(new expressions of church) “are growing in places where Christians have been humbled in various ways, and are humble enough to seek God, and be open to doing things differently. Every 'fresh expression' contains this element, of admitting you don’t quite know what to do. It’s a mark of authenticity.” (Steve Croft)
“this is a moment for learners, not for experts.” (Steve Croft)
“The church of God doesn’t choose to do mission, the God of mission chooses to have a church.” (J. John, quoted by Mark Russell from the Church Army)
“The climate for church planting, mission and evangelism has never been better.” (Mark Russell)
A lot has happened in a short time. Informal experimentation in church planting and fresh expressions of church (the Anglican/Methodist term - it's called 'emerging church' in other places) has been happening for years. Since the end of the Decade of Evangelism, it has suddenly shifted from a fringe activity to something central:
- the Mission Shaped Church report named what was happening as good, and gave the national church a way to enable and promote it (some useful resources on the report here, and the entire report is online here . )
- we've developed new language and concepts to help us understand what's happening (e.g. the Mixed Economy church: both the new and the old rather than the replacement of the old by the new)
- there's widespread ownership of the idea of 'fresh expressions', most dioceses now have funds and personnel actively dedicated to supporting and enabling them.
- new policies and structures: Diocesan mission funds, the Bishops Mission Orders (see below) - the church is reorganising itself more around mission.
What's Currently Happening
- Training for pioneer missioners - now approved nationally, and courses running in various centres, over 40 candidates already accepted to train as 'Ordained Pioneer Ministers'
- Lay Pioneer Ministry - guidelines for training currently being approved, various training courses being developed. The main one, Mission Shaped Ministry, will be running in 20 centres by the end of 2008 (including Taunton, if you're from these parts). Brochure is here.
- Mission Funding: an average of £5m a year to pump-prime mission projects, and a further £6.5m possibly available on top of this. Anglicans are encouraged to press their Dioceses to make sure this money gets used on mission stuff, some are using it to top up clergy pay, and diverting it away from the intended use.
- New Legal Framework: the Dioceses Pastoral and Mission Measure, which should be through Parliament (!) by the end of the year, allows for a new 'Bishops Mission Order', which allows for new inititatives outside the parish system, overseen directly by the Diocese.
And finally, a new website http://www.sharetheguide.org/ which is a hub for information, networking and wisdom in planting churches and fresh expressions, has lots of potential to bring people together who otherwise only connect at national conferences like the one last week. Michael Moynagh, one of the key thinkers on the future of the church, is one of the folk behind it. It's an evolving thing, but there are several major sections up already.