this is the tenth of a series celebrating twenty years at cms
in almost everything I have been involved in at cms there has been a quest that is more interested in the future than the past. the church has always adapted so it’s nothing new but although the church has the rhetoric of knowing she needs to change and perhaps wants to change it turns out she prefers business as usual really. i noted this when I reflected on what we had learned after 5 years and still think it’s true scroll down to the section 3 the church says it wants pioneers but.... i’ll come back to that question of systemic or adaptive change in another post as it interests me more and more.
i quickly found out that if you look to the usual sources through which leaders are trained they really are not set up to do this future faced thinking. the language and forms from one era or culture don’t make sense in the new. so the last twenty years have involved a lot of conversations, reading, writing, thinking, theologising ourselves - trying to find resources and ideas that will resource a different kind of imagination and practice. the blog and series of connections with others on a similar journey has been the site of much of that reflection.
i was pondering that process of reflecting and it has been a really wonderful part of the adventure.
one area of reading and reflecting and noticing is in the direction of artists and writers and filmmakers who catch the zeitgeist and describe what’s going on in the wider cultural space. just before joining cms i did a masters degree and a large part of that was engaging with cultural studies drawing on thinkers like zygmunt bauman. there is so much to be learned there. it’s basic mission practice to read the culture.
another is finding the treasures from the tradition that seem to help break it open afresh in the present. there is a rich vein of this but you have to dig them out. they often seem to be tucked away and half forgotten with dust on the cover. for me in particular this has included an engagement with cms own history, stories and especially some of its prophets - i am thinking of the likes of john taylor and max warren as well as stories of cross cultural mission and contextual, local and intercultural theologies from round the world. i have definitely found some of the gold I was seeking which was a fund for my own imagination. i have returned again and again to the notion that mission is ‘an adventure of the imagination’ which is how taylor describes it in the primal vision.
then perhaps the most surprising has been to find ourselves doing our own publishing in the area of pioneering, mission, theology, practice, church, spirituality and so on. we have not been the only ones of course - it’s been wonderful to exchange learning with those in fresh expressions for example who also got on a roll with publishing books reflecting and theologising about what was happening as well as those in other parts of the world exploring similar questions. i remember a lot of energy when we toured the country with mike frost and al hirsch to talk about the shaping of things to come for example. we have hosted annual conversations days since november 2013 reflecting on what we are learning about pioneering mission - i found the flyer above for that first one. that has led to publishing, editing or contributing to quite a lot of books. i have listed my contributions here - books like the pioneer gift, pioneering spirituality, future present, curating worship, imagining mission, mission on the road to emmaus, missonal conversations, pioneer practice, go between god (the foreword) as well as running proost for several years to self publish artistic expressions and liturgies from the emerging church including a couple of pocket liturgy books - grace pocket liturgies and making communion. proost doesn't seem to be in action any more so have put these two books here as free downloads - help yourself.
we also picked up the editing of anvil journal on the way, a journal in theology and mission which is themed each issue with two or three editions in each volume. anvil is free online. the team I am part of have been incredible in this regard and i owe a debt of thanks in particular to cathy ross whose enthusiasm for publishing has pulled the rest of us forward and enabled us to grow in confidence and think we might dare to write. i have loved that some of our students have published for the first time through the books we have edited. paul bradbury published an amazing couple of books - stepping into grace and home by another route, tina hodgett and paul created the pioneer spectrum which has taken on a life of its own. it’s a delight to have harvey kwiyani and joseph ola most recently join the team who are publishing in the space of mission, diaspora, intercultural theology, african christianity and decolonisation. i have no doubt there will be more to come.
if people ask me what I do ‘writer 'would never be a label on my list but looking back i do seem to have done my fair share! but for me I think it’s more about the necessity of doing the imaginative work and offering that into the wider conversation. in movements I suspect it is essential.