(CEN) We don't want mavericks or lone wolves

Friday, 6 May, 2011

Today (6th May), the Fresh Expressions national day conference in Oxford will welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury as a keynote speaker to consider the theme of 'making the mixed economy work'. Bishop Graham Cray, Archbishops' Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team, writes about why it is time to 'stop talking mixed economy and start acting mixed economy'.

Our 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 to share in the mission of God and that mission is not an activity of some Christians, but of the very essence of what it means to be the Church. Baptism is into Christ and into his body and into his mission.

Roman Catholic missiologists Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder wrote that

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

The Mission-shaped Church report 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, so we will be reshaped by the Spirit, as we learn again how to be missionary here.

Our context requires more than fresh expressions of church. It requires a week-by-week partnership, which Archbishop Rowan has called 'a mixed economy church'. In such a church, every parish church and chapel, every deanery, circuit, synod and presbytery knows that it is called to mission through word and need – finding ways to give local expression to the five marks 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.

It is time to stop talking mixed economy and time to start acting mixed economy. This requires a partnership where traditional churches and fresh expressions of church pray for one another, support one another, and learn from one another. It requires growing relationships of trust between those pioneers who plant fresh expressions and those to whom they are accountable. Such trust is properly based on integrity of character and not necessarily on supervisors and pioneers' understanding of one another's ministries. Each needs to respect the other for the things they themselves cannot do.

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. According to Paul Avis, general secretary of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity,

Mission is the whole Church bringing the whole Christ to the whole world.

That understanding needs embodying locally, 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.

We have to take seriously the scale of the task: 34% of adults in England have had no significant contact with any church and the proportion of young people and children will be much higher. In my view it will not prove to be enough to encourage the majority of churches to plant fresh expressions of church. I am thrilled that so many are doing so. I work hard so that many, many more will do so. But I also believe we need to find ways to reach beyond the reach of the churches in this nation, even beyond the reach of those which plant fresh expressions of church.

I believe we need a new breed of self-supporting missionaries, mostly lay people, whose vocation from God is to plant fresh expressions of church in the locations of their life circumstances, in the work place and the leisure centre, wherever they are, or wherever God sends them. I'm not looking for mavericks or lone wolves, but disciplined people, called by God, equipped by the church, who are prepared to be accountable to one another and to the church's senior leaders, and who will reach more deeply into our increasingly post Christian society than most local churches can reasonably be expected to go. We need regional and national orders of missionaries in life to re-evangelize our land.

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

This is not about reversing decline! The scale of church attendance in previous times is almost irrelevant to the case I am arguing. It is about learning to be the church in our current context. It is about a church which is missionary by nature learning how to be missionary in its current context. And 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 (Romans 1:14), because we are debtors to grace. Mission is not a duty, it is a reflex in response to the love of God.

Changing the landscape: making the mixed economy work will also host the launch of the next Fresh Expressions DVD, expressions: making a difference. Comprising 28 stories, the DVD (£15) is available from the Fresh Expressions shop. Look onsite too for details of the newly-produced Share booklets, the first seven in an ongoing series – ideal for anybody considering, or involved in, growing a fresh expression of church.