Following the missionary Spirit: Graham Cray

Tuesday, 27 November, 2012

Watch Graham Cray's address from the Following the missionary Spirit event in London on 22nd November 2012.

Duration: 13:20   | Download Download video (flv) | Download Download video (wmv) | View on YouTube


Graham Cray: This conference is called ‘Following the Missionary Spirit’, because, we believe the Holy Spirit has been leading the church in new approaches to mission. We have indeed been 'seeing what God is doing and joining in'.

The journey has now been long enough to recognise that we have been given a gift of the Holy Spirit, a distinctive charism, a communal gift for planting fresh expressions of church, be they new congregations or full church plants, appropriate to their context; to draw into Christian discipleship those who are not active followers of Jesus or part of any church.

That is the purpose of the charism, but what is its nature? What constitutes the gift we are being given? The key to the future is not so much knowing how far we may have travelled, because there is much farther to go, as understanding what have we been given for the journey.

I have written about this in the current edition of the Church of England Newspaper, which you will be given as you leave, but I want to take it a little further here.

It is a gift of faith. Ordinary Christians have been taking small cross-cultural risks, for the sake of Christ. They have been stepping out of familiar patterns of church life to plant something new, for those untouched by these familiar patterns. They have been empowered to take a risk of faith. Acts 1.8 tells us that this lies at the heart of the gift of the Spirit for mission, empowering us for witness beyond our familiar settings.

It is an incarnational gift, a gift for contextual mission. We are learning to follow the Spirit as, by his power, Christ's body takes appropriate local shape. It is a gift for our times and for each locality. For our times because both our national culture, and the relationship between church and culture, have been changing fast. For each locality because we are taking more seriously the uniqueness and complexity of each context.

It is a gift of discernment and of missional imagination. Discernment in context is the key. We learn to listen as we allow the Holy Spirit to direct us. The fresh expression takes shape as we listen and serve. We are unlikely to know what it will finally look like when we begin.

It is a gift of diversity. The Holy Spirit gives varieties of gifts. One size does not fit all. The Sheffield Centre study of two dioceses revealed 19 different models of fresh expression in each. Some models appear frequently, as is appropriate for a branded society. The reason for diversity is appropriateness to context, not the uniqueness of the model.

It is a traditioned gift, the latest manifestation of a living tradition. At its heart is the call to proclaim the gospel afresh in this generation. It is not a rewriting of the claims of Christ to make them more amenable to a consumer age, but a more faithful embodiment of the historic gospel for our times. Fresh expressions are an integral part of the Church's mixed economy approach to mission. It is a gift which honours inherited approaches for their faithfulness to the gospel and seeks to complement them by equivalent faithfulness.

It is a vocational gift. It cannot be exercised without pioneers, those who take the lead in the small and large cross cultural steps which are the inescapable starting point of any fresh expression. One of the most striking features of this movement has been the number of new leaders it has generated. There are Ordained Pioneer Ministers, Church Army evangelists and Methodist VentureFX Pioneers, but the number of these is dwarfed by the hundreds of lay leaders of fresh expressions who were not in any form of leadership before.

It is an ecumenical gift, involving the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Congregational Federation, Ground Level, and the Church of Scotland, with other conversations taking place. This is a unity which God blesses because it is a unity in weakness, as we all have to learn new approaches to mission in a changing world, and choose to learn together.

It is a gift of partnership, as mission agencies and prayer movements work together with denominations: Church Army and its Sheffield Centre, CMS, Anglican Church Planting Initiatives, the 24/7 Prayer Movement and the Council for World Mission. The old, theologically inadequate distinction between church and para church is being broken down.

It has proved to be an international gift. As developments here have resonated with friends in other parts of the world. The Fresh Expressions mission shaped ministry course is now being taught or planned in Australia, Barbados, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA.

It is a gift of hope, demonstrating the life of the Spirit through the church, showing that the Church in Britain can grow; that it is not condemned to inevitable decline because of the average age of its congregations. The Holy Spirit is restoring faith in the power of the gospel here and now!

But does this gift have further treasures to reveal, further equipment for the task ahead?

It is already proving to be a gift of new or renewed forms of community, of communal discipleship, even of religious life.

Will it prove to be a gift of patience, recognising how long it takes to journey from no faith, or initial enquiry to whole hearted discipleship, and nurtures those on the way?

Ibelieve it has that capacity if we will receive it.

Will it be a gift of transformation? The quality of discipleship is always the great challenge. We already have good stories to tell. but does this gift have more to teach us about transformed lives which outshine our seductive consumer culture?

believe it has that capacity if we will receive it.

Will it be a gift towards maturity? Will new forms of church mature, without losing their distinctive character and contextual significance?

Ibelieve it has that capacity if we will receive it.

Will it be a gift of continuing innovation (The one certainty about the future is that society won't stop changing!)

I believe it has that capacity if we will receive it.

The apostle Peter wrote that we are to be 'good stewards of God's manifold grace' The future then is a matter of faithful stewardship, of keeping faith with the missionary Spirit, and remaining open to whatever new riches might be revealed in this gift. It is also a call to perseverance, as we maintain our commitment to the re-evangelization of our land.

The Fresh Expressions Team is staying in business. We will continue to network pioneers, gather learning, publish stories, and provide the training needed. New partners are joining and longer standing ones identifying the work that is needed well beyond 2014.

So will we, the Church in this land, persevere with the task and with the gift? By God's grace, which is also his unmerited gift, we will. Amen


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
We use spam protection. View privacy policy.