Monday, April 11, 2011

A Uniting Church, an emerging church? updated with more resources

Here is the introduction:

In May, I was privileged to participate, as the Norman and Mary Miller Lecturer, in the 28th gathering of the Queensland Synod. The opening worship was a highlight, a moving expression of the richness and diversity of The Uniting Church in Australia today.

The worship began with an indigenous cleansing ceremony, a welcome to country and the entry of diverse Uniting Church congregations. All were in traditional dress, singing and dancing as an expression of their unique culture. Each of the four Bible readings was given in a different language, while the Prayers of the people were enriched by the use of a conch shell. The communion table, in the shape of a boomerang, was draped in rich fabrics, in the colours of the rainbow and decorated with baskets of local produce. Celebration of communion included the Great Thanksgiving as a prayer of call and response that originated in Kenya. The prayer for the Bread originated in the Church of South India, the Gloria was a sung response using a chant from the Taize community in France while other words from Augustine of Hippo were also utilised.

It was a rich and splendid liturgical feast. At the risk of being facetious, but in order to make a point that is both obvious, yet important, let me make the following observation: that the worship bore little relationship to the early church.

Let me explain.

Here is the conclusion:

The emerging church invites a global, missional theology. It is not a Western manifestation, a product of books in the USA or fresh expressions in the United Kingdom.

Rather, it is a response to the impulse of the Spirit, at Pentecost, throughout church history and across the expanse of global culture.

This is the conclusion to an article I wrote last year. I try to argue that the best way to appreciate the emerging church is by placing it within global mission. I explore a Uniting church communion, and 20th century developments in both church and global mission history.

Titled “A Uniting Church, an emerging church?” it was published in Cross Purposes, a journal to encourage and support theological dialogue. If you want to read the full article, it has just become available online here, by scrolling down to page 3.

Updated: Jonny Baker found my article “delightful” and in email conversation we began discussing the books that are shaping our thinking in terms of seeing church in the context of God’s global mission. Here is what we noted

Kirsteen Kim, Joining in with the Spirit (who we’ve got booked to teach an intensive here in Adelaide on Spirit and mission in July 2012).

Bevans and Schroder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today

Chris Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative

Lamin Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture

Dana Roberts, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion

David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission

Gerard Arbuckle, Refounding the Church: Dissent for Leadership

Stanley Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

Since this Uniting Church, an emerging church? article, I have developed my thinking further. This is due to appear in an article titled Evaluating Birth narratives: A Missiological Conversation with Fresh Expressions, due out any time soon with Anvil. Here’s part of the conclusion:

Third, in reflecting on my own attempts to communicate Fresh Expressions to church leaders in Australasia, something happens when the conversation is started with an ecclesiology of “birth narratives”, rather than with the marks of the church. Telling the stories of Brendan the Navigator or of Alexandre de Rhodes pioneer leadership in Vietnam in the 1600s, offers an ecclesiology that values pioneering, risk, and that cannot avoid the constant interplay between faith and culture. Missiology becomes entwined with ecclesiology.

Does this mean that Fresh Expressions might be better served by employing the phrase “Fresh Expressions of mission”, rather than “Fresh Expressions of church”? A number of benefits might occur. Firstly, in honouring the global work of the Missio Dei. Secondly, in avoiding of the Western imaginary that is evoked in the word “church.” Thirdly, in the production of a set of ecclesiological criteria – potential, pioneering, risky, engaged with culture – that are more missiologically generative for the growth and development, which includes evaluation, of Fresh Expressions?

Fourth, a birthing ecclesiolgy might more directly link ecclesiology with the narratives of the birth of the church that arose after the Resurrection. One schema is provided by Stanley Skreslet, who offers five New Testament images of mission, linked with mission history. The images are those of announcing good news, sharing Christ with friends, interpreting the gospel; shepherding; building and planting.

One example provided by Skreslet is the Gladzor Gospels, in which the woman at the Well is portrayed as sharing with her neighbours, one of whom wears a Mongolian hat. And so a global mission history offers evaluative criteria that include whether Fresh Expressions expect to exist in mission only for their own cultural sub-group, or whether they are have eyes open to a world with multi-cultural neighbours.

Another example is the exploration by Skreslet of the theme of announcing good news. Skreslet notes that a third of the book of Acts is public speeches and explores how all are uniquely contextual. And so this early church birthing narrative offers evaluative criteria including whether a Fresh Expressions is engaged in the interplay between faith and culture.

Such might be the possibilities generated by the use of the term “Fresh Expressions of mission”, rather than “Fresh Expressions of church.”

Posted by steve at 11:55 PM

Monday, May 03, 2010

mission that’s out of the valley 2: motivations for Uniting mission

So on Saturday I spoke to about 70 local Adelaide youth leaders. My topic was mission. Here is what I did.

I started by talking about motivation. Why bother spending a gorgeous autumn afternoon talking mission, especially with a Showdown looming?

  • first, mission is in my blood, and I introduced my background
  • second, mission is in your (Uniting) blood. To explore this I presented a visual summary (hat tip Craig Mitchell) of the Basis of Union. People commented on the priority of words like church and (members/people) and (God, Jesus, Christ). This suggests a great motivation, than mission is simply God transforming lives, not of the clergy, but of the whole people of God. So mission is simply changed lives and it’s essential to the Uniting blood.
  • third, mission is also in our history, positively, and I told the story of Brendan the Navigator and the values of risk and edgy adventure
  • fourthly, mission in our history negatively, and I told the story of Samuel Marsden. Who in New Zealand is a mission hero, but in Australia is the flogging chaplain, an appalling mission example as he dealt excessive punishment to convicts. So as we think about mission, we need to own our past, both positive and negative and be aware of how that history shapes our imagination.
  • fifthly, the fact that only 5% of Uniting churches have offered the whole people of God training in faith sharing. That’s a tragic statistic for a denomination in which church and (members/people) and (God, Jesus, Christ is in their blood. So, while mission is broad, in the Uniting context, evangelism as mission, certainly deserves some sort of intentional focus.

So, I wanted to talk about mission as evangelism and I intended to explore that under three headings

  • being a mate – sharing with friends
  • having a yarn – announcing the good news
  • crossing the ditch – incarnational mission

(These are highly Aussie phrases and they came to mind while reading Darren Cronshaw’s most excellent Credible Witnesses, Companions, Prophets, Hosts and Other Australian Mission Models, Urban Neighbours of Hope, 2006.)

That was the first part of four segments. For what I said –
1) in relation to faith sharing, go here,
3) in relation to practice at an ordinary church, go here.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM