Category Archives: Fresh Expressions

Mission & the Kingdom of God

One of the greatest criticisms of the mission shaped church report, is the lack of focus on the Kingdom of God. The danger, as the theologian John Hall has said, is that the Mission Shaped Church can become the Church Shaped Mission. Why? – because there is a difference between mission and maintaining an institution. A kingdom focus, is centred on people experiencing the narrative of God, of inclusion, justice, sufficiency, mercy and the focus on the poor. If the focus on institutional survival, then it becomes a narrative of economics, bums-on-seats, cost benefit analysis, buildings, keeping the show on the road.

There is a real difference. So governance, vision and focus are important if mission is to be Kingdom centred. Structures need to be light, (where light does not mean controlling or old school but participative, accountable and cost-effective). A vision that is focused on transformation or experience, that’s about people, not about institutions, and focus – the values and teachings of Christ.

in this way, we can avoid being church shaped mission and a mission shaped church.

The importance of Contemplation in Mission

I have just written a joint article with Ian Adams in a really exciting multi-authored book entitled ‘Ancient Faith Future Mission’ to be published by Canterbury Press after Christmas, which include pieces by Rowan Williams, Steve Croft, Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren and Karen Ward to name but a few.  In it Ian and I explore ‘New Monasticism’ as expressed in some its Emerging Church forms.

I ahve been reminded how this refound approach is dependent on forms of contemplative prayer and contemplative awareness.  Marie Macarthy wrote a seminal chapter on contemplative awareness with the title ‘A spirituality for the twenty first century’ in Blackwell’s Reader in Pastoral & Practical Theology.  This text made a deep impression on me when I read it five years ago, and has stayed with me ever since.

Not only does Contemplation offer forms of spirituality that ‘work’, which opens up the Christian tradition to spiritual tourists, it also enables Christian communities to practices ‘action-reflection’, in seeking God in contemplation, to discern the hand of God in the world, and then to follow it.  In this way prayer and contemplation are a key resource for positive action and radical hospitality in the world.  We forget at our peril the need for a deeply sustaining spiritual life, of a relational aspect to the faith.  It is no coincidence that Martin Luther King, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa, and many more of the great movers and shakers spent much time in prayerful reflection to resource their mission and calling.

To be able to engage with the world, we need to be fully engaged in developing a spirituality that draws on the strengths of prayer and contemplation.

The Universe is fundamentally relational

I was reading the dissertation of a friend yesterday, and was struck how much science and religion now meet in the area of the relational.  In modernity, everything was solid and seperate, but now in postmodernity and with the outbreak of quantum mechanics, everything has become much more relational.  As my friend Steve Dancause said:

I think that we are witnessing a fundamental shift in what society values as ‘real’, with a heavy emphasis on relationality as the answer.  The philosophers used to say that ‘the real is rational’.  Now they say that ‘the real is relational’.  In fact, Deleuze has pointed out that ‘even the rational is relational’.  Modern science has shown us that particles exist not as absolute entities but as entities defined solely by their relationships to other particles.  People deeply want genuine connection and relationship to ground them and to give them life.  The shift to relational ontologies and epistemologies is interesting because the Church already has such a relational paradigm in the Trinity.  It is ultimately the Trinity that grounds us and gives us life, and the biblical narrative is a narrative that invites us into the divine community of the Trinity.

This is spot on, I could not agree more.  Steve Dancause has made the link between the Holy Trinity, Trinitarian Ecclesiology and the trend towards the relational at a depth I have not thought through before.

His dissertation and interview with me is to be on emergingchurch.info very soon.

Danger of CofE Emerging /Fresh Expressions of Church of becoming second class forms of church

It is five years now since the Fresh Expressions initaitve brought some good news to those who were involved in or started emerging/fresh expressions of church within the Church of England.  Many good things have happened:

1. Church Commissioners found money for start up monies for communities for 3 years distributed to Dioceses.
2. Discernment & training for non-ordained and ordained pioneers.
3. Change in church law to allow for full recognition of new forms of church as ‘Bishop Mission Orders’.

This is all good, but I have a distinct impression that in many Diocese, there is not a commitment to see our Emerging/Fresh Expressions of Church as equal to traditional or inherited forms of church.  Regarding financial resources, it seems that most Diocese are prioritising maintaining the traditional with very little commitment to funding new forms.  There are exceptions, like the Bishop of Reading, who is seeking to convert 1 in 10 of his stipended posts into an Ordained Pioneer post.  This is unfortunately too rare. Instead, I pick up an increasing cynicism about Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church, which saddens me.

Some of this is partly due to the branding and commodification that some of the Fresh Expressions promotional material has generated, it does feel a little too glossy at times. Such things can feel like a fad.  And clearly there is not enough theological writing and engagement with Anglican understandings of Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church and contextual mission.  BUT, there are some very good projects, and it is hard to see projects like my own in Moot, Maybe and hOME facing real financial difficulties in sustaining what we are doing.

I completely understand that all denominations and Dioceses are facing huge difficulties financially, but a church that does not invest in mission and the future rather than maintaining the status quo, faces a real crisis.

I am hoping some how we find a way through this financial difficulty for Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church that enable us to have sufficient financial resources to make our communities sustainable.

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