In this podcast Ian Mobsby explores the differences between attractional models of Church with apostolic models and the importance of seeking God through the story and needs of people in the local context. This was recorded at the 4th Anglo-Catholic Symposium on 23rd November 2016 in the Woolwich Episcopal Area of the Diocese of Southwark.
Tag Archives: Fresh Expressions
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…..
Really pleased that the new book New Monasticism as Fresh Expressions of the Church, second in the Ancient Faith Future Mission Series is now out and available. It’s a good read with a number of experienced authors in the UK and US that includes Andy Freeman from 24-7 Boiler Rooms and the Reading Reconcile Community, Ray Simpson from the Aidan and Hilda Community, Tom Sine from the Mustard Seeds House Seattle, Shane Claiborne from the Simple Way Community, Pete Askew from the Northumbria Community, Diana Kershaw from the Order of Mission, Philip Roderick and Tessa Holland from the Contemplative Fire Community, Mark Berry from the Safe Space Community in Telford, Bp Graham Cray the Archbishop’s Missioner and leader for Fresh Expressions and Abbot Stuart Burns, a leading UK Anglican Benedictine and I. It’s a great read.
There are going to be a number of planned book launches in the UK, Australia and other places. Ones planned so far are in London and Manchester in the first week of February. For more information click here
Letter I sent to the Church Times referring to Bp Stephen Cottrell’s review of the Milbank and Davison’s book “For the Parish” which was not published
Sir, – I was really pleased to read Bp Stephen Cottrell’s informed and measured review in Issue 7706 of the Church Times concerning the recent Milbank and Davison book “For the Parish” entitled “The baby and the parochial bathwater”.
Whilst I also endorse the view that the Mission Shaped Report was not a full theological exploration, it should be remembered that it was never intended to be a full ecclesiological exposition – it is a church report!
I was also pleased to see that Bp Stephen mentioned New Monasticism as an example of good practice arising out of the Fresh Expressions initiative, which seeks to be ‘ancient future’ in vision. New Monasticism as Fresh Expressions of Church, (the subject of a new multi-authored book to be published shortly by Canterbury Press) has a comprehensive theological self-understanding and connection with the ongoing tradition and calling of monastic and apostolic mission.
Many of us involved in Fresh Expressions of Church were dismayed by the position of “For the Parish” which seemed to compare the most romanticised and perfect expression of the Parish Church with the worst ‘dumbed down’ forms of Fresh Expressions. As Bp Stephen states, this impoverishes the argument of “For the Parish”.
As well as the examples the Bishop of Chelmsford gives for what is not said in the book – I would take this argument further. Where is the missiological engagement? I read much on ecclesiology and the importance of the Church but little on missiology and the importance of the Kingdom? Too much focus on the Church and too little exploration of the Kingdom creates the danger of idolatry – ‘Seek you first the Kingdom of God’, (Matt 6:33). Where is the theological engagement with Models of Church and the work of Avery Dulles or contextual theology and the work of S B Bevans and Niebuhr and other theological disciplines? There is a conspicuous absence of a wider theological engagement. It is a great arrogance to believe that the discipline of Ecclesiology is the only real form of theological discourse, and it is disappointing that a more systematic approach has not been taken holding ecclesiology and missiology in tension.
There is a deep paradox in this book that talks up dialogue and mediation as a model but then continues to set up a dualism – parish good, fresh expressions bad, typical of a polemic that is not particularly helpful for a comprehensive theological reflection. The truth is we need a more ‘both-and’ position, both traditional and experimental, conservative and progressive.
The danger of this book is that it seems to propose a return to a specifically Christendom theological mindset, where salvation and authentic mission can only be found within parish forms of Church, with a translation model of contextual theology which arrogantly downplays the contextualisation of the gospel and the church. No one expression of church can fully be a vessel of the gospel, hence why there has been a diversity of form of church in the Church of England for sometime – parish alongside monastic and friar orders, chaplaincies and missions. This is not new. The Missio Dei is at its heart the mission of God in God’s Kingdom. It is not about maintaining ‘unity in conformity’ as a particularly institutional expression of church. This is the weakness of the model of ‘Church as political society’ or Christendom which the authors suggest we should return to in our post-liberal times.
We remember that mission and evangelism in this country in the Romano-Celtic, Saxon and Norman times was not completed largely by Priests and Deacons, but rather by evangelistic Monks, Nuns, Friars and Bishops. In more recent times, in the Oxford Movement we see a Church renewed through the resurgence of the religious life in response to cultural change and the calling of the Holy Spirit. May be fresh expressions and New Monasticism are such a resurgence of non-parish forms of the Church led by the Holy Spirit in response to our increasingly post-secular context.
Surely the way forward for the wider Church is a renewed partnership of the best of Parish and the best of Fresh Expressions in ‘mission-informed’ engagement to a culture which is increasingly post-church and post-Christian. Mission and Evangelism are part of our apostolic calling. We need to avoid setting up false-dichotomies.
Revd Ian Mobsby
Moot Priest Missioner, Associate Missioner to the Archbishop’s Fresh Expressions Team and member of the Church of England’s College of Evangelists.
The Moot Community
St Edmund the King Church
London EC3V 9EA
Last month, the new book “For the Parish, a critique of Fresh Expressions” was published by Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison from a catholic Radical Orthodoxy perspective by Canterbury Press.
Although I found the forward and introductory chapters infuriatingly irritating in its tone and a tad polemical with the real danger of making far-reaching statements about all fresh expressions coming from the same stable (which is completely dualistic and somewhat untrue), there is much in this book that I welcome as a first real critique that questions the theology and practice of fresh expressions of church. They are right to point out a number of weaknesses concerning ecclesiology and practice, something I first looked at some time ago in my research and book “Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church” which also looked at what it meant to be authenticially church and Anglican. Some of these concerns have been the reflections of the Fresh Expressions Roundtable Number 5, which involves Theologians, Ordinands, Priest and others coming from a Catholic and Contemplative perspective.
They are right to question whether some of the experiments in being fresh expressions of church are sufficiently asking the right questions how to be ‘in culture but not of culture’. It has been a frustration of mine for sometime that somethings called ‘fresh expressions’ are really not fresh expressions of the church. They raise big issues in Missiology but I have to say with very little engagement of missiology, this book is very much saying that modern Anglican post-liberal theology is about ‘going back to the church’ and therefore puts the Church at the top, so that Ecclesiology as a theological discipline becomes more important than missiology and pastoral theology, as everything is about the Church. Unfortunately there is no real engagement with contextual theology or models of church, this is the classic combination of Church as Political Society (Christendom) using Dulles’ terminology modelled with a translation model of contextual theology using S B Bevans terminology and a thoroughly attractional model of church.
I will respond to some of the key elements of theology in this book when I have had time to think about things which I summarise as: The Kingdom and the Church, Salvation and the Church, Mission and the Church, the apophatic understandings of belief, Anglican identity, and the balance of belief with spiritual practices.
Like I say, at times I think this book will be known as “the book you throw across the room in irritation” but saying that, I completely welcome the need to sharpen up mission and ecclesiological thinking and practice. At best some of the things I see done in the name of fresh expressions are clumsy and ill-thought-through, and bordering on syncretistic with culture. So I welcome the critique even if I find some of its understandings and assumptions of fresh expressions to be ill-informed and over-stated. It is never a good idea just critique a whole initiative based on a somewhat out of date church report, much further research could have been included, but that would have meant less of a polemical and non-dualistic engagement. This is a critique mixed in with a rant.
As I said, I will be blogging about some of the areas the book addresses above.
Back in the Spring I met up with Tim Nash to explore the whole emerging and fresh expressions of church initiative in the UK, and to explore more deeply my book the Becoming of G-d. They have made a great podcast out of the discussions and included a book review, so do check this out here.
USA Edition: Ancient Faith Future Mission – fresh expressions of church in the sacramental traditions
Really pleased to say that the first book of the Series Ancient Faith Future Mission is now on Sale in a North American version in the USA. This includes the original authors Rowan Williams, Stephen Cottrell, Ian Adams, Sue Wallace, Karen Ward, Brian McLaren Richard Giles, Carl Turner, Phyllis Tickle, Paige Blair, Michael Volland, Philip Roderick and Tessa Holland, Karen Ward, Simon Rundell and Abbot Stuart Burns. But additionally includes chapters by Thomas Brackett, Stephanie Spellers, Christopher Ashley, Marie Harkey and Kirsten Wesselhoeft.
Well its now a new year, and I am now well on the way to completing the manuscript for my next book exploring New Monasticism, which I am writing for Paraclete to be submitted by the end of February 2010.
Writing this book has really helped me think quite deeply about this important model of church, and I have enjoyed interviewing a number of people including a Benedictine Abbot, a Franciscan Friar and a number of new monastics including Shane Claiborne, Mark Berry, Ian Adams and others.
I have also written a chapter in a book exploring spirituality in the city, which is a multi-authored book which I think is being published by Continuum. In this chapter I explore the increasing phenomena of post secular spiritual tourism, and in particularly that evidenced by the many flower shrines you see where people have died. It names something very important symbolically. So I hope that contribution assists people to explore the subject.
I am also pleased to let people know, that I am involved in three other books. All three are all multi-authored books in the Ancient Faith Future Mission series published with Canterbury Press. These will cover Fresh Expressions and New Monasticism, the Kingdom of God and Small Missional Communities.
So I seem to have become involved in a number writing projects!
I think this vid is quite helpful, yes it is very American, but I do think it marks out the issues.
Just before you think I have been smoking something rather illegal by pursuing such a grand title, I want to start by saying I have had a period of enforced isolation following an operation, so I have been reading and reflecting on a number of things. So I want to paint a picture that connects these big titles above, and No, I am now off the codeine pain relief, so I am now feeling more coherent.
Some in the whole Emerging & Fresh Expressions scene are quite anti-theologial, which has always troubled me, partly because it can then predispose people to make the same mistakes as some of those who have come before us in their thinking and praxis. It is always better to be informed, even if you fundamentally disagree… At the same time, I want to challenge some of the particularly academic theological institution, who look down on phenomenology and its related discipline of Pastoral Theology. Some see these two areas as weak cousins to their more illustrious and more academic relatives. I think this is fundamentally false and elitist and plainly wrong if this has any centredness around the life and activity of Jesus Christ which challenged such power related perspectives in his time.
So here goes … Phenomenology is an important perspective and discipline that has arisen out of philosophical thinking and in the social sciences, that now in a post-modern context, helps us to reframe and understand things drawing on human experience. “Phenomenology” comes from the Greek words phainómenon, meaning “that which appears,” and lógos, meaning “study.” Experience-led thinking was clearly very important to Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church. I encountered much of this in the research I did in my book “Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church”.
Theology – is important to an understanding of God – “Theology” meaning the study of God. In the Christian spiritual tradition, Theology & Phenomenology are intrinsically linked. Theology arises out of experience, but importantly out of communities in praxis not just on bright-spark charismatic individuals who work things out for themselves. Praxis here – is the idea of right action – about the discipline of exploring questions arising out of experience that connect to the humanities to then dialogue between these various insights (note dialogue is inherently about talking in community) to then work out what right action may be in response to the question. So this is a discipline in living, of right living (orthopraxis), not just of right thinking (orthodoxy) – which I argue has been a curse in the church which does a lot of thinking but not much action when and where it matters!! But, there is a danger in a cuture that sometimes feels being post-society, where no one ever seems to think about responsibility for others and everything is centred on individual rights. As Jonathan Clark has said in his book ‘the republic of heaven’:
If theology arises out of experience, is there any stopping point before we reach theologies that are constructed by each of us individually? If not, is there such a thing as the Church at all – what do we have in common? It’s a possible extreme case of what Catholics have always accused Protestants of – allowing the theology of private opinion to take precedence over the Church’s tradition.
He then goes on to say: Part of an answer to this criticism may rest in the concept of praxis … Liberation theologies therefore depend not on an individual experience but on that of a group, within the social and economic context in which it is placed. Theology happens, moreover, in the interaction of the community with its context: it’s not something restricted to books and lecture theatres. So when a group of oppressed people concretely refuse to accept their oppression, theology is happening. For those people, new truths about God are being enunciated as much through action as through their reflection [and thinking].
I think Jonathan Clark is spot on here. I want to argue that many emerging & fresh expressions of church are trying to seek forms of spiritual community with this phenomenological, communitarian, participation and liberationist focus, (where this liberationist focus is usually articulated in the form of economic, social and ecological justice) in the face of the force and perceived oppression of the global market, unrestrained forms of global capitalism, obscene forms of individualism, the return of a dominant class system and new forms of under classes, poverty and increased deprivation. This I think is particularly true at the moment in the global credit crunch, which was driven by capitalist greed. The language of liberation and justice is increasingly being used.
What worries me a little about some new post-church initiatives is that they are often very individualistic with a dominant monolithic ideology, which starts by saying everything that was before is wrong and now we have got it right, (I don’t believe any faith can be monolithic if it is centred on collective experience). Often, where there is a leader who is very charismatic, and a powerful arbiter. These initiatives have a lot of energy, but often have very little to do with community, praxis and liberation. The little books I have written, particularly the last, “the becoming of G-d” I hope is an articulation of what the Moot Community has been exploring for the last six years. I hope it is not about my thinking, more an articulation of the insights and thinking of a community founded on shared phenomenological activity and a theology arising out of experience of God. Contrary to the language coming from some, I don’t think we need ‘revival’ or a ‘continuation of the reformation’ or a new expression of church to ‘finish off the reformation that the church did not complete in modernity’. These somewhat hard and radical voices seek to build a contextual church, by seeking purity out of plurality of thought by the language of ‘opposition’ and ‘competition’. I think this thinking is bankrupt in our now post-Christendom context. We don’t need a continutation of reformed theology for postmodern times, we need to find an authentic expression of the Christian faith centred on liberation not competition.
So increasingly, the focus of new forms of church, (from my perspective), needs to be that they can be experienced as life giving, enabling, loving, caring and places of belonging and liberation. It is not about being ‘Cool’ or the next new ideology to consume, or about having the best technologically driven alternative worship. The world has had quite its fill of ‘Cool’ people and new ideologies that have not brought lasting change. We need forms of community that dream big dreams centred on the values of the Kingdom of God. I hope Moot grows into this type of profound places of humanity, where the Christian faith can be experienced as a liberating event that enables people to find their common humanity, in a world that is driven by power, competition and consumption. So liberation has to be a key focus to emerging & fresh expressions of church, if they are stand any chance of reflecting the values of the Kingdom of God Christ exposed through the ancient world, and which we are called to love and act on now.
So to conclude, rather than being anti-theological, I hope Emerging & Fresh Expressions of Church increasingly seek to reframe theology to make it life giving, and that this will therefore need to draw on a Kingdom perspective, centred on liberation and experience, where we have a high view of seeking shared solutions and a communal phenomenology. Where we seek not to ‘win’ so that others ‘lose’ but as liberation theologies say, we seek to change the goal posts, to reframe things, to have no losers where all call share in the good things in life, where we have rights and responsibilities for all. If we hold this perspective, then our Society may look differently on the life and work of Christ, because after all, was this not what he was about?