Celebrating the mixed economy Church at Pentecost (Phil Potter)

Monday, 16 June, 2014

Phil Potter celebrates the mixed economy church.

The Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Congregational Federation in Bristol, the Methodist Church in Birmingham, the United Reformed Church in Cardiff and the Church of England in York... the season of synods and assemblies has begun, and a great opportunity to check in with our partner denominations and feel the pulse of the Church.

As usual, many things are on the agenda and the challenges increase, but in every case I'm finding that the missionary arm of the Church is in good heart and good form, and that the fresh expressions agenda is breathing ever new life into the institutions we love.

Of course, the very concept of a 'mixed economy' of Church brings with it its own tensions, but the Church is at its very best when it celebrates its diversity, works on its unity and learns to partner in creative and generous ways. Mixed economy was never meant to mean 'either or' thinking where Christians make black and white choices, either to commit to traditional Church and all things familiar, or to new ways of doing Church and all things pioneer. On the contrary, the vision for a mixed economy is about the whole Church embracing 'both and' thinking, and wherever God may call us to serve and belong on a personal and practical level, we should all embrace the need for a rich variety of approaches to evangelism, worship and the challenge of making disciples in the twenty first century.

I know from my own experience that the church I was vicar of was at its most vibrant and effective when it was equally committed to and energized by what we creatively nicknamed 'the lake' (traditional attractional church) and 'the river' (flowing out into fresh expressions of church in very different contexts). Indeed, the recent research on fresh expressions in ten different Church of England dioceses confirms that the majority are being envisioned and created out of established local church contexts, and that even churches with very limited resources are discovering new life and energy as they find the courage to plant the tiniest seed of a new kind of church.

However we look at this, the acid test for me is in how un-churched people respond to all that we offer them. Again in my own context we found that again and again the Holy Spirit would confound our expectations of how a person seeking faith responded to 'doing church'. We committed ourselves to planting a whole range of fresh expressions to reach the thousands in our community who had never experienced church, and we convinced ourselves at first that the people who might respond to a fresh expression were the sort of people who would never darken the door of our church building. How wrong could we be! So many of those who came to faith began to put together the richest of diets when it came to belonging. Yes some remained in a single expression or congregation, but most ended up blending their experience of church and worship, and some who belonged to the most radical of fresh expressions might also turn up at the traditional Eucharist once a month! As they started to vote with their feet, they began to model mixed economy for us in the most creative of ways.

Writing this on Pentecost Sunday, I'm reminded that we serve a 'mixed economy' God, who deliberately created a Church of rich diversity and variety, and as the wind of his Spirit 'blows where it wills', let's learn to celebrate the way in which he is creating many different kinds of fresh expressions alongside inherited expressions, across several different traditions and within a colourful array of different denominations. And most of all, may we never lose sight of the fact that the God of Pentecost not only enables people to hear and receive in 'their own language', but draws them together in unity in a way that then draws many others to be 'added to their number'.

Phil Potter 

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