it was very encouraging this week to read of the positive reflections on fresh expressions of church at the general synod of the church of england - the general synod paper is here. in 2004 a report was published calls mission shaped church which reflected on the new things that had bubbled up around the edges of the church and basically said they are good - let’s have more new alongside the old or traditional. and they came up with the phrase fresh expressions of church. synod this week were told how in fifteen years 50000 new people have been added to the church and 15% of congregations are fresh expressions of church, which is around two dioceses. you can read a c of e news summary here which includes a motion passed which celebrates fresh expressions, asks for a report back on the new project led by heather cracknell, and my personal favourite point -
encourage every parish and diocese to be part of this movement forming new disciples and new congregations through a contextual approach to mission with the unreached in their community
that would be great! and why wouldn’t a parish and diocese want to be? but i especially like that the church writ large is naming a contextual approach to mission - thank god! it’s jargon of course but some jargon is helpful and the critical bit is the word context - mission should take the culture, the context, the way people do stuff in their locale seriously and share christ and develop church in ways that relate to and indeed grow in the soil of that local context and culture. ideally whatever grows should become led by people who are from that place and culture as soon as possible. (it was also what one of the key figures in cms history henry venn said was at the heart of mission practice developing the indigenous church). that is what a contextual approach is. and it means letting go of our taste, our preference, our way of doing things and the expectation that people should have to become like us in order to follow christ.
bishop martyn snow looks like he had a speech up his sleeve but didn’t get to share it at synod so has posted a facebook post of his reflections. it’s such a wonderful and positive post. he sees this as the most significant development in the church for decades. he kindly said i could post his reflection here so it is below but i also recommend you read through the comments on his post. he pulls out three lessons for the church - that it is a movement led by ordinary people and not professional priests; contextual mission - so we need to learn lessons of how to translate; and vulnerability - these things are small and fragile. on that last point he notes that there is not a lot of funding that has enabled this. that in itself is quite a complicated thing to get at what the investment has actually been from local churches, individuals, grants, salaries and so on. but it is small by comparison with what gets spent on other priorities in the church.
of course you would expect me to remind me that if you are interested in contextual mission the pioneer training at cms has that at its heart - we love contextual mission. it's what we are all about - so get in touch if you are interested in exploring that further.
bishop martyn snow's reflection on fresh expressions of church posted on facebook 9 july 2019
The strange irony of General Synod debating fresh expressions of church, straight after a 'business as usual' budget presentation.
I believe fervently that the Fresh Expressions movement is the single most significant development in the church in this country for decades. Having talked for many years about the importance of evangelism and the ‘re-conversion of our nation’, this predominantly lay movement, has quietly got on with the task. Eschewing the big events, mass publicity and big spending of some initiatives, the movement is teaching us about what Pope Francis calls ‘The Church’s Missionary Transformation’. This wonderfully ambiguous phrase – is the church the agent of the transformation of others or is it the subject of transformation – leads me to suggest that there are three specific lessons for the wider church.
Firstly, this is predominantly a lay movement. Fresh expressions of church offer us a living model of what can happen when God’s people are set free to be leaders in mission, when clergy and lay work in partnership, with a genuine sharing of gifts and true mutuality. Clergy are set free to be enablers of others – lay people are set free to use their God-given gifts, and their experience in networks outside the church. Both are needed.
At a time when the church is being forced to recognise the very damaging effects of clericalism – where a culture of deference has contributed to abuse, and difficulties in the reporting of abuse, and the poor response to the reporting of abuse – our recognition of lay ministry needs to be more than a patronising, ‘isn’t that interesting’. We simply must find ways of learning from fresh expressions and enabling their approach to ministry to shape that of the wider church.
And secondly, I would invite us to notice how the principle of contextualisation also opens our eyes to new insights. Contextual mission lies at the heart of the Fresh Expressions movement and ‘The Church’s Missionary Transformation’ is a helpful title for a church reflecting on what it means to be a Christian presence in every community.
As the missionary bishop Lesslie Newbigin reminded us, there is no such thing as a pure gospel – there is only a gospel enfleshed in culture and context – the gospel has to be embodied in a cultural context. And Andrew Walls, historian of Christian missions, writes “Divinity is translated into humanity, but into specific humanity, at home in specific segments of social reality. If the incarnation of the Son represents a divine act of translation, it is a prelude to repeated acts of re-translation.”
I put it to you that one of the most critical tasks facing us today, if we are to be a Christian presence in every community, is to learn again what it means to re- translate the gospel into every context and every culture that is now part of our wonderfully diverse nation. And as we translate, so we are transformed, or we might want to say, converted.
Finally, I would also note that the Fresh Expressions movement is teaching us about fragility and vulnerability. Most fresh expressions of church receive almost no funding. Most Pioneers receive little formal training beyond mentoring and coaching from other Pioneers. As a result, a fair proportion of fresh expressions of church only last a few years. But their very fragility and vulnerability is an important corrective in the Church of England.
There is a slight irony to the way the General Synod debate on Fresh Expressions followed straight after the Archbishops’ Council budget presentation. We welcomed the news of additional money from the Church Commissioners which will allow us to spend ever increasing amounts on exciting mission initiatives and training new clergy – all good. But there are some us, including bishops like me, who want to ask whether all this money is blinding us to what God is doing at this moment in our history. Could it be that the move of the church to the margins of society is a move of God? Could it be that the ending of our powerful status as a key institution governing the hearts and minds of millions of people who have little personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, is a good thing, which we should embrace?
Fifteen years after the Mission Shaped Church report, it is right that we should pause to thank God for this truly wonderful move of Gods Spirit. We should celebrate it - and I am actually quite pleased that Synod was being asked to do little else but notice it, celebrate it and bless it – countless Christian disciples getting on with mission in their local communities, in their own networks, growing faith with children, ‘turning up the volume’ about BAME inclusion, avoiding clericalism, operating within the simplest of legislative structures, often working ecumenically, with almost no money spent on training, support or deployment. Yes, we should celebrate the beginnings of ‘The Church’s Missionary Transformation’.