Changing the landscape 2011: Graham Cray's address

Friday, 6 May, 2011
Changing the Landscape 2011 - Graham Cray (transcript)1.34 MB

Watch Graham Cray's keynote address at Changing the Landscape 2011.

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Graham Cray: It is nine years since a group of us sat round a table to start work on a report which we eventually called Mission-shaped Church. It's seven years since it was published.

I have been in this role as Fresh Expressions team leader for two years now, time flies, so it's perhaps as we draw our day towards a close - time both to take stock and, more particularly, to look forward.

A substantial amount has been done in a short time. As a team we have delivered 80 vision days in six years, 61 mission shaped ministry courses with over 2,100 participants over five years, and FEASTS - which are not as exciting as they sound but which are Fresh Expressions Area Strategy Teams - are being developed in 30 different areas. We have made a presentation to many dioceses, districts and URC synods. And if you're wondering about the maps; blue dots are vision days, red dots are msm courses, clouds – depending how thick they are - are FEASTs at various levels of development.

But, far more important than the team's efforts, is the sheer range, and variety of the fresh expressions of church which are being established locally, and of which the new DVD just gives a taste. The Methodist figures alone involve 25,000 people attending from weekly to monthly.

And I want to pay tribute to the hundreds of lay leaders and clergy who have launched imaginative new initiatives amongst their neighbourhoods and networks over the last few years. They can be found in rural and in urban settings, in new housing developments, cathedral cities, suburban areas, new housing and city centres. They represent almost the widest possible variety of church traditions.

There are more unusual examples located in skate parks and farmers' markets, or focused on mountain bikers or surfers and they might get the media attention; but the great majority are new fledgling congregations meeting in a welcoming place and at a convenient time for those who previously did not go to church or follow Christ: and they are well within the capability of the average local church. And we need to see thousands and thousands more average local churches becoming mixed economy.

Historic denominations do not change quickly, so this, frankly, has been extraordinary. It has been way beyond the faith, let alone the expectation of those of us who wrote Mission-Shaped Church. I believe we have been caught up in a missionary movement of the Holy Spirit and the whole thing is a seeking to see what God is doing and to join in.

There is a three part ecology, it seems to me, in what has been taking place:

  • At the local level there is a new imagination about possible forms of mission. Local Christians are imagining church for those who previously they had not been reaching and they are imagining church in ways they simply would not have done before. It's a grass roots movement of the Holy Spirit from below; new gifts of missional imagination.
  • At a leadership level there is a new climate of permission and encouragement for local initiatives. Rather than discourage local risk taking in mission, many district chairs, bishops and moderators would be profoundly disappointed if local churches did not try - to the great disappointment of some of those who referred it to the bishops, district chair or moderator because they thought that would stop it.
  • Finally, there are nationally available resources for vision and training provided by this team and other organisations. And a simple combination - an ecology, of imagination, permission and training and resource has had a considerable effect. And each of those elements is vital.

Roman Catholic missiologists Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder write this,

the church is missionary by its very nature and it becomes missionary in practice by attending to each and every context in which it finds itself.

Mission-shaped Church was about 'fresh expressions of church in a changing context'. As we engage with the missionary God in a multi-choice world, where the impact of Christendom is rapidly fading, we are being reshaped by the Holy Spirit, as we learn again how to be missionary in our own land. That is, I believe, the underlying direction.

The aspiration is to see the church reshaped, not by a church initiative, but by sharing in the Mission of God. We are all learning that the mission of the Church is sharing God's mission, that mission is not an activity of some Christians, but the very essence of what it means to be the Church. Baptism is into Christ, into his body and into his mission.

And I believe our context requires far more than fresh expressions of church. It requires firstly that weekly partnership, which Archbishop Rowan has called 'a mixed economy church'. In a mixed economy church, every parish church and chapel, every deanery, circuit, synod and presbytery knows that it is called to mission through word and deed – mission is the calling of both dimensions, of the mixed economy; finding ways to give local expression to the various dimensions of mission. Existing churches extend their reach beyond their current attendance, and fresh expressions of church are planted to reach those who still remain untouched by existing churches. As I said this morning, the mixed economy is not intended to be a device to allow two separate things to happen at the same time. It requires a partnership where traditional churches and fresh expressions of church pray for one another, support one another, and learn from one another.

In this respect perhaps it's time to stop just talking mixed economy, and to start acting mixed economy across our nations. In particular today we have focused on the importance of relationships of trust between the pioneers who plant fresh expressions and those to whom they are accountable. These relationships are the tendons which hold the body of Christ together, in its mixed economy form. They are vital. Such trust is properly based on integrity of character and mutual respect. We have to be people worthy of trust on both sides of the relationship. It is not necessarily based on supervisors and pioneers' fully understanding one another's ministries. Each needs to respect the other for their distinctive vocations, and for each one's capacity to do things the other cannot do, or for gifts and abilities they themselves may not have. Otherwise supervision becomes control and pioneering becomes independent freelancing. We belong to one another in Christ and we need to express that mutual accountability with integrity.

We do not truly act mixed economy unless we act ecumenically as well. The denominations are not competitors but partners in mission. Their shared task is to engage the whole of society, in their part of the country, with Christ and his kingdom. Paul Avis, of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, wrote, 'Mission is the whole Church bringing the whole Christ to the whole world.' That understanding needs embodying in every locality. We can't be properly missionary, and we can't fully embody the mixed economy, without one another. This is not so much unity for the sake of mission, as partnership in mission, which will reshape the church in greater unity. We need all the resources God has given to reach the whole breadth and complexity of the communities in which we are placed. In each area the churches need to plan in partnership not independently or in parallel. Even the Anglican Methodist Covenant , where fresh expressions is maybe the strongest evidence of shared commitment, tends to happen in parallel rather than in partnership at the local level. That is why FEASTs, the Fresh Expressions kind, are so important.

We have to take seriously the scale of the task: 34% of adults in England have never had any significant contact with any church.  In Scotland it is 26.5%, in Wales also 26.5% and in Northern Ireland 22.5%, in each nation church goers are on average older than those who have never attended. If we were to add the under 16s the proportion of the never churched would be massively higher. In Scotland and Wales the number who used to go to church, but no longer do so and are closed to returning, substantially exceeds those who have never been involved. In England the largest group is those who have never been. We have much to give thanks for but absolutely no reason for complacency at all.

The text which provides me with the greatest challenge in the light of this mission field is Romans 1 from verse 14. Paul says, 'I am a debtor, I owe something, both to Greeks and barbarians, to wise and to foolish - hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel… I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.' But in effect he says, 'For I owe it to everyone.'

The crucial question for us all, and a major motivation for a mixed economy approach is, 'Who will never encounter Jesus? Who will never hear his call to follow, if we only do locally what we are doing now? Who will our current forms of church never reach? Do we have a spiritual responsibility, an indebtedness, do we owe the gospel, to those with no knowledge of the faith or contact with the church?'

I'm convinced that we do, and I suspect you do too or you wouldn't have come today. In my view it will not prove to be enough just to encourage the majority of churches to plant fresh expressions of church. I am thrilled that so many are doing so. We need thousands more to take up the challenge and we as a team will continue to try to equip and resource and envision and support them in every way. But I also believe we need to find ways to reach beyond the reach of the churches in this nation, to reach beyond the reach of the churches in this nation, even beyond the reach of those churches which already plant fresh expressions.

We need a new missionary movement, a new breed of self supporting missionary pioneers, mostly lay people, not primarily for financial reasons, primarily because the mission field is so big. Those whose vocation from God is to plant fresh expressions of church in the locations of their life circumstances, in their work place, in their school, in the leisure centre, I'm so glad to hear that already from the platform this afternoon - wherever they are; and who are open to go wherever God sends them, blown by the Spirit where they're needed.  Not a movement of mavericks or lone wolves, but a disciplined people, called by God, trained, equipped and commissioned by the churches, who are prepared to be accountable to one another and to their churches' senior leaders, and whose task is to reach more deeply into our increasingly post Christian society than most local churches can reasonably be expected to go. To sustain discipleship, and to provide support and to ensure accountability they would need to be part of appropriate missional communities or missionary orders. I frankly believe that the Holy Spirit is beginning to raise up orders of mission or communities of mission for this task. We need regional and national communities, orders of 'missionaries in life' if we are to re-evangelize our land. Monastic language is not essential, although New Monasticism is proving to be an important resource for many fresh expressions (and I recommend our book New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church), but mutually committed pioneers in life, committed to one another, and under the authority of the churches, will be necessary.

At the heart of the fresh expressions movement is discernment: 'Seeing what God is doing and joining in.' I am making this suggestion, not primarily as a strategic proposal, but because I already see it emerging. It is there in our partner organisations within Fresh Expressions: CMS is already a missionary order. Church Army is aspiring to become one. Anglican Church Planting Initiatives is led by Bob and Mary Hopkins, who are Guardians of The Order of Mission; our new partners 24/7 combine prayer, community, rhythms of life and mission – all in one holistic commitment of life. A missionary order is being developed for Lincolnshire with full ecumenical support. Pete [Atkins], who's doing that, tells me he believes he needs 400 for the re-evangelisation of a very rural county. Other areas engaged in planting fresh expressions are beginning to explore the possibility.

Is it possible that the Holy Spirit is beginning to raise up a new missionary movement? I invite you to consider the possibility to take the thought home, to talk and pray with one another.

With the mixed economy, with ecumenical partnership and with a new missionary movement we really could see the landscape changed, not just in the church, but in our nation.

Finally, this is not primarily about reversing decline! I think our eyes have been too much on decline, my eyes are on the size of the mission field and the scale and nature of it  - not on how big it used to be. Despite the statistics that I have shared, the scale of church attendance in previous times is almost irrelevant to the case I am arguing.  It is about learning how to be the church in our current context. It is about a church which, theologically, is missionary by nature, learning again how to be missionary in practice. And above all it is about grace.

According to St Paul those who have been encountered by the grace of God in Jesus Christ owe it to those who have not. We are 'debtors' to them, because we are debtors to grace. Mission is not a duty, even mixed economy mission, it is a shared reflex in response to the love of God, who sends his people to share in his mission of grace. And in that mission we have the privilege to share.


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