I’ve been thinking about navigating change at a local level in church contexts and how the idea of what can be gained or lost plays out in the process. As we enter further into the post Christian landscape and context I find myself drawn into more conversations about how the limited resources we have, are deployed. The burning platform is both a gift and curse for change. Whilst it may help people recognise the need to change it also means many realise how much has been lost. My experience is people don’t fear change they fear loss. So who presents the idea of change becomes more critical than we realise particularly if we are talking locally about a new sort of ministry to replace something already in place. For example If a declining church needs to think about the type of minister it has, perhaps with the notion of replacing a pastorally minded member of clergy who is retiring with a more pioneering missionally minded priest or even lay pioneer, (obviously I’m stereotyping and understand it’s much more complex than two camps) but like any change the notions gain or loss come to the fore. Clearly how you have the conversation is critical but we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that the WHO has, who facilitates the conversation will impact on wether people see the change as a loss or gain. When the conversation is being led by a member of clergy, arch deacon, bishop, no matter how well they hold the space, culturally everything is signalling a sense of loss. The who reminds them of what they are losing, it echos memories of what things used to be like and even if they tell a great story of what could be, the sense of loss can and will play a really significant part. When someone outside, or lay hosts the space it will be easier to position the change as gain. People can much easier see the change as making space for something new to emerge, get a different sense of perspective even if the people leading the conversation is saying pretty much the same stuff as arch deacon or bishop was.
Over the past few months I have been using an innovation technique of Pitch and Exhibit to further my thinking on Pioneering and Church. What has become clear over the past week or so is that what has been emerging as fresh expressions, and pioneering expressions of church has matured and is now firmly part of the landscape of the church in the UK and consequently we need a better way to describe the mixed ecology of church that is now present in so many communities and spaces. We have long said that Time Honoured church and Fresh Expressions have distinct needs, but we also know that they need each other. If pioneers have the gift of not fitting in, when we also see them as being a gift to the church, conversations and practice take a creative turn. We have experienced this in Cumbria and in my previous post I failed to adequately recognise just how far we have come. It is clear through church history that both modal and sodal expressions of church are required to help everyone flourish but more than that, when there are good relationships between the two, significant cultural systemic change could be achieved. I think we are very close to a watershed moment where we can observe the church Cumbria and in places beyond and really begin to shed light on what a mixed ecology of church might look like and how it interconnects and relates to one another. The image below is an attempt to capture this. You can find a larger image as a jpeg HERE or in a PDF here
A few things to say about the Trellis:
- We have been reaching for a more organic image than the spectrum and I hope this captures more the ecological element and interconnectedness of the Mixed Ecology. You can’t see it amazingly well as I need to fade it but there is a vine that weaves and interconnects across the different elements, traditions and approaches. This is to try and help people see this in a more patterned and less linear way.
- We have deliberately moved away from and taken out the specific pioneer words, recognising that we are in a new space. We all have parts to play and we are one Church in many expressions with different gifts and need one another. This is not to say pioneer language is redundant indeed it remains critical in creating the space and continued imagination we need in the institution to reach the breadth and diversity of the communities serve.
- We have removed the sense of Venn circles for a more fluid and interconnected approach.
- The left hand arrow is deliberately split into two to capture the learning from the original pioneer spectrum that at some point(s) we need a distinct and deliberate shift in posture if we are to reach deeper into our cultural context. This is particularly the case as you move towards Innovation and Activism.
- Accommodators has been one of the words we have wrestled with. It is meant as generous space makers, leaders who see that Time honoured and Fresh Expressions need each other. Accommodators are leaders who are secure enough to let others flourish and generous enough to let people go to new places they may never travel, but nourish and support them. Accommodators are not those begrudgingly making room for new things, but those who set people free to build the kingdom in the now and not yet.
I have said “we” in the wording above as the pitch and exhibit approach I have used means this has been developed collaboratively and I am grateful to all who have contributed over the past months and weeks. There is a lot to be said about the relationship between the spaces and particularly about the relationship between the centre and edge. Indeed I would even say the language of centre and edge is now problematic as in a mixed ecology centres and edges are hard to find but that’s for another blogpost.
With some other pioneers in Cumbria I’ve been thinking out loud about how we embed pioneering more into the systems. This meant having to do some thinking about what a #mixedecology of church might look like, how it fits together, and how this connects with some of the other research out there on things like how receptive people are to church etc. it’s still a work in progress and all models are wrong but some are helpful. I’m really grateful to Paul and Tina for their work on the pioneer spectrum that in some ways built on a few ideas about a typology of church I developed here. This attempt draws on some of that typology and takes the spectrum idea but expands it for the mixed ecology. I’m still not sure where hermits and other things fit but here’s my starter. The first image was where we started here in Cumbria. You
This second image is an attempt to capture some of the wider research on peoples views of church and potential reach, building on some of our research as part of our Reaching Deeper project. You can see a larger version here
If I have any known knowns it is the reality of Jesus, who walks before, beside and behind me, who encompasses me and who is good news to the depths of my soul. It is a soul knowledge where definition of who, and how, of why and what fade into insignificance. It is soul experience of love and care, of positive regard and compassion beyond feelings or formulas. It is a soul space where deep meets deep with an acceptance that is unconditional and independent of schemas and systems and a call that is too easily reduced to a method and corrupted into a mechanism. Yet we in our human frailty rely on these methods, definitions, systems and schemas to try to communicate something of that reality that we experience.
We hold stardust in our souls but our words are grains of sand slipping through our fingers. We feel such welcome in our being but offer a coir mat stamped with a word that cannot possibly convey the depth of acceptance we know. Our minds are expanded and neurons fizz with an energy that is beyond logic but we offer a recipe that can only be a bland version of the delights we know.
So how do we share this good news, how might we convey that deeply held known? What can do justice to the story that jumped off the page, out of pulpit, beyond the building and calls all walls to dust? Might we simply live and try to tell the tale more honestly, more openly bearing witness to the questions we still have and in doing so communicate the deeper truth beyond. Can we seek out the deep soul sparks in others to listen and learn. Might we let go of our formulas, systems, equations, to be still and still moving as we journey with others and the Other within the lifeline etched like a valley in the palm of Christs hand.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what are the things people of faith organise around and the problematic nature of this as question with all the power assumptions and notions contained within it. For the last 30 years or so it’s been a fairly common refrain that church seems to orientate and organises around gathered worship services, this where the bulk of the energy and resources go, and perhaps there needs to be a shift towards organising around mission.
At the moment as I continue to call the walls to dust, I’m struggling with the idea of “organising” in pretty much any shape, whether it is around worship, services, mission activity, practices of prayer etc. Instead I’m trying to be more chilled, chaordic, embodied and flowing, a multi directional wanderer.
Which also means I’m left wondering what might different people, thinkers, theologians, missionaries have offered in the past into this space. If ‘Love has its speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.’ Kosuke Koyama – do we orientate around being and noticing? Perhaps we orientate around the outside and “being story gatherers” an idea Al Barrett and Ruth Harley start to unpack, or “faithful improvisation” Tom Wright, or personal practices of prayer. Newbiggin would be interesting as although he was very much about the local context and community the way he viewed the space between the death of Jesus as his last public act and the resurrection as something more private could offer an orientation/organising in this in between space.
so what are are you organising around, personally and corporately and what do think different people would offer as the locus to orientate around or is the very orientation idea something we need to critique further?
Today I spotted Apprentice to Jesus, which was initiated by the wonderful Cannon Chris Neal. Chris was an amazing human, who had a huge impact on my thinking and ministry, not least because he coined the phrase “gravitational pull” in relation to pioneering in the institution. He would talk about the gravitational pull of inherited church as a double wrapped paradigm. There’s the culture/tradition that has been placed around the original (dissenting)idea as one layer ie the way we do things around here. Then the second structural layer of leadership hierarchy etc. Chris used to say pioneer projects need enough velocity to break that gravitational pull. Like a rocket needs the boost to break gravity and head towards the moon until the moon starts to pull it forward. I hope I will always have the courage to ride with the Holy Spirit or hang on to her coattails towards the new. However I wanted to reflect on the years since Chris’ passing some of the lessons that I have learnt that may help us reach the velocity needed.
Theres five ways I have identified so far to help create the velocity needed to break the gravitational pull. The first is the heretical imperative (and I’ve played with idea countless times across this blog) but today’s orthodoxy is yesterday’s heresy and a way into this is to embrace the pioneers on the edge and those pioneering beyond the boundaries. In Cumbria we have been gifted with some amazing pioneers on the margins following the Holy Spirit into new places as they reach new people and discovering new ways of thinking and theological insight as they go. This is the gift of the 3rd space fXs.
The second is the need for Authority dissenters (those in power in the system) to work with and release the Pathfinding Dissenters. Like the rocket needs the tower at the point of lift off and the people back at base (think Apollo 13 With images of the people behind the screens) helping the rocket break out we need the space and and support to get going, keep going and break out. It’s even better if you can launch several rockets from different spaces at the same time or spot those that may have already launched.
So the third is to network pioneers who are following the spirit into new things as the old system is dying. This network is vital in building the resilience needed, as things get tougher and the pioneers travel further out. But we need to watch this (see previous post). However through the network and community created pioneers can build the resilience needed to get through the ceiling whilst the old is dying and dream together of new ways. Connected to this is my fourth area which I think is something about scale and momentum, telling the stories of these pioneers and realising this isn’t some random one off but taps into the tradition of new life, of seeds dying, new wine skins that is happening all around us if we only have the eyes to see.
Lastly we need to recover our dissenting traditions, recover that history, and find stories from the tradition that fuels and connect the current pathfinders with the pathfinders of old. And here I don’t just mean those early saints or desert fathers and mothers, but more recent pathfinders in the tradition, and every tradition has them, for some it’s those dissenters that were part founding story like Wesley in Methodist, for others it’s pioneers who were misunderstood at the time, like Dorothy Day, Guteriezz, Punton or Rawnsley. Knowing our founding stories and finding those who have pioneered locally in the past is rocket fuel.
And as helpful (or not) as these reflections maybe as Chris would always remind us it does come back to being an apprentice of the master Jesus the pathfinder and perfector of our faith.
For many pioneers it’s lonely, hard and the gift of not fitting is the gift that you often want to give back. Many people I know are questioning where they fit and how to connect. As old systems die and new ideas emerge those with the gift of not fitting can connect and in most cases this creates a resilient movement for system change. (System change theory)
Over the past few decades we have seen this in church, the old system and institution is in its death throws, pioneers connections made us think that the new system can emerge from these connections. We saw some possibilities emerge with things like mission shaped church and FX that encouraged us to think it maybe just around the corner. Social media and networks helped many of those early emerging church pioneers find each other and in doing so we started to find our tribe. Many of the tribe were also already in the institution and the possibility of change led others to connect.
However many people I know with a deep sense of missional spirituality that emerged from practice on the ground are wondering if this is still their tribe and sensing something is not quite right.
I think two things are happening. Firstly because the church is such a strongly double wrapped paradigm it is much harder for those connectioned individuals to get the change needed to help the new system emerge. As the church embraced those from the edge that double wrapped paradigm bought control and sanitised the re-wilding. I’ve written elsewhere for example that FX gave the institution the ability to control the emerging church.
Secondly the rise of social media meant that the network grew fast and this caused it to be noticed. So then as institution got involved often with good intentions it meant in that growth the network accelerated but it also dissipated which created perfect conditions for the double wrapped paradigm of systems and hierarchy to pull back from real change.
But I think the good news is that the missional spirituality embedded within pioneers always pulls us back to wild practice and hope of change, and this is why so many are struggling to find our tribe within this new set up. But perhaps we need to think differently about systems change in the institution and our place in it because the institution has still not admitted to itself honestly where it’s at.
So instead of looking for a particular tribe and networking for change we need to recover and lean into our missional spirituality that bought us this far and recognise that there is a deep ecosystem at work that finds a way across tribal boundaries, and beyond institutional systems and connects. This will mean for some staying connected with institution and edge, for others leaving the institution again, but let’s foster that underground ecosystem that nurtures and sustains and that you only find as you embed yourself in your community and find others doing the same.
My start point here is that mission and church are intrisically linked, two sides of the same coin and I have written extensively on this over the years so hold this in mind as you read the rest of this post.
I have been thinking a lot about HOW we should approach the task of mission and church, both HOW we should approach the thinking we need to do about it and HOW to develop the practices we engage.
When we come to the subject of mission and church Our default is to ask What type questions like ‘What is church? What do we do in mission?. BUT I think we need a different start point because if we take the idea that there can we can have a fixed answer to those questions, we can never get to an answer because we close ourselves to the possibility of interruption and contextual emergence that is intrinsic to the idea of a body, a movement, a people, a bride. We immediately start to fall into same the trap that Jews did and Marks gospel for example went to lengths to avoid of having a perceived idea of a messiah so miss it when it comes. I think the same can be applied to church and mission hence the need for thinking on the HOW because the what that emerges is contextual, co-created, emergent, the signpost is not the way, the map is not territory.
Drawing from Grenz and Franke who explore a method for ‘doing’ theology in a post modern age that uses the interaction of culture, Biblical text and tradition we can note that the established idea of mission as a bridge into church holds little weight Biblically and is not consistent with the images of church offered in scripture. Secondly the missionary traditions of people such as Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, Stanley Jones, Christ of the Indian road, and Water Buffalo Theology, written by Kosuke Koyama, all the way back to Acts 17, where Luke records Paul contextualising the gospel and using the language of the Unknown God reinforce the need to move beyond a contextualisation of the message towards a journey of discovery on both sides. Robert Schreiter sees this journey as inculturation which he describes as “the dynamic relation between the Christian message and culture or cultures; an insertion of the Christian life into a culture; an ongoing process of reciprocal and critical insertion and assimilation between them”. The emphasis being the reciprocal nature that allows the process to question our current assumptions (answers) about what church and mission is, and move us away from this to more of an emerging process. (see my last post on Habitus and mixed ecology).
Putting this kind of process approach (the how question) at the centre rather that what questions about church and mission flips the script entirely. It is a journey which fuels the individual in their understanding of God, enabling them to see the missionary endeavour as an act of worship to God, and encounter the presence of God in the whole process, which in turn brings us full circle to an understanding not of mission as a bridge into church, but church and mission as a dynamic, subversive, irritative interaction between the individual, community and Missio-Dei on a redemptive path together. Perhaps it is only without the What question that we be can led towards the future and find ourselves as co-creative participants of the way.
(for a wider read on the missional context that initially prompted this approach check out Reconnected – Releasing the missional imagination in a post modern world)
As I wrestled with the non-dualist ways of being missional church I was seeing in and through my practices with young people back in the late 1990s and 2000s, I became a big fan of Walter Brugemann’s work and particularly his work on orientation, disorientation and reorientation in the Psalms. This alongside Hegel’s thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis, and Paul Ricour’s work on naïveté, complexity and recalibration, this flow and process started to give me a language and frame of reference for the less dualist way of being that I was sensing and observing in the emerging church. Then through my post-grad I stumbled onto the idea of an emerging Habitus that Bourdieu identifies as something that emerges as an interplay between free will and structures and is developed over time. Habitus is shaped by both past events, present practices and our ideas (perceptions) of these events and practices. ie coherence (reorientation, synthesis, recalibration) emerges through the process. In this sense habitus is created and reproduced unconsciously ‘without any deliberate pursuit of coherence… without any conscious concentration’ see here for more info.
Both the national church of england (here) and in our county we are looking to become a deeper mixed ecology of church. I have two thoughts on this. Firstly it seems entirely natural and in line with the flow and process I first saw in Brugemann and more recently in Richard Rohrs work on Order, Disorder and Reorder – Institutional church, Emerging church to Mixed Ecology. It’s pattern we see through church history and before throughout the scriptures, all of which is very positive. However, my second observation is how much we lose when we try to organise, and how an emerging habitus comes without conscious concentration. So I find myself caught between a place of concern and hope. A concern that the mixed ecology become a bit like Bonhoeffer’s saying “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” A hope that the hard work of the emerging habitus of mixed ecology is sufficiently embedded and that we are in this new place of metaphor and symbol, of connectivity, of Time honoured and Fresh Expressions of church, and not seek to return to a modernist approach that categorises what is happening as the mixed ecology. But live in the spirit with her daring mixed ecological metaphors of wind and water that resist categorisation, control and keep us humble and always emerging.
Pandemics are not a new phenomena, and Dr Nicholas Christakis suggests several patterns can be observed in society as we pull out of pandemic situations. Exploring these, here are a few observations the church should heed to be alive in 2021 and beyond.
Firstly, whilst all the stats suggest people will not return to church gatherings in anything like the numbers pre pandemic, and this decline will continue, it will be initially masked by the huge desire people have for what Christakis calls “extensive social interaction”. Like the rise of online interactions saw with churches moving online, we must not be fooled into a false sense of security that everything is going to be fine post pandemic. The predicted increase of religiosity which is usually seen, during the pandemic was played out in the rise of online visitors, and hopefully some churches will be able to build on these relationships and capitalise on the desire for interaction as lockdown eases during late 2021, but it is unlikely to stick. Beyond 2022 and going forward the nature of the social interaction observed after previous pandemics is more hedonistic in nature, so it is unlikely people will look to the church spaces as a point for gathering longer term, particularly young people. So the impact for stronger decline with an already aging profile of traditional church shouldn’t be underestimated.
However I am hopeful that the desire for social interaction accompanied by the more conscious awareness of millennials (I know there’s generalisation issues here) will provide an opportunity for the church to connect through its myriad of great social action and social interaction initiatives, such as Toddler groups. But churches will need to shift their approach to attract this group and engage them beyond the social space and the critical posture that needs to be adopted is that of missional humility. The need for this missional humility should not be underestimated when we consider the rise of Trump, his evangelical alignment and the months people have had to think more deeply about who they are and how they want to be. So perhaps we need to plan parallel approaches utilising one approach for the early millennials, now with young families, that builds on the assets of groups that already took place pre pandemic. Then we will need a second approach for those younger, who if Christakis is correct will be “relentlessly seeking social inactions”, seeking out hedonistic opportunities, with more access to money thanks to a recovering economy who will be increasingly rejecting religiosity. Perhaps we need to develop something far more akin to the emerging church of the early 1990s who were able to engage the generation emerging from the early 80s HIV and AIDS epidemic reaching them in very different creative ways. These emerging expressions were rooted in the real relationships people were seeking and held a missional humility that made space to journey with people in ways that had rarely been seen before.