fantastic blog post from maggi dawn coupled with a brilliant resource list of books to check out
every year there is a 24 hour get together of people in a region of 5 dioceses in the central south who are involved in theological education. the last few years i've been along and they always manage to find a very stimulating speaker to get conversation started. this year it was graeme codrington of the tomorrow today project who describes himself as a futurist. really what this means is talking about cultural changes in a number of areas and helping businesses, schools, churches and whoever think about the implications. i actually knew graham some years back when he was involved in youth ministry (an area in which people are always interested in the changes in culture of course).
all that is by way of saying that we had a pretty interesting discussion today around this question -
If the old logic won't work how do we find a new logic for the moment?
i had lots of suggestions to make but if you have any thoughts leave a comment!
a second and related quote from mark twain was also memorable
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble it's what you know for sure…
yesterday in the post a big box arrived - inside were three different editions of the brand spanking new extraordinary version of the bible called the way. it is a bible which is interspersed with black and whte photographs, laments, and stories. the translation is the new living translation. mark oestreicher is the person who has edited and carried the vision to do a contemporary version of the 1970s bible of the same name. it really looks fabulous. the laments and stories give it a real gritty honest tone. i can't quite believe how good it is...
i am one of the photographers who has contributed (around 50 photographs). i am finding it quite weird (in a really good exciting way) to see my photos in the bible like this. a self portrait has been used as the inside cover image which will take some getting used to and a photo of jen and harry opens up the new testament.
i got involved through knowing marko (we've been friends for years) but he invited me having seen my photos on the blog. the weird world of blogging strikes again. i am very happy to be involved in this project. i think people are going to love it. it's aimed at young(ish) adults. get any you know a copy. it's a tyndale bible.
the sophia network are hosting an 8 week online discussion on this theme starting this week - it's not too late to join in...
letters home is a bulletin aimed at those like CMS who are in new mission communities or orders or sodalities (yes jargon I know but probably useful as a term) and definitely aimed at pioneers. it is edited by beth keith and this is how she describes it...
Letters Home is a collection of thoughts, struggles and dreams; it is in fact a collection of letters home. A collection of letters written by pioneers who have followed the call to go beyond the Church as is. We chose Letters Home because they want to stay connected, stay in touch, and because home is not just where they’ve come from but a family they still belong to.
When we were putting it together it felt like an odd mix combining research, theology, parable and meditation. But it felt important to mix it up. It’s in the mix we find ourselves, combining gut instincts with rationale observations, thought through prac- tices with missional spirituality. The exploration we’re involved in requires all of this.
the first issue explores the tensions pioneers experience as they go beyond the existing church. it is totally brilliant. pour a cup of coffee or something, and sit down and chew over the contents.
beth present's what she has called elsewhere the pioneer's journey. this shouts so loudly to me that pioneers are really well advised to connect with a mission community or network (a sodality).
i really loved a piece by simon sutcliffe reflecting on the pioneer as guest. he creates a map of pioneering that has three types - pioneering in existing structures, creating fresh expressions and the ministry of wandering or being a guest (or sodal pioneer). this is a really helpful piece. i suspect that many in the church think of pioneer as either one or two but life becomes more complicated if you want to pioneer in the last category and dare I say more exciting, unknown, and wild...
then there are a few other pieces as well.
ok so maybe the blog title caught your attention...
fresh is a new book written by michael volland, andrew roberts and david goodhew. it's an introduction to fresh expressions of church and pioneer ministry. and it does exactly what it says - it's a very good intro, possibly the best one around at the moment.
it's in three sections written by the three different authors (in a way this is the weakness of the book - it could have had a more creative edit to weave the different contributions together more seamlessly and creatively). rather than summarise the three sections i'll randomly talk about bits of it!
the first chapter riffs on the word apostolic which i ended up quite liking. the author goes so far as to say that this language is better used by the new churches whereas the maniline denominations get hung up on apostolic succession. that's a pretty brave, humble and fair point. here's a quote or two
Talk of apostles has tended to focus on apostolic succession particularly via the institutions of the papacy and episcopacy... this has the effect of seeing apostolicity in terms of structures and authority. But apostolic can mean something else, namely acting in the manner of the apostles
(this is actually very like the kind of thing former cms general secretary max warren wrote in i believe in mission i seem to remember)
Apostolic has too often been defined backwards in terms of continuity... but it can equally be defined forwards in terms of our sentness by the Holy Spirit
there are a couple of attempts to define church. i found the definition early on in the book landed on a really reductionist description with the gravity pulling into just modal structures which was hugely disappointing. there is such a creative conversation going on about church as both gathered and spread out, local and global, that it was a shame that seemed to bypass this section of the book. but you can't have everything.
the summary chapter of what a fresh expression is and is not is quite brilliant - simple, focused, and very clear but also affording depth and imagination. and in contrast with what i've just said about the earlier defining of church, the conversation around church in this chapter i found inspiring rather than limiting. and the section saying what a fresh expression is not should be printed out writ large and put on billboards outside all diocesan offices as an antidote to the tendency to think that all pioneers will grow up one day and become real vicars, and fresh expressions will likewise grow up and become real churches!!!
i liked the sentence that across all inherited and newer churches in the mixed economy of church there is needed a humble view of the local church and a high view of catholicity. this reminded me very much of doug gay's brilliant book remixing the church (though this is not quite such a weighty tome).
there is quite a bit on pioneering which i was pleased to see. for this section michael volland contacted a whole load of people including me and has included responses on various issues such as sustaining over the long haul, what a pioneer is, how to get started. there is a lot of practical wisdom tucked in this section and it's where i underlined the most (i have a bad habit of scribbling on books). i actually thought beth keith in one of her responses nailed a pretty good description of a pioneer (and yes i know i am alread in her fan club - this is getting embarrassing)...
A pioneer is someone who sees future possibilities and works to bring them to reality. She is not fazed by the problems or issues, but can imagine something new, something different, something alive. The Church needs people who with the Spirit's inspiration can imagine and build Church in new ways and in new contexts.
i have dug out my whole list of responses to questions that i sent in for the book unedited and pasted it below in case it's of interest as only some of these responses were included...
· Who is a pioneer? What kind of personalities and characteristics are the church in need of at this time?
The church has always had leaders with a range of gifts from the outset. To pick a couple of examples - In Acts at a time of explosive growth you have leaders of house churches and also the apostolic bands going out and pioneering new things. In the middle ages you had something similar with congregations of churches but then your Jesuits and other kinds of friars who travelled out in mission in pioneering ways to inculturate the gospel. The church is always best served when there are both of these types of ministries functioning. From time to time the more pioneering one gets lost - perhaps often in times that appear rosy for the church and then when the pressure is on it comes to the fore again. So for me a pioneer in ministry is someone who is in that stream of ministry in the church that has launched out into new mission - probably mainly evangelists, prophets as opposed to pastors and teachers but these things never fit neat categories. And I would say the church in the last few hundred years has forgotten or not fully understood this kind of ministry so it's exciting that is coming to the fore again. But I think the church will best be served if it has both kinds of ministries and not just suddenly pioneering.
· How does the term ‘entrepreneur’ feel to you in relation to pioneer ministry?
An entrepreneur is someone who builds something. And I like people that see opportunities or gaps (entre - between!) and are able to create something there. It's an exciting word. For those of us who remember Margaret Thatcher it is also tainted with capitalist overtones but it's pretty clear that it's not being used in that way in the context of mission.
· How important is prior pioneering experience?
It's not always experience that is needed. It's more discerning who people are and what their unique contribution or gift may be. Some people are made in such a way that they simply don't fit the mold - it's who they are and they broker newness. They can gain experience but it is likely that there will be signs in what they have done that reflect who they are and if they are pioneering.
· Please say something about the balance the pioneer might need to strike between honoring what has been received and being a catalyst for new understandings of church and faith.
The metaphor I like to use around this is faithful improvisation - taken from Tom Wright or Walsh and Middleton (and no doubt others). The best improvisations come from those who are immersed in the tradition whether in music or drama or theology. So it is essential that pioneers know where they are coming from and have a deep repertoire of missiology, theology, ministry, liturgy and so on which will enable their imaginings and improvisations to have depth and be authentic. That's not to say that the traditions don't need ruptures - pioneers like St Francis have certainly brought these before. If we are going to talk about balance though the real issue in terms of balance is that there isn't a good balance in the church towards risk, creativity and imagination - it's conservative, cautious and risk averse! The whole environment needs shifting.
· Please say something about the essential need for lay as well as ordained pioneers.
The majority of projects I can think of that's been new in the mission movements in the church in the last 30 years - whether in youth ministry, alt worship, emerging church and so on have been pioneered by lay people. Some have subsequently discerned a vocation to get ordained as the church has recognised their leadership. It's a no brainer. The mission societies such as CMS have always been largely lay and voluntary societies. Yet in a lot of places in the structures of the church all the focus and money and power is vested in the ordained - it's quite a strange scenario. I am not ordained!
The pioneer and Christian community:
· What is your understanding of the nature & purpose of Christian community?
God is community and calls people to reflect that communal nature in their shared life. So Christian community is nothing less than an invitation to participate in the life of God with God's people. Many others have said this I'm sure but it is then a community that exists to join in or participate with God in the healing and transforming of creation. So it is a community that exists for something outside of itself - as a fire exists by burning so the church community exists by mission as Brunner is reported to have said.
· What do you feel is the key factor/s in the groundwork prior to planting a fresh expression?
Listening, imagination, and discerning the Spirit - none of these are easy things.
· What do you feel is the key factor/s in growing (to maturity and numerically) a fresh expression?
They grow and evolve in different ways even when the same things are tried. And in my experience the best laid plans often get laid aside and other doors and avenues open up. That's not to say that planning isn't important - it is but it needs to be held lightly. But underneath every approach there needs to be a genuineness - care and love for people, a love for the culture and context, a prayerful seeking of God's presence in the culture, a commitment to people who will be part of the team, and a patience to take people with you at every stage of the journey.
· What one thing would you advise pioneers to reflect on in relation to evangelism in the emerging culture?
I love Jesus parables about yeast and salt - get in amongst the dough and it will get affected through that transforming presence.
· What one thing would you advise pioneers to reflect on in relation to Eucharistic worship in a fresh expression?
Read up on inculturation in overseas mission and there's a gold mine for how to imaginatively engage with worship. The backdrop to this is the realisation in missions that there were hidden expectations around culture that people should use Western forms and patterns and theologies. But through the likes of liberation theology local voices and expressions voiced different approaches to worship that engaged with local cultures (inculturation is the mission term for this stuff). At various international gatherings there have been debates around this which have concluded (certainly in more recent decades) that local people need to be free to imaginatively engage with the liturgies and worship of the church in and out of their context and culture and not be imposed on from outside. Now it seem to me that the whole emerging church and fresh expressions movement has been fuelled by this imagination in relation to forms of church. And it's now time to engage imaginatively in the same way around forms of worship including the Eucharist. In Grace we have done this over the last seventeen years and found it to be a very exciting area of engagement in theological reflection and practice - we have probably written around fifteen Eucharistic prayers for example. Read the dictionary of liturgy and worship article on eucharist and you discover that improvisation was the norm for the first four hundred years of the church's practice anyway. So where we engage in inculturation we are doing nothing less than driving to the heart of the church's tradition.
· What one thing would you advise pioneers to reflect on in relation to preaching in a fresh expression?
It's not about preaching and it's not all about you either. The issue is whether as a leader you are able to create a learning community. Communication will be in the mix but it depends on the culture as to whether preaching is the right form for that to take place. I think it's hugely over-rated and have written a grove booklet outlining why. It tends to perpetuate a provider/client mindset of experts serving up truth which can run counter to learning. It can of course be an amazing art form but the 'word' or the 'ikon' of God can be carried in all sorts of creative art forms.
The long haul:
· What one piece of advice would you give pioneers about sustaining a fresh expression over the long term?
Can you sustain you? i.e. are you in it for the long haul in terms of discipleship. Prophets get a hard time. Pioneers have adventure and excitement but there's struggle and heartache and often not a lot of money! Make sure your expectations are right - people get disillusioned when there was an illusion. To do that you will need friends for the journey. If you're not sure where to look connect with a mission community like CMS. I was very interested in Beth Keith's research for Fresh Expressions on pioneers that demonstrated that pioneers who connected into sodalities like CMS or Church Army were finding the journey a lot better! Then secondly think up front about issues of finical sustainability. What sort of model of community and funding are you imagining? There are a lot of projects with hefty funding for three years who found it hard to keep going when that was no longer there.
· What one piece of advice would you give pioneers about identifying and enabling local/indigenous leadership in a fresh expression?
Rethink what leadership is about before you start. There are too many models and metaphors of leaders that make identifying indigenous leadership difficult. There's too much control and power going on unrecognised. Think midwife from day 1 to pick one metaphor or environmentalist (a person who crates an environment) to pick another.
· How do you think pioneers should evaluate success in a fresh expression?
I am pretty sick of this question. It stems from a managerial culture. If we measured Jesus life when he died it was possibly a failure! But I have come to believe slowly that measurement and evaluation is important if only to help others see and understand what is happen. Sit down with your tean and talk about this. Come up with a set of indicators by which you'll know. Then think how you might know them. Then set up someone ways of capturing information on the journey. I have done tis with the pioneer leaders training I have developed and it has proved very helpful. Key to it I suspect will be stories of transformation.
· What one piece of advice would you give pioneers about moving on from a fresh expression?
I have been part of the same community for 15 years as a volunteer so I'm not the best person to ask though I have stepped out of leadership recently. My own view is people move on from communities too quick. Depth is afforded by time and presence. It's countercultural to commit to people and place. But it does depend on who you are and your gifts and vocation. But listening to God, friends, and the community ought to be the matrix in which this might be discerned. Last time I moved it was due to a growing restlessness.
thanks guys for an excellent book/resource... hope you don't mind me adding all my responses into the review!
there's what sounds like (and probably is) a slightly technical piece of language floating around mission circles - modality and sodality. i have touched on it before a few times i think - here and certainly in my breakout talks. george lings who is a wise reflector on these things has clearly been thinking this over and has published his thoughts on the matter here in an article - understanding mission and church better through modality and sodality. and there is a conversation developing in the comments. this is an important conversation because it helps shift our imagination around what church might be - we have been so dominated by thinking the word church means gathered together for worship in a locality, this helps open up a different idea - yes church can be that but it is also a spread out community in mission. i guess you can see why i think it's important... if anyone has a less technical language go and suggest it.
chris yaw contacted me a month or so back and asked if he could interview me for churchnext.tv via skype. we explored imagination, creativity and mission. the interview has just been posted. i've not met chris but he is buidling up quite a collection of interviews around mission, church, culture and so on on churchnext
forgive me a little excitement but we have heard that cms have been given approval to train those selected for ordained pioneer ministry in the church of england in a partnership with cuddesdon.
it's been about two and a half years since our first invitation from the c of e to see if cms with her experience in pioneering mission might be able to help train pioneers. we said yes straight away at the time and wanted to be able to train both ordained and not ordained ministers. we were able to get training those not getting ordained quite quickly which has been wonderful. it's been quite a journey though to seek approval for training those getting ordained with lots of meetings, reflecting, paperwork, rewrites and so on - we won't worry you with the details. but the important news is that IT'S A YES! here are a few more details from the press release.
For the first time, candidates for ordained pioneer ministry in the Church of England will be able to train on a course that has been designed entirely for pioneer leaders by Church Mission Society, one of the country's leading mission agencies, in partnership with Cuddesdon. The Church of England's ministry division has given the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course its official seal of approval as a training pathway. C of E mission leaders and pioneers alike have expressed delight at the news. Rachel Jordan, National Adviser for Mission and Evangelism for the Church of England, said CMS was "uniquely qualified" to train pioneer ordinands. Jordan said:
The roots of pioneering ministry are in the missionary movement and therefore CMS is uniquely qualified to train Church of England pioneer ordinands for the urgent missionary task in the UK. CMS pioneer ordinands will benefit from the years of experience in cross-cultural mission that is CMS's expertise and the Church of England will gain many well equipped and specifically trained individuals for 21st century mission."
Pioneer ordinand Johnny Sertin, who leads Earlsfield Friary in southwest London, said he was "overjoyed"
It is a watershed moment, from which many will benefit as we re-imagine the future together
The Rt Rev Colin Fletcher, Bishop of Dorchester and a co-chair of the South Central Regional Training Partnership, said,
I am delighted. It is great for Pioneers and for God's mission in this country.
CMS has teamed up with Cuddesdon to make the course available to those training to be ordained pioneer ministers. Students preparing for ordination will be involved in pioneering mission and learn 'on the job'. They will attend a day a week and two residential weeks with CMS pioneers and six weekends a year and two residential weeks with Oxford Ministry Course students, who are training for parish ministry. Rev Canon Prof Martyn Percy, principal of Cuddesdon said
This is a unique partnership between a major mission society and a leading Anglican theological college. In offering this new training route for pioneer ministers, CMS and Cuddesdon will be able to combine their resources together, making this venture one of the most innovative, rich and ground-breaking courses in the country.
Canon Tim Dakin, the executive leader of CMS, who is soon to become Bishop of Winchester, saw the approval of the course as significant for CMS and for the wider church.
Through the training and deploying of pioneers, ordained and lay, CMS will continue to offer prophetic mission in partnership with the wider church both locally and globally.
so if you are selected for ordained pioneer ministry or in the process come and talk to us. and if you are not getting ordained, that is the case with the vast majority of pioneers who train with us. we are training both! i didn't add a quote for the press release but it's been a lot of work to get to this point so I just want to add a quote from jonny baker -
ok so that is not the most catchy title ever for a blog post - congratulations if you made it this far!!!
anvil is an evangelical anglican journal of theology and mission that has been revamped and made digital and free and at cms we are very much seeing it as a mission journal into the future. you may remember i had an article on curation in the first edition. well the second edition is now online and is basically a response to steve bevans wonderful book introduction to theology in global perpsective which i review here. for me it's the best book i can think of that articulates what i think an approach to theology should be in today's world.
anyway all that by way of saying it's a really good edition of anvil. i think this could prove to be an exciting journal in an ongoing way. steve bevans reflects looking back at the book and what he has attempted to achieve in a brilliant reflection. the ephesian moment is a term from missiologist andrew walls. here's how steve describes it in the article
our globalized church today is in situation in which it had only been once before, in the community of Greeks and Jews in Ephesus. There in Ephesus, Christians of two very different cultures could have formed two separate churches, but they did not. Christ was the peace that tore down the wall between them, and they became not two, but one (See Eph. 2:14-22), and in that give and take they caught a glimpse of the whole Christ. Neither, says Walls, ‘was a form of Christian faith complete and valid in itself, apart from the other. Each was necessary to the other, each was necessary to complete and correct the other; for each was an expression of Christ under certain specific conditions, and Christ is humanity completed.’ Now that ‘Ephesian moment’ has come again. Today, ‘new Christian lifestyles…have developed or are developing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to display Christ under the conditions of African, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Latin American life.’ The Ephesian moment demands a global theology.
in other words we only see who christ is as we see christ's many faces and theologies and embodiments in his body represented around the world. this is a bit of cms jargon and something of an internal joke at times. so i blame steve's time with cms a while back for him picking up on this! but it is an exciting idea. he concludes his piece by saying
We need a theology adequate to the Ephesian Moment in which we find ourselves in today’s world, and we need a theological education that helps students who will minister in a church that, for the first time in history, is conscious of the fact that Christianity truly is a world movement.
timothy tennant has a piece on theological translatability - again this is essentially arguing that we need to become conversant with other theologies especially from the majority world, that we need to realise our own is partial and not universal and that if we are open to it a global exchange will highlight our own heresies and blind spots!
atola longkumer reflects on partnership's opportunities and challenges in another really good piece -
Globalization, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, human rights abuses, fundamentalism, violence, secularism, environmental degradation, and migration are some of the challenges that require creative and healing attention. The global Christian community must respond in unison by transforming the world into a better place — the Kingdom of God. Despite the vastly different contexts with a variety of challenges, Christians around the world are called to be partners in building God’s Kingdom, speaking the truth in love and witnessing together to the Gospel. And in the partnership between Christians of the global south and the global north in carrying out our missional task of witnessing to the fullness of the life in Christ, may we heed the directions of the mission scholar Cathy Ross who has perceptively given the ingredients for a productive and fulfilling partnership: mutual trust, acceptance of responsibilities and willingness to take risks among the partners.
there is also an interview with miroslav volf, a tribute to john stott and a poem by rowan williams.
congratulations to the editorial team - this really looks set to become a good online journal. i haven't added hyperlinks to articles because you need to register and login to read them - it is free which is also amazing judging by the price of most academic journals!
it was a complete delight earlier this year to have the treat of listening to iain mcgilchrist speak on the brain. there are not many times i have sat in the presence of someone whose gift is clearly to research for their whole life and further you think that is exactly what they should be doing. he has written a book the master and his emissary which explores the brain and the two hemispheres. this book has very much reawoken interest in this area. i have been meaning to blog about it for quite some time but my notes were excessively complex so how to blog? well having delayed and delayed has proved to be a good idea because it turns out there is an RSA animation of him summarising the work. it is a bit complex in places but honestly pour a drink and sit back for ten minutes and think about what he's saying and what it might mean. i am very intersted in this idea of two kinds of attention - one that is focused and grasping and nailing things down, and one that is unknowing and broad and intuitive. what might that mean for the kinds of theologies and spiritualities we see played out in the christian church for example?
this is a post on newness in relation to the church in mission. i can't think what language might be more general that would apply in other sectors. perhaps intentional community? leave a comment if you have ideas of that...
there is a stereotype of a pioneer as a lone individual who goes off to stick their flag in the land to begin something new. there is also a stereotype of a prophet who lives alone in the wilderness communing with god and appearing occasionally to deliver their message. but in terms of newness i think these are really unhelpful pictures. the kind of imagining out of which genuine newness might emerge is much more likely a communal one. in the case of prophets in the old testament there were certainly schools of prophets and i suspect pioneers were rarely alone. the nurturing of an alternative consciousness and imagination will surely come through dreaming and reflecting with others, knocking around ideas, eating together and conversation and nurturing the kind of environment in which poets and artists gifts can flourish. for this sort of environment there needs to be something intentional about community. i think this is particularly the case when we are all so co-opted by the dominant culture of consumption, and the dominant culture of business as usual in our churches. how will we find space to detox and grieve and imagine alternative worlds are possible and be energised in hope towards them? it needs a depth of community and relationship to have any kind of chance of developing a missional discipleship. but i am beginning to wonder in our world of loose networks and 'friends' if we have forgotten that to find depth in relationships requires commitment, or to use an old fashioned word fellowship which as andrew jones has pointed out originally meant buying into a cow or something together! i.e. you put your commitment on the line.
connectivity is crucial for innovation as i have blogged in the previous post connect don't protect. but loose networks and 'friends' in social networks don't afford the kind of depth required for prophetic imagination and community. they are opt in when i feel like it arrangements - typical of the postmodern avoidance of fixation or commitment. jump on board when something interesting is flowing and jump off when something else catches my attention.
perhaps one of the reasons for the resurgence of interest in monasticism is because of wisdom around community life and how to find this missing depth - in grace we were helped many years ago by roy searle's ( of the northumbia community) insights that ethos is central to community life and to see a function of leadership as guarding ethos. developing a rhythm and/or rule of life, practices of contemplative spirituality, hospiltality and lots of other things could also be seen as treasures. ian adams cave refectory road is a delightful book in which he explores some of these.
i am particularly interested in the ways that religious communities have (and might still) nurtured prophets, dissenters and refounding persons in the past. gerald arbuckle has written at length on this (yes sorry - arbuckle again!). in from chaos to mission he looks at formation and how that might be refounded in religious communities precisely to cultivate this sort of newness. one of the things that he highlights in a very helpful way is that it is not monasticism per se that forms people in this way. it's a very mixed picture. in particular, it is not a cloistered (or residential) monasticism that we should look to if weʼre interested in prophetic ministry and mission. the purpose of formation in cloistered orders was obedience and conformity and stability in an unchanging world. but for the spread out orders (friars) - the likes of the jesuits and fransiscans and celts - prophetic mission to the world was at the heart of their concern which requiried radical flexibility and imagination. the purpose of formation in the spread out communities or mission orders of friars is inculturation - i.e. innovation in relation to gospel and cultures. being part of a mission community like this formed people to engage in prophetic mission.
he suggests that denominatons struggle to contain this gift and people. they simply don't know what to do with it or them. it makes far more sense all round that these mission communities nurture and form the dissenters/prophetic ministry. the religious communties are then a 'shock therapy of the holy spirit for the church as a whole'! especially if they are actually ecclesial (part of church in and of themselves) as opposed to para church (a bit on the side of church).
i say a bit more about all this in the breakout talks and this blog post is in danger of going on rather a long time! but research is backing this up - pioneers are far better placed to bring genuine newness today when they are located in and out of a mission community/order (such as cms, church army, urban expression, the methodist venture fx diaconate etc).
this is by far the hardest piece to write so far in this series and is in many ways the most contentious, if not weird - i welcome any feedback and discussion on it. the implications are pretty huge if it is anywhere near correct... if you are a dissenter/pioneer/prophetic or whatever language you prefer get in an intentional mission community of some sort. and if you are in a denominational or equivalent structure looking for newness make friends with those in a mission community and ask them to work with you and with anyone you nurture in this prophetic mission to help form their prophetic imagination and to connect them in with a community that gets it and them. it's why am a member of cms - a mission community. it nurtures me into this kind of imagination and ministry and mission.
(if this is all too established i think it might translate for non conformists at the local level into small mission communities gathered around shared ethos values and practices and those communities networking together but with some genuine buy in and not just a loose network?)
perhaps this should have come much earlier in this series but prophetic imagination is key to nurturing genuine newness. imagination is hugely under-rated. i have no idea why. anything that has been created someone must have imagined. without imagination there will be no newness. prophetic imagination is the kind of imagination that is able to nurture a vision that is alternative to the dominant or royal consciousness. it is a kind of seeing.
It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination to keep on conjouring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.
walter bruegemann's book the prophetic imaginaton is amazing on this theme. he suggest that there are two moves in this prophetic imagining - grief and amazement. i have blogged at least twice on this before and quite recently - grief and amazement, and grief and amazement in the life of jesus. the role of the prophet is to evoke grief - the shedding of tears where we have become numb, and it is to create amazement that new worlds are possible. he also calls these two moves criticising and energising. we might conceive of this in relation to capitalism or where the church has become stuck and wedded to particular ways of acting and being and so on.
there are many ways of thinking about mission. it's partly why it is such a rich way of thinking about what it means to follow christ. one that i often come back to is a way john taylor describes it in the primal vision. he suggests that we could conceive of mission as an adventure of the imagination.
one of the mission words i incresingly find helpful is inculturation which is the process of how the gospel will be imagined and embodied in a culture from the inside. it sounds simple but it is clearly much harder than you might think judging by the ways foreign cultural robes are imposed from the outside in new cultural spaces. bevans and schroeder have a new book out prophetic dialogue which i will review at some point (it is brilliant) which has a chapter on the spirituality of inculturation which i found incredibly helpful on how to help nurture a genuine newness in mission. they suggest that there are two different postures or stances of those who come from outside a culture and those who are on the inside. the outsiders key task is letting go:
Outsiders need to let go of their certainties regarding the content of the gospel. They need to let go of cherished practices and ideas that have nourished and sustained them in their own journeys towards christian maturity. They need to let go of the symbols that anchor them in their human and christian identity and let go of the order that makes them comfortable….
One of the hardest and yet most spiritually enriching tasks of the outsider is 'taking leave of the gospel' so to speak for the sake of the gospel - so that the gospel can be understood in a radically new and meaningful way among new peoples and in new circumstances.
by way of contrast the insider's task is speaking out. they need to trust in their culture and experience and result in a courage that gives energy insight and creativity to articulate how god is present in their lives, focusing on god's nearness in the stuff of everyday life. the insider needs courage to experiment, to risk, to try new rituals, explore new symbols, to have pride in their culture and self identity and risk going too far in bringing the resources of their culture to christian identity.
this is strong stuff! i am convinced that there is great wisdom here if genuine newness is to come in mission. what does this mean in practice? there are plenty of examples of the outsider/insider relationship in stories of mission. sadly many of these don't involve enough letting go from the outsider so we have cultural forms of the church that are overly western in many parts of the world and ongoing struggles around that. but there are also many inspiring stories in mission of how this has worked well. what it might mean for me is that if (and i am not planning to at the moment) i were to move into a new community, i would need to let go of my own ways of worshipping - liturgies, music, movies, rituals and so on, and even the way i conceive of the gospel, in order that insiders might be able to discern and shape that from the inside.
this 'letting go' of the outsider clearly relates to unknowing and darkness which will need to be entered to alow the new to emerge. it also relates to refounding - i am not suggesting a letting go that is a move away from the heart of the christian faith. but this needs to be held in some kind of tension for the outsider.
nomad, which is an excellent podcast with interviews with all sorts of people on mission in today's world, have just posted their latest which is an interview with tom wright. in it he discusses several things including the future of the earth and his new book 'simply jesus'. one of the insights i gleaned that i need to chew over was the idea that when christ appears the idea is that he is already present - it's an unveiling. anyway you can download it here...
the talks i gave along with contributions from beth, harry, ric, andrea are now all downloadable from the breakout web site here. i have also added my notes, sheets of quotes i gave out and a pdf of slides. apologies that i forgot to turn the recorder on for the last section on the adjacent possible (for those who were there and remember).
a while back i was inspired by richard passmore's theology from below in relation to the parable of the wedding banquet, a very tricky story that jesus told. this was the text in the lectionary this weekend so would have been preached on in churches round the world. jenny was preaching at st marys and as a result we have discussed interpretations at length... she spotted that nadia had published her take on it which is definitely in the passmore school and is quite brilliant - sermon on the worst parable ever.
there are many ways that newness comes and if i attempted to suggest newness came in only one way it would doubtless spring up in another. so please don't read my attempts to reflect on newness into determining only one strategy or tactic. after all the wind blows where it wills but i still do have some thoughts...
refounding is what arbuckle explores in several books - the three i have read are out of chaos: refounding the congregation, refounding the church, and from chaos to mission: refounding religious life formation. this discovery of arbuckle began for me actually in thinking about developing the cms pioneer training. following on from previous posts on newness i was definitely pushing an adjacent possible, i was convinced that this new pathway belonged elsewhere, and it was dissent in the sense of a definite imaginative alternative to what already exists - i was the pathfinding dissenter and there were various authority dissenters brokering the space. but once you have that, where do you look to create something new that has depth? and really i was after what might be at the heart of formation for pioneer mission leaders beyond just my own set of instincts and experiences. i won't elaborate on that journey here but it's how i got into this question and became convinced that refounding is a very good route to explore if newness is to come.
refounding is a return to the founding story or experience of a community, connecting with the energy of it in its day, re-owning it and then creatively applying that to today's most urgent needs. i.e. it's a drive to the heart or roots of a tradition sometimes reclaiming it over and against itself in order to break open newness in the present.
prophets are often misconceived as future tellers but actually they are covenant refounding persons, calling communities back to the giving of the law for example where the blessings and judgements of following particular ways of life are spelled out. brueggemann suggests that it is impossible to speak a future that none think imaginable by simply inventing new symbols. the prophet has to move back to the deepest memory of a community and activate the symbols in their story such as the exodus or abraham's journey. jesus is supreme in this. he drives to the heart of the tradition and reframes it in the present where its essence has been lost. i think a lot of people have this instinct when they arrive in a position of leadership in a place or community - to re-tell the story and make it live. refounding is doing that and then making it creatively live in the present through faithful improvisation.
when i was younger i would not have liked this suggestion. but now i am completely convinced that wherever its possible, more depth will be attained in the new through this locatedness in the story and life of a traditioned community and looking into its heart to find the energy to carry it forward, than there will be leaving. there are of course exceptions and exceptional circumstances. but my own observations are that the track record of those who split away from a community to find newness struggle to find depth and struggle to create something that carries forward. in many instances they seem to create something equally dogmatic or controlling as the thing they left in order to be free! it's too easy to stick two fingers up to the church or to whatever else and start something new with a 'radical' tag. it's the story of protestantism but i think perhaps we protesteth too much. that is in part why i loved doug gay's book so much because it suggested a pathway to newness but through a refounding (not that he used that word - audit, retrieval, unbundling, supplementing, remixing are his five themes but they actually provide a neat summary of refounding) and a deep ecumenism.
underneath this drive to refound lies something equally if not more important which is the kind of person that can do this. what sort of person is a refounding person? i don't think this is easy to discern and there is certainly plenty of evidence that there are plenty who have the sound of a refounding person but who are bogus in the old testament. but minimally surely there must be a huge overwhelming love for christ and his body as part of it - all the grief and dissent and speech must come from this place of love and commitment. in postmodern times it is so easy to avoid this and sit on the sidelines - it's our dis-ease. and secondly can i be as simplistic to say that we should ask whether they exhibit kindness, gentleness, patience, peace, love, self control… and the other fruit of the spirit? arbuckle in each of the three books has sections where he considers this question. but it would be a rather lengthy blog post if i combine them all together though i am of a mind to do that for my own reflecting at some point. if i do i'll let you know.
do come back at me on this. as i have said at the start there are many routes to genuine newness. and i am of course in danger, as i suspect we all are, of drawing on resources that make sense of my own locatedness and chosen tactics - in my case in cms a mission community within the church of england. i hope refounding will continue to open up the new.
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