Friday, February 12, 2010

summarising Mission Shaped Church: 6 years in

Just out in Great Britian is a report researching the impact of Mission-shaped Church in England. You can download it here. At 40 pages (including appendices), it’s thorough, clear, erudite. A great piece of work.

Here’s some quotes that caught my eye, with some commentary from myself, stranded in no-mans land between Baptist and Uniting world’s.

1. The value of the notion of “mixed economy.”

Most of all, “inherited”, or traditional, understandings of what it means to be Christ’s church, and emerging fresh expressions of church are complementary aspects of a single, coherent ecclesiology. (1) The best of what we have inherited, and a rich outpouring of new creative thinking, are indeed combining in the name of the gospel. For that we thank God. (2)

It’s a fantastic metaphor and so helpful in terms of affirming and valuing what is, yet encouraging space for what is not yet. However, it does require careful attention, given what has happened.

There is a clear pattern emerging with many parish based initiatives appearing on the fringes of inherited churches … They are making the inherited church effective in mission by creating appropriate new church congregations shaped for mission (20) …. they are very valid forms of mission and have brought substantial growth to the church but are insufficient on their own to answer to the missionary task in the nation as a whole. (21)

There are fewer ‘free-standing’ fresh expressions, focused further from the inherited church and working more often with those who are non-churched. This is probably due to the greater levels of resourcing these fresh expressions tend to require. (21)

So the validity of my Opawa experience, planting new expressions as a multi-congregational model. Equally, the validity of what we tried to do at Graceway, planting a new form. And oh the resource issues we struggled with in that context. Oh the pain and energy loss we experienced trying to find a physical building to ground our mission.

2. The creation of a “pioneer stream” including selection, courses, context.

Regarding selection

Specific selection criteria should be established … Those involved in selection need to be adequately equipped to identify and affirm pioneers and mission entrepreneurs.

Regarding courses

[a]ll ministers, lay and ordained … should include a focus on cross-cultural evangelism, church planting and fresh expressions of church.” (6)

Regarding context

“curacy posts should be established where church planting skills, gifting and experience can be nurtured, developed and employed.” (7)

Wouldn’t it be great to see that type of systemic change, in which a church system has fresh expressions in which pioneers can be idenitified, mentored and then placed to be formed in leadership. I recall Al Roxburgh in 2007 summarising our Baptist “Sharpening the edge” new forms as “epiphenomenal.” In my words, a fluke of the Spirit. They happened, often driven by uniquely gifted people. While we must be so grateful for them, what was needed was a denominational system which was intentional about leadership development.

Applied to the Uniting context, I wonder how the categories of mixed economy leaders will play out. How might pioneers be identified, encouraged, mentored, trained, in ways that are mixed – best of the tradition, creative in the new.

3. Importance of lay pioneer training

A pattern should develop that provides training as part of a process of discernment-for-authorization, rather than training subsequent to discernment, or the removal of existing leaders for training elsewhere.” (7) “To turn the vision of a mixed economy church into a reality will take many lay pioneers who will be able and willing to plant fresh expressions as volunteers. The task is too great to rely solely on those who will be called, trained and appointed as ordained pioneers. (16)

This is a huge shift in thinking, but so necessary. At Opawa we were planting our “new forms” as teams, always looking for groupings of people. It was so encouraging to see what were essentially lay people grow in this capacity: Adrian learning to do lectio divina, the Soak team, Paul and Anne in their leading of espresso, the bridge builders like Annette, Hugh, Jenn. So lot’s of resonance with this.

4. The value of church “groupings”

Deaneries (geographic groupings of churches) have the potential to bring together a range of human and financial resources, to consider mission across parish boundaries, and to share prayer and encouragement. (5)

At the risk of being rude, this is where Baptists really struggle. We are so obsessed with local church, that we simply do not have this sort of grouped mission potential. When we gather (at Assembly or as associations), what coheres us is relationships (in contrast to sacraments or creeds). And because our relationships are voluntary, and because they are infrequent, there is little capacity for robust critical reflection and interaction, out of which shared mission can grow. And so we lack this shared synergy for mission.

Arriving in a Uniting context, I am wondering if “synod” can be exchanged for “deanery”? Or is it actually “networks”?

5. Resources

a [mission growth and opportunity] fund as key to the development of fresh expressions (8) … Money alone is clearly not sufficient to establish the mixed economy, but it is an extremely pivotal factor. (19)

While this is obvious, and is the logical consequence of groupings, it is then followed by some fascinating reflection on how funding is used. Shotgun or rifle, and what happens when you pull the trigger?

a plethora of small grands … tended to fund mission that was “focussed on current patterns of ministry, rather than more cutting edge, non-parochial projects.” (18)

a few projects that were “centrally discerned” … were more cutting edge, with a network focus (18)

6. Diffusion of mission-shaped vision throughout the system

“the spread of Mission-shaped Church thinking and practice” through one day courses, six evenings, a one year course, along with books, DVD’s and websites.

the impact and effectiveness of a mission-shaped diocesan strategy is directly related to the level of ownership given to the report’s recommendations by diocesan senior staff … a direct correlation between the seniority of this member of staff and the impact of the [Mission Shaped Church] report on the diocese. (13) Their [bishops] ownership has released a wave of creativity and experimentation within the church as it strives to re-shape itself in response to the call to mission.” (22)

6. Future challenges

there is still a strong bias to a neighbourhood understanding of society over network. (5)

lack of record keeping, with many dioceses have no data base of church plants and fresh expressions.

This seems to be made worse by a lack of clarity about what is a fresh expression.

“120 according to Churchwarden returns 2006, 11 according to the Fresh Expression website, 20 according to my calculation.” (20).

Is the downside of a desire to be mixed and inclusive, the reality that because anything can be fresh, then what was inherited can simply be given a “fresh label”. New paint job solves everything! When in reality, the mission requires so much deeper work, as evidenced by the following:

Ministries among profoundly unchurched people take a long time to create recognisably Christian groups – five years may just be the beginning. Such ministries do not start with worship, but with relationships, shared activity and exploration of life’s values. (27)

All this suggests that the hard work is yet to be seen. A report reflecting on 6 years, which concludes that it takes at least 5 years to see fruit amongst the unchurched.

Hats off to the UK Anglicans and I hope the work of the Spirit in their life, as seen in this report, is an imaginative stimulus to the church family I have been part of, and to the church family I am now on loan to.

And I can’t resist it – to all those using the internet to publicly jump ship on the emerging church, enjoy reading that last quote once again!

Ministries among profoundly unchurched people take a long time to create recognisably Christian groups – five years may just be the beginning. (27)

Posted by steve at 01:08 PM


  1. steve thanks – this is great. hope you are settling in. and see you soonish!

    Comment by jonny — February 12, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

  2. Hi Steve,

    I really appreciate your blog. I’m in a position of denominational leadership responsible to resource church planting and was intrigued by your comment about the difficulty and loss of energy around finding a place to ground the mission. Can you say a bit more about the importance of that place in your context and the issues around it? Feel free to respond by e-mail if more appropriate.

    Peace, Norm Voth

    Comment by Norm — February 13, 2010 @ 2:21 am

  3. thanks Jonny. will be great to see you. might even have to break out one of my special kiwi wines i snuck over. can’t have u drinking just aussie stuff.

    norm, i’ll try and respond a bit more later.


    Comment by steve — February 15, 2010 @ 8:34 am

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