This week, I have had the wonderful good fortune and opportunity to be able to teach at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge MA USA, with a finale of giving the keynote speech at this years Episcopal Village Day Event at the Episcopal Cathedral in Boston.
From the discussions, I have been struck by something I had missed before. Many of my pioneering and missioner orientated colleagues in the UK have been frustrated, that the projects they have incarnated out of hopes and dreams, seem to have started with not being able to make an impact on the totally unchurched – the primary focus, and instead have started with a ministry that began with the dechurched.
Now, it has struck me that this is my experience too in the Moot Community, something that we have faced some criticism for in the early days. But – it has struck me, may be this is the intentions of the God outside of our own needs and desires. Jesus himself in the Gospel, very rarely goes directly to the unchurched from a Jewish perspective – I can think of the Samaritan Woman at the well and a few others. No, instead Jesus associated with those who were Jewish who were outside of the powerful temple system to build up a new community of disciples with jews who were very similar to the dechurched. It seems that Jesus was intentional about gathering around him a community of the dechurched, who through God’s death and resurrection are empowered to become the Apostles, and the beginning of the Church through mission to the Gentile unchurched. May it just be that ecclesia, and the building of ecclesial communities begins with pioneer missioners building small communities of the dechurched to create deep and radical Christian community that then has the maturity to start and sustain mission and evangelism to the unchurched.
In the Moot Community we have spent 7 years building up a community of the dechurched, which now is intentionally starting out to seek to service God by reaching out missionally to the unchurched. Maybe – focusing on the dechurched first is right strategically, as long as this then is matched by a commitment for the previously unchurched to mature into the call of seeking to serve the unchurched.
So pioneering missioners, don’t be disappointed that what you are doing seems to attract the dechurched and not the unchurched, just maybe this is the starting place to build community to be able to reach out to the unchurched effectively. I think this is true…..
This is such an important question. Many of us involved in emerging and fresh expressions of church have been on a journey for the last twenty odd years. More recently we have been focusing on the question – how do you do mission and evangelism with those who are spiritual questers rather than religious followers. For some of us, this journey has taken us to the Contemplative Christian tradition and new forms of church such is new monasticism. The Moot Community is a good example of this form of community, now extremely committed to mission and evangelism through dialogue and the practice of meditation for stressed out workers in London’s financial district.
So through an openness to follow God, we have been led to the riches of a rhythm of life, spiritual practices and postures to help us engage with this agenda. For some of us, this has evolved out of a greater Trinitarian understanding of the Christian faith leading to participative and sacramental understandings of the ecclesial community. My first book, ‘Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church‘, was a first participant study looking at the significance of emerging and fresh expressions of church. My second book, The Becoming of G-d which I hope is going to be published by Canterbury Press in a revised second edition, explores the Trinitarian basis discovered through being an emerging and fresh expression of Church, and the book I am currently writing, New Monastic Friars, seeks to explore new monasticism more fully.
However, most emerging and fresh expressions of church have not yet adequately explored how we do formation with spiritual questers. However, we are beginning to build up an understanding to start experimenting with Christian formation. Our mission and evangelism has relied on a transcendent model of contextual theology (using Bevans terminology) of invitation and transformation, sustained in a community seeking to become a deeply resourcing expression of church as a combination of a ‘mystical communion’ and ‘sacramental’ models of Church (using A Dulles’ understanding). So how do we hold onto this more questing and praxis approach to spiritual growth?
Well I think we are learning from two sources what this may look like – the combination of a 12-step course as a form of praxis and experience of transformation holding onto the Enneagram to help us understand ourselves better particularly around formation. The Core Team in Moot is currently reading through the book ’12 Steps to Spiritual Wholeness by Philip St.Romain’ to open up the Christian faith. Next we are reading through a book Aaron Kennedy is suggesting (from our community) on formation and the enneagram. So we hope then, that this approach may help us draw together a proto-type to explore this as a more cultural resonant way to engage with formation in a more experiential relational way.
This is an important next step, and we will see where it leads us.