Sunday, February 23, 2014

a Catholic take on mission today

I spent Saturday among folk from the Catholic ArchDiocese of Adelaide, speaking for about 90 minutes at the Orientation day for Ministry Formation Programme. It is the 3rd time I’ve spoken to Catholic groups, in this case lay leaders for church ministry, since I’ve been in Adelaide. It was not something I expected when I arrived, but a real privilege.

I was asked to offer something in relation to mission and ministry today. After some internal to-ing and fro-ing, I decided to repeat my Getting on the Mission presentation which I did a number of times at Refresh, around South Australia in 2012, plus in Melbourne with Manningham Uniting.

Being a mate – This expression of mission is best seen in the story of the woman at the well (John 4). An encounter with Jesus turns the Samaritan into a storyteller. What is striking is how she, not Jesus, is the primary agent in mission. Even though only minutes old in faith, she is willing to verbally share her moment of encounter with her neighbours who know her so well.

Having a yarn – This expression of mission is threaded throughout the book of Acts, thirty six times in which faith is presented verbally to a group of listeners. What is striking is how different each speech is – in setting, in illustrations, in ending, in effectiveness. There is never a “one-size-fits-all” repeated stock sermon or generic alter call. Instead there is a deep sensitivity to a listening audience and the unique cultures that shape their hearing.

Crossing the ditch – In Acts 8, mission occurs as the gospel jumps continents and the church in Africa is birthed. Ditches are being crossed. They can be cultural. They can also be generational. What is important is who takes the initiative in Acts 8. The primary agents are not the one on mission (Philip), but the Spirit and the Ethiopian. By implication, the first act of mission is thus an act of listening, of finding out where, and how the ditch is being crossed.

Sharing the load – In John 10:11, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life. Mission emerges in the context of “knowing a voice”, of relationships of depth and honesty. Mission takes shape not in words, but in sacrificial actions. When linked with Luke 15:3-7, we are reminded that mission expects shepherds to be wandering far from the walls of the church.

In summary, in the Biblical narrative, mission in the Bible has little to do with imposition, corporate programmes or manipulation. Instead it emerges in relationships, through listening and the sharing of life.

What was intriguing for me was first, their responses to the “detox” question and second the engagement around fresh expressions (part of Crossing the ditch).

The “detox” question comes at the beginning, when I ask people to name the words that come to mind when they hear the word mission. Normally these are overwhelmingly negative. This group were no exception. Intriguing was how similar the conversation was to Protestant groups – linked with Stolen Generations, Billy Graham Crusades, lay-clergy divides, overseas, fire and brimstone.

It both saddens and intrigues me how raw and unprocessed is church responses to mission, when the discipline of missiology has so much to offer. Part of me thinks its a natural consequence of Colleges not employing missiologists. It means that our Biblical and theological thinking within our communities is being refreshed, but we remain stuck with antiquated attitudes toward mission.

Second, in preparation, reading contemporary Catholic debate around mission, revealed some interesting conversation around the theme of new evangelization. Here is Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Louisville, speaking at Conference on new evangelization, Mexico 2013

We need a new order, new expression and new methods.

Posted by steve at 01:31 PM | Comments (2)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

An excellent writing week

I’ve had an excellent writing week, holed up in our shack/bach, no wireless, a flock of black swans for company and inspiration.

I’ve got my head back into the emerging 10 years on research project, which I’ve not been able to engage since Dad died. I’ve written three frames for analysing various aspects of the data. I’ve now got four almost complete chapters, with good work on another three. I’ve now written 40,000 words in relation to the 20 UK interviews.

Key moments this week included

  • Finding a way to link the local stories with the recent World Council of Churches statement on mission and evangelism
  • Finding five layers of church in Philippians
  • Framing the local stories around images of God, patterns of growth, understandings of mission
  • Realising again how rich the data set is
  • Loving the humanity of each fresh expression story – like the moment when one community moved the photo of Rowan Williams to make way for their data projector screen!

It feels like a book.

Posted by steve at 02:17 PM | Comments (1)

Monday, December 09, 2013

A ministry shaped by mission

A wee cracker is Paul Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission. It’s 120 pages of great clarity and careful thinking about the place of ministry today. Three chapters: one on mission that shapes ministry, a second on ministry shaped by mission, a third on ordination to a ministry shaped by mission.

“Our individual callings are simply notes in a vast symphony.” 69

Avis believes that an egalitarian, socially holistic interpretation of ordination is possible. This involves a careful exploration of the New Testament, in which he sees “an apostolic ministry set within an equally apostolic community.” This allows for communities in mission, who discern leaders in mission, for the sake of the church in mission.

For Avis, ministry is missiological through and through. This had added poignancy personally, attended as Principal an ordination over the weekend. In what ways does theological training work toward ensuring ministry is missiological? In what way do lecturers (since faith is caught not taught), field placements, assignments, formation conversations, prioritise missio dei?

There’s some challenges for the Uniting Church. One is the section on deacons, in which Paul looks at recent scholarship that argues the usual Deacon framework – we’re called to serve, is actually an inaccurate understanding. Another is the consideration of the variety of patterns of representation. They can be communal, collegial and personal. Avis explores how all churches have this, but to varying degrees. Then he argues that in today’s world, mission leadership requires a personal focus, a way of speaking to the world and of providing focus for a system. Of course, Anglican systems have this with their Bishops. But it got the thinking about Uniting ethos, in which we emphasize parity of ministers, but where do we give space for the mission leader? Our moderators embody half of this function, speaking to the world. But who is the person invited to represent mission within the church.

There are some challenges for the Baptist church. These involve the lack of clarity around the communal, collegial and personal as they involve the wider church, beyond the local gathered community.

In identifying these challenges, can I stress they are my applications of Avis. As a General Secretary for the Council for Christian Unity for the Church of England, the book is a wonderful model of wide reading and sensitive engagement with diverse Christian heritages.

Reading this gave me hope, that our existing systems might have be broke, but might have in them the “refounding” needed for today’s challenges. I’m thinking of making this book a compulsory reading in my Church, Ministry, Sacraments class, if not one of the totems given to candidates at Uniting College.

Posted by steve at 07:35 AM | Comments (2)

Sunday, November 03, 2013

the changing landscape of agencies and mission

David Bosch is one of the worlds finest thinkers on mission. His Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission is a remarkable book, surveying 2000 years of mission. The book is divided into five paradigms. Bosch borrows here from Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm theory

  • Primitive Christianity
  • Patristic Period;
  • Reformation;
  • Enlightenment;
  • and Ecumenical (or postmodern)

Bosch argues that as a paradigm changed, mission changed. In changing times, the mission of the church took different shape. His argument is strengthened by the research he does, asking what Scriptures were being quoted in these paradigms to motivate mission. He argues that each paradigm was shaped by a different dominant Biblical text.

  • Primitive Christianity – the letters of the New Testament
  • Patristic Period – John 3:16 in the patristic Period; the love of God, seen in the sending of Jesus, is extended by God’s messengers
  • Reformation – a shift from Luke 14:23 in the Middle Ages; compel them to come in! to Romans 1:16; God’s rightliving means grace and mercy, not punishment
  • Enlightenment -the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)

With regard to the ecumenical/postmodern, Bosch suggests the immense challenges of our contemporary world are signs of a transition into a new period. This has huge implications for churches thinking about mission today. There is widespread agreement that culturally we are going through another paradigm shift. The world of today is vastly different from the world of 40 years ago. So any discussion of church and mission today needs to keep stepping back, keep watching the paradigms.

Stanley Skreslet (Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology and Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission). He notes how not only the motivations (the Scriptures used), have changed, but so also have the forms of mission. So, pushing Skreslet into the paradigms of Bosch, we get something like this

  • Primitive Christianity – the radical communal compassionate care for the sick
  • Patristic Period – the monastery
  • Reformation – religious orders
  • Enlightenment – the voluntary society, based on the shareholder model, by which lay people became voluntary participants. And the institution, the large scale constructing of schools and hospitals, which offered care and cure.

Which of course, raises the question, what might be the modes for the ecumenical/postmodern period. Skreslet argues for the NGO – the Non-government organisation. He cites examples like Greenpeace and Amnesty International. These offer a physical presence, based on a extensive networks and clear, instant lines of communication. These NGO’s harness public opinion, building pressure to bring about change. They thus offer a very different model for mission.

Over the last few days, I’ve been part of debates about the changing landscape of agencies and mission. All the time, I kept wondering if these debates are part of the same worldwide questions about the forms of mission into a new ecumenical/postmodern paradigm. Bosch writes:

“The transition from one paradigm to another is not abrupt … This produces a kind of theological schizophrenia, which we just have to put up with while at the same time groping our way toward greater clarity … The point is simply that  the Christian church in general and the Christian mission in particular are today confronted with issues they have never even dreamt of and which are crying out for responses that are both relevant to the times and in harmony with the essence of the Christian faith …. The point I am making is simply that, quite literally, we live in a world fundamentally different … The contemporary world challenges us to practice a “transformational hermeneutics”, a theological response which transforms us first before we involve ourselves in mission to the world.”  (Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, 188, 189.)

What will it look like to see the shape of the church and mission formed by NGO models? To prioritise smaller bodies, with a premium put on their ability to be nimble, to cultivate networks and communication? Skreslet notes a number of advantages of the NGO paradigm: “a new model of mission would also have its own distinctive organizational structure” (“Networking, Civil Society and the NGO: A New Model for Ecumenical Mission,” Missiology 25 (1997): 307-319, p. 310). These can apply globally, to international mission. They can also apply locally, to how a local church might operate in their community. Networking as a mode of action contrasts with the worst parts of colonial mission. It encourages behaviours that are flexible, egalitarian and wholistic in orientation. They allow multiple partnerships, at local, regional, national, global levels.

Posted by steve at 04:43 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

missional readings of Scripture: widow of Zarephath

The missional conversation expects us to read the Bible with missional eyes. That means we pay attention to the edges. We read texts asking – who are the marginal people, what are the marginal places? That then allows us to focus on encounters – the interactions between edges and centres, outsiders and insiders, powerless and powerful.

Take for example, 1 Kings 17, the story of the encounter of the widow of Zarephath with Elijah.

There is a geographic edge. As a consequence of the drought, Elijah heads to Sidon: 1 Kings 17:7-8: “Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there.”

Sidon is a town mentioned in the previous chapter: 1 Kings 16:30: “Ahab …. married Jezebel daughter of [the] king of [Sidonians] and began to serve Baal and worship him.” So Elijah, God’s agent, heads to Sidon. To the place where Jezebel, the Kings wife was born, to the place where Baal worship is strong and thriving. This is a fascinating response to encountering a diverse belief system. You go to it.

Second, the people on the edge. Elijah finds a woman gathering sticks. To quote from a Bible commentary: There were many widows in [Elijah’s] Isreal and the surrounding areas because of war and famine. Traditional family and village systems of support for widows had broken down since the king … had started buying up the land and corrupting village leaders. Prices for oil were high because they were chief export crops. This widow could not afford them anymore.

They talk in the news media about needing to find the human interest story. Well here in 1 Kings is the human interest story. YHWH, the God of the Old Testament, has a human interest in widows.

Third, the interaction. Having gone to the edge, in place and person, we can now consider this story from the viewpoint of the widow. From this perspective, she is a most extraordinary example of hospitality and faith. She offers her last to a stranger. She says yes to a prophet, no matter how illogical. This is discovered in the “Baal” worshipping town. A redeeming God will always be found in the places the centre considers unlikely!

Finally, this text offers an insight regarding community empowerment. I am fascinated by the way that Elijah doesn’t give her a handout. Instead he empowers her. Invites her to simply give what she’s got. One book noted that “The key [to 1 Kings 17] is that [Elijah] does not do the miracle for [the widow] [Instead he] enables her to do it for herself.” Here’s a way to work with the poor, in ways that do not leave them victims, but invited to use what they have got – the twigs they can collect, their flour and oil.

This is a missional reading. The people of God are encouraged to journey to the places complicit with economic oppression. In this places, they are to concentrate of human interest. They are invited to look for God’s prior activity in those places, to seek those who already have the capacity for extraordinary faith.

Posted by steve at 09:01 AM | Comments (4)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ageist mission?

On Friday, I ducked away to a seaside cafe to do some writing (another 1,000 words on the Sustainability and mission project).

As I took a break, I looked at those around me in the cafe. At one table was a grandmother, struggling with two lively pre-schoolers. At another was a group of friends, grey-haired, sharing travel plans. At yet another was a similar group, obviously regular weekly gatherings.

The day prior, I’d been part of a presentation of NCLS data on the Uniting Church in South Australia. The average age is 62. That Friday morning, I’d found parking at this seaside suburb outside a local Uniting Church. It is a church I’ve been a few times, to find myself surrounded by a good number of elderly folk.

Cause for concern?

Not if you consider the demography of those surrounding me in the cafe. Surely a denomination of retirees is superbly placed to incarnate the Gospel among grandmother struggling to babysit, retirees planning a worthwhile future and searching for relationships.

Fresh expressions can, frankly be ageist. It can assume that the new, young, hip are the future. Well, the young and hip will struggle to meet those seated around me on Friday.

It reminds me of the claim by Mark Lau-Branson, that Pentecost is for the geriatric.

Posted by steve at 10:04 PM | Comments (1)

Friday, May 31, 2013

model missionaries: Centurion in Luke 7

During team devotions yesterday, we explored the lectionary reading for the week – Luke 7:1-10.

The Bible text is placed in an envelope and before we read it, we try and piece together what we can recall. This engages us a group. It builds curiousity. It provokes questions.

Then we read it aloud together and ask each other: What surprised us? This often exposes our blindspots, makes us aware of the bits we have historically skipped over.

Finally we ask each other: What might this text mean for us as a College? What might this text mean for us, individually?

Yesterday, the discussion wandered into the cultural layers at work in this text. And then how different cultures have different attitudes to authority. Which led us to wonder if the centurion was a model cross-cultural missionary. He loves where he is planted (v.5). He has obviously built strong relationships (v. 3). He has partnered in community building (v.5). He knows how the culture works (v.6).

A centurion, a Gentile, as an example of mission! A lovely challenge for us to ponder, as we as a College think about what it means to train disciples in mission.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Go Danica, Go Pilgrim, Go indigenous immersion

Sunday was Reconciliation Sunday here in Australia. A week to focus on partnership with indigenous people and communities.

Earlier this year, Uniting College partnered with one of our local churches, Pilgrim Uniting, to begin Walking on Country – a long weekend immersed in a local indigenous community, supported by pre-readings and post-trip debrief. This was part of a non-formal teaching plan to ensure our ministry candidates and their families (optional) experience cross cultural immersion among Australia’s indigenous peoples.

Sunday was a fitting time for this new venture to connect back with the local partner church. Danica Patselis (student at Uniting College, currently in a Period of Discernment and married to a candidate) spoke, reflecting on what the experience meant to her. As she later emailed me –

Thanks for prioritizing this trip for the formation of ministers. Nick and I were both renewed and transformed in our thinking and actions from our time with Uncle Tom and Aunty Denise. We are hoping to take a group from Hope Valley to the Congress church to begin conversations, worship together, and learn from the vibrant spirituality of these peoples. But we’re taking small steps as we want it to be long-term action not reactive.

As part of the service, as Principal, I offered a greeting (which I emailed sitting on a Melbourne motel floor)

Uniting College have been delighted to partner with Pilgrim Uniting in the Walking on Country initiative. It has been life changing for some participants. It has enabled ongoing conversations about the Preamble, justice, partnership across cultures. It has both broadened, yet humbled, our understandings of mission and ministry. We hope its the start of an annual event and an ongoing partnership both with Pilgrim and local indigenous communities. Maori culture has a proverb “He tangata, he tangata , he tangata” – the people, the people, the people. That was our experience with you and at Camp Coorong. A Pentecost gift to cherish – Principal Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 06:35 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Pilgrimage spirituality interaction

Darren Wright, who so long ago did a very thorough blog review of my Out of Bounds Church book, is interacting with my recent Old Testament festival spirituality talk.

to be honest the idea of seeing our liturgical year being split into 6ish gatherings connected to festivals (we already naturally celebrate 3 festivals in christmas, easter and harvest) sounded like a beautiful and sustainable idea for many people at the conference. People seemed so attracted to the idea of festivals that the other ways of exploring community, spirituality and faith seemed overlooked by many of the group, so with that in mind I thought I’d like to explore each of the categories leaving Festivals to the last.

He is taking each of the categories I introduced – temple, festival, pilgrimage, table, sacred site – starting with pilgrimage.

He explores rural life, driving, weekly bike club rides that exist in almost every town, a driving holiday, transporting cattle/stock along the stock trails, harvesting and sowing (where in Australia one sits alone on a huge machine for days on end). Even geocaching.

Pilgrimage as practice opens up the possibility of seeing the tractor as a space for liturgical & ritual practices, the car/vehicle as one drives between Hillston and Sydney as a space for faith and connection. The task for us now is to develop ideas that help the spiritual practice of pilgrimage develop and professional travellers ways to engage with the region they’re driving through in deep spiritual reflection.

It’s a creative piece of work.

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, May 06, 2013

missional communion

An introduction to communion that I shared today, working with our candidates, faculty and visiting ministers, gathered around the topic of self-care.

There is a story of some ministers gathering. Much like us today, to wrestle with ministry. In the question time, a question is raised. A person aware of their world, concerned about the church. How can we bring people to the altar?

The response is made. Is the question how do we bring people to the altar? Or is the question, how do we bring the altar to people?

An important reminder as we gather. It is not that we come to communion, but that in communion God comes to us. In this we are invited to participate in God’s mission.

Yes, it is about our care. In communion God feeds us, centres us, re-values us around grace and redemption.

But it is more than that. It is also about care for the church. In communion God feeds the church, centres the church, re-values the church around grace and redemption.

But it is more than that. It is also about care for the world. In communion God wants to feed the world, wants to centre the world, wants to re-value the world around grace and redemption.

And so we pray; Spirit, fall on us, that these elements of bread and wine may be for us a participation in your life, love and mission, your bringing the altar to people.

Posted by steve at 03:25 PM | Comments (5)

Friday, May 03, 2013

Festival spirituality stories: Spin and Fibre Festival

I’m starting a research project, wanting to collect stories of Festival spirituality. It is an extension of a brief idea I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (emergentYS) and which I recently developed further.

Festival spirituality (working definition): an occasional period of community gathering for celebration, in which Christians intentionally participate, seeking to make the shalom of God more visible.

This Festival spirituality story – Spin and Fibre Festival comes from Frontier News, May 2013, 8-10. It relates to the 35th Bothwell International Highland Spin In and Fibre Festival, a biennial event held in Tasmania and comes from an interview with Rev Meg Evans, Patrol Minister, Midlands, Tasmania.

Held every two years, Meg is the unofficial chaplain for the festival, which was started by a group of Uniting Church women who were spinning wool to raise funds to restore the church tower. Bothwell is one of the smaller communities in the Patrol located in the Central Highlands, 70 km northwest of Hobart. It has a long history in Merino wool production and the festival remains a huge event for both local and international visitors showcasing crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.

“On the Friday, we shear a sheep for the fleece, and then we hold a ‘Blessing of the Fleece.’ The wool is given out to people to spin during the weekend. On the Sunday I hold a service in the school gym, surrounded by all this wonderful creativity. It is just a great community celebration.”

“People come and tell me how much they enjoy it. I think the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.”

Some interesting things to note

  • gift – the involvement of the church begins with “Blessing”. This suggests a thankfulness. What is blessed (the Fleece) is then given away to participants
  • risk – This clearly involves risk, that the gift might not be “unwrapped,” might not be utilised. Or it might be “wrapped” in a way contrary to the values of the giver.
  • theology of creation – the connection to wool, as the product of local industry, as the lifeblood of what this community, this land, produces. A celebration both of the gift of wool, but also of the creative gifts that surround wool – “crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.”
  • being church as spun (interwoven) presence, first in being close enough to the land to be aan initiating participant, second in being a worshipping presence through the festival, both from the initial blessing through to the service, third in the theology of Meg, “the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.” The church began this event, but was willing to give it away. The church is willing to be one of many participants, many strands, in the fibre of this event. It does not need to own it nor control it.

So this Festival spirituality is mission as chaplain, celebrating creation, with particular attention to presence, participation, gift and risk.

Questions for discussion

  1. I wonder what things might be worth celebrating in your community – what gifts of “creation” and “creativity” you could bless?
  2. I wonder how you might take risks and invite people to participate in these gifts?
  3. What might an authentic presence look like? Think about this both from your perspective as a church and from the perspective of visitors and locals.
Posted by steve at 11:08 AM | Comments (2)

Monday, April 22, 2013

In sure and certain hope

Andrew Dutney, President of the Uniting Church, dropped in on my Sustainability and the mission of God presentation at the Australian Association of Mission Studies (Adelaide chapter) today, when I presented some of my findings from research into UK fresh expressions ten years on.

Andrew offers a fascinating followup reflection, pondering further some of my ruminations around the implications for a church that seeks to live in response to an Easter story of death and resurrection.

One of the interesting things [Steve] found is that there’s about a 50% attrition rate in the Fresh Expressions he’s followed over the last decade. He checked this against other writers’ lists of innovative faith communities like that and found a similar “death” rate.

But he also found significant signs of new life – resurrection even – associated with those short-lived churches. Individual participants report being transformed by the experience and prepared to offer significant leadership in mission after the demise of the Fresh Expression they were part of. Other faith communities – both established congregations and other Fresh Expressions have learned from the experience and example of the community that has wound up. And many of those communities have left behind “products” generated in their years of vitality – art, liturgical resources, training modules etc.

So, Steve told us, that 50% attrition rate doesn’t mean that half of the Fresh Expressions initiated weren’t worth the effort. Not at all. They are integral to the dynamic of the church’s discernment of and participation in the life of the Holy Spirit in the world. They too embody the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic movement.

You’d think a movement oriented around the death and resurrection of Jesus would get that intuitively.

Andrew then moves from fresh expressions to ponder the implications for inherited expressions, particularly churches facing death. It’s really interesting. More here

Posted by steve at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Festival spirituality, mission and ministry

I’m speaking tomorrow at the National Uniting Church Rural Ministry Conference, at Barmera, which is about 3 hours drive north of Adelaide, in the Riverlands.

My topic is festival spirituality. It’s a significant development of some ideas I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. I will begin by looking at Old Testament patterns of gathering and how it relates to worship, mission, community and interconnection. I will then do a drive by of a number of articles from Rural Theology, contemporary research on belonging and participation, along with research into current festival patterns in the UK.

Here’s my conclusion.

I have wanted to engage with two problems. First, the perception of Christianity as urban, a move which can downplay the vitality of rural ministry. Second, the perception of church as building, geographic and Vicar led.

I have deployed the Old Testament to suggest different modes of gathering, around sacred sites, on pilgrimage, in festivals, around tables. I would suggest these are more congruent with the needs of rural folk, in current patterns of belonging, in ways of participation and the existence already of festivals.

Finally, two examples have been provided, which show current examples of rural churches embracing these new/old forms. My suggestion is that these patterns are more likely to be life-giving for a rural church. Rather than a weekly habit, they provide ways to participate in the rhythm of a community, to embrace sense of place and to offer spirituality for the road trips so integral to rural life.

It should be a fun day.

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM | Comments (4)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Gender matters: in church structures

Today I’ve been writing (Sustainability and fresh expressions book project) on the history of mission in Great Britain. What has the God of mission been up to in the past? How might that help us analyse the current and dream of a future?

More specifically, I’ve been writing about the voluntary missionary society, a significant and important gift, from Great Britain, to the world. William Carey, often called the father of modern mission, in his hugely influential An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means, argued not only for mission, but also for a new structure for mission. Drawing from the world of commerce, the trading company and the way it, through seeking shareholders, created participation and enabled action, Carey wondered:

Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, etc etc

Missiologist Andrew Walls considers this of huge significance, a revolutionary re-structuring of the church in light of mission. He also notes a number of outcomes, including gender matters, the way it allowed women’s giftedness. Walls argues that voluntary societies

assisting [the church's] declericalization, giving new scope for women’s energies and gifts and adding an international dimension which hardly any of the churches, growing as they did within a national framework, had any means of expressing. After the age of the voluntary society, the Western Church could never be the same again. Andrew Walls, ”Missionary societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church.”

Often church structures impede women, as so eloquently attested in Maggi Dawn’s recent book. But sometimes (albiet probably unintentionally), they allow the body of Christ to experience “new scope for women’s energies and gifts.” In other words, to more fully be the body.

Yeah for church restructuring!

Posted by steve at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)