The arch-bishop, the gruffalo and StreetSpace links

Today the Arch bishop of Canterbury is visiting Coventry, where StreetSpace has linked with Urban Hope Coventry as an Alongside project. Yesterday I went to meet with Greg and the team to discuss them, increasing their involvment with us and becoming a partner with StreetSpace so we can offer a bit more support and structural help to the youthwork at Bardsley House and detached in the city centre.

UH is a great emerging expression of church who set up Coffee Tots. The work Greg and the team do is excellent, and has gone through various stages starting with detached work, drop in, through goth church to Coffee Tots and Urban Hope as an expression of church that has about 50 people linked in. I asked Greg if they organised around mission and the answer was yes and I think it has to be one of the nest examples of a missional church in the UK. Missional church is a church that defines and organises its life around its real purpose as an agent of God’s mission to the world. In other words, the church’s true and authentic organising principle is mission. Therefore when the church is in mission, it is the true church. The church itself is not only the product of that mission but it is obligated and destined destined to extend it by whatever means possible. The mission of God flows through every believer and every community of faith that adheres to Jesus. Hirsh “The Forgotten Ways” Brazos 2007 p238

I have know Greg for years and I love the parallels of the story of Urban Hope and the Gruffalo which the Arch-Bishop will be reading to the children at Coffee Tots today as part of his scheduled visit today. In the gruffalo story, a mouse is on a journey and on the way meets various creatures (a fox, a snake and an owl) that want to eat him, so he imagines the gruffalo to help him escape their hungry tummies, and with each encounter the mouses imagination grows as does the picture of the gruffalo in his head. At times for Greg and the team they were breaking new ground, and trying to explain to the powers that be what was happening and imagining the way head as they went. This future hope was powerful, it drove them on and enabled others to give them the space that was needed to the mouselike groups emerging.
When the mouse actually encounters the Gruffalo there is a point when it all seems about to go horribly wrong, but the journey has given him a confidence and robustness to bluff his way out, and it actually turns out the Gruffalo is much more fragile than first thought. Greg and team will encounter the Gruffalo today in the form of the arch bishop and all that he represents as the leader of the Anglican union and Rowan is so right for the role not only with beard and voice, but also with the humility and fragility that will read a story to bunch of children of parents who would never come near the established institution he represents, without the courageous journey of the mouselike Rev Greg Bartlem, who I am pleased and privileged to know and gives more to StreetSpace than I feel able to return.

Constant change

I know it is sad but I got several theology books for my birthday (it is the only way i can get them as so pricey) one of which was Constants in Context which is set to be a classic like Bosch’s Transforming Mission. I am happy to review mission books if there are any publishers out there who want to send me a free copy, or I have a wish list on amazon next time you want to buy me a pressie! (thanks Mark and Annie for the Arbuckle book)

Constants in context – The clue is in the title and is written from the perspective that church by its nature is missional and inhabits a changing context. The six constants of the church in mission that they identify are:

Christology – Who is JC and what is his meaning?
Ecclesiology – What is the nature of the christian church?
Eschatology – How does the church view the future?
Soteriology – What is the nature of the salvation it preaches?
Anthropology – How does the church value the human?
Culture – What is the value of the human culture as the context?

These constants are addressed depending on your paradigm and they use Gonzalez and Solle to suggest there are three main theological approaches:
Type A: mission as saving souls and extending the church (orthodox-conservative position, characterised by Tertullian)
Type B: mission as discovery of the truth (liberal position, characterised by Origen)
Type C: mission as commitment to transformation (liberation perspective, characterised by Irenaeus)

They then have a history section which is great as it has most of the key stuff all in one place; early celts and local inculturation, Francis of Assisi and all creation, Francis Xavier and indigenous language, Hudson Taylor and other pioneers, Henry Venn and the importance of Localism, E. Stanley Jones (whats not to like), Niles and missional humility, McGavran and the Church Growth movement, Newbigin grappling with issues of gospel and culture, and the late John Stott recognising the need for confidence in the gospel.

The last section is great; it starts looking at missio dei, then explores the perspective that christ came primarily to build kingdom not church, and lastly explores mission as affirming the uniqueness of christ. It then uses notions around ‘Mission as prophetic dialogue’ to draw these strands together. “Only by preaching, serving and witnessing to the reign of God in bold and humble prophetic dialogue will the missionary church be constant in today’s context.”p398.

Reflecting on the book in the light of StreetSpace, offers some challenges. My own approach is certainly a mixture of the three perspectives they outline (a product of post modernity?), with an Eschatological hope that is found in the here and now rather than the hereafter. I think this hope balances the hyper criticism of post modernity, and enables us to be the constant that the young people need. Most of our atesting to the reign of God is in the serving and witnessing elements (not much preaching) but the dialogue is real and genuine, in that we are changed as we converse and act together. I think this lack of action and the role animating the gospel together with the communities and contexts we are called to is the final weakness of Constants in context, ie the missional humility is identified but perhaps the deeper and more dynamic challenges of inculturalation are missed a little, as there is some implicit orthodox understanding of church.

Is Fresh Expressions a movement?

Following on from the Permanent Revelation on page 211 there is a summary of movements. Andrew Jones asked Paul Pierson about the characteristics of a movement and the response was:
– They always begin on the periphery of the institutional church
– They are motivated by a transforming experience (grace) of God by an individual or group.
– The result is the desire for a more authentic Christian life that often leads to concern for the church and world.
– Face to face groups for prayer, Bible study, mutual encouragement are important.
– New methods of selecting and training leaders become important. These are less institutional, more grass roots and lay oriented.
– There are theological breakthroughs, that is, rediscovery of aspects of the Biblical message that have been forgotten or overlooked by the Church, usually they involve a focus on the gifts of every believer.
– There is a leveling effect, distance decreases between clergy and laity, social classes, races, men and women, and denominations.
– The movement is countercultural in some ways, often because it reaches out to those who have not been valued by their society.

– Consequently there will be opposition by many in the dominant culture and church.
– There will often be manifestations of spiritual warfare. such movements sense the reality of evil and the need to recognize the vistory of Christ in the cross and resurrection.
– At times there will be unusual manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit; healings, visions, glossalalia, miracles. etc.
– More flexible structures of church and mission will be needed and often emerge, different from traditional structures.
– The movement will be led to significant recontextualization of the Christian message, which will be communicated more widely by lay persons to those outside the church.
– New music is often a characteristic.
– Biblical concepts ignored by the traditional church but relevant to the hearers are often discovered.
– There will be a growing concern for the marginalized, often expressed in ministries of compassion.
– At a later stage this often leads to concern for broader social transformation.
– As the movement matures there will be concern for the renewal of the broader church.
– As the movement continues to mature many will see themselves not only as part of the particular movement but as citizens of the Kingdom of God, transcending their own movement.
– Finally, every movement is less than perfect and often messy at the edges and sometimes, at the center. This is inevitable as long as sinful humans are involved.

Norman asked if FE is a movement. I think many inside Fresh Expressions would see many of the above characteristics but so not sure myself. I can see where Pierson is coming from in relation to christian movements but thinking in the wider context of a movement and particularly about creating a paradigm change I would be unsure FE if can do that and as such be classed as a movement. In fact I think FE may actually hinder change in the longer term because of the gravitational pull of the institution and accompanying orthodoxy. I think we are already seeing dissenting voices being marginalised as FE spreads and the orthodox centre gathers pace. I was talking the other day to someone about how some of the most pioneering imaginative work (both inside the Church of England and outside) i see are not part of FE. The reasons for this are partially because of these projects have a strong bias to the poor, and partially as they are doing some radical recontextualisation and inculuturation, which they feel only able to do this outside of FE. I think this is really telling for FE and a big challenge to FE as so many of Piersons characteristics mention these issues in one way or another.

the permanent revolution

just finished Hirsh and Catchim “The Permanent Revolution – Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church” and have to say it is a really good read. It is very accessible, and is peppered with a good range of examples, honest personal experiences, and diagram/charts. As a trainer, educator, writer and practitioner there is lots of really useful stuff for all disciplines I find myself moving between. I can many of the diagrams making their way into my presentations, as they are succinct and accessible.

The book draws on a range of theological, biblical, cultural and organisational texts to explore the APEST (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher), and in particular the Apostle role in the missional shift we are in and the challenges presenting the current church. There are a good range of challenges to the thinking and practical ways to apply the concepts used.

I really like the interaction between organistional theory and how they explore the state of the current church in the introductions and later the use of systems and movement theory which has some important stuff to stay to the emerging project.

On the downside much of the stuff I had come across before, I first came across Fractal theory in the early 90s and have been using it ever since, the work around imagination will be familiar to people who know Brueggemann, the contextualistion / missio dei work is rooted in Bosch and earlier writers, you can see John V Taylor peppered through the book, as are BEC’s rooted in liberation theology where many of the current ideas around missional communities come from. However to have it all in one place and set against the current context so well is excellent. I would also have liked to have seen more challenges and deeper exploration around issues of inculturalation, particularly the reciprocal nature of mission and how this impacts the role of the apostle and problems this raises as they seek to move forward in the current in-between time.

Overall a good book that I have already recommended to my students on the Church and Mission modules and one that I will keep coming back to.