do so well on the discipling front. Not that I am claiming that the more conventional churches I have been involved with seem to do noticeably better, especially when it comes to teenagers.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

u ought to come over here tonight - would make for some good conversations over the next six weeks - it's amazing how people do see prominence for their pile of bricks because 'they were there first'. Of course, it's not what you have but what you are doing with it that counts; a bit like the, 'We're too big a club to be looking at relegation,' brigade. If you're not delivering then you won't manage to be at the top of any pile that is relevant to desired.

Thanks for comments,


JonG said...

Ah, bit too far from here in Wet Yorkshire, I'm afraid. Not been to Tamworth since my friend moved abroad 15 years ago. If he ever moves back, I shall send him your way, he is probably the most non-conformist Anglican I know, and I think that you would get on very well!

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Excellent on all counts - Thanks

Passing through Yorkshire this pm - hoping it won't be wet :-)