Mixed and mutual

Monday, 17 May, 2010

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

The fresh expressions initiative is not about fresh expressions of church alone. It is about a mixed economy church.

In February, the General Synod of the Church of England voted unanimously to 'affirm the mixed economy of traditional churches and fresh expressions of church, working in partnership, as the most promising mission strategy in a fast changing culture.'

The key word is 'partnership'. The mixed economy is not a strategic device to allow the newer to coexist with the older. It is a commitment to maintain the unity and common life of the Spirit across an increasingly diverse and fast-changing mission field.

'Economy' is an appropriate word to apply to the Church, as long as we draw its content from Scripture and not from the global economic crisis! In Ephesians 1:10 Paul speaks of God's 'plan' to gather all things up in Christ. The word translated as 'plan' gives us our word 'economy'. It is a word about the proper running of a large Roman household, applied to God's restoring of the universe through his Son. In the next chapter the church is called God's 'household' (2:19), from the same family of words, and has a vital part to play in the 'plan'.

But this also is a mixed economy church. The household of God is established through the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ. In Judea the churches were predominantly Jewish. Elsewhere in the Roman Empire they varied from a mixture of Jews and Gentiles to some that were predominantly Gentile – depending on the mission field. But they were all part of the one household playing their part in the one economy of God.

It was not always an easy relationship. The problems it caused resonate through Acts and Paul's letters. Paul's churches sent generous aid to the Jerusalem church, which contained their sternest critics. It was what Christians did!

In the same way fresh expressions of church and more traditional forms are to honour, support and pray for one another. They are to recognise each other's integrity and distinctive gifts. The younger can learn from the older without having to use the same cultural forms. The older can have faith, for their own mission, renewed through seeing what God is doing among the younger. The older will need to exercise patience while the newer finds its own shape and identity. While the newer recognizes that the older gave it birth. Above all the mixed economy is about mutual generosity.

When Visions began in York, its primary mission field was the dance and nightclub culture, and the new community immersed itself in their mission and created appropriate forms of meeting and worship for their calling. But when the parish church's children's work was short of musicians, members of Visions, who had been in the clubs just hours before, led the children's worship, in a style they no longer used for themselves, because that was what you did in God's economy of grace. The mixed economy is about diversity and mutual generosity – for the plan of God. I conclude with a quotation from Archbishop Rowan's speech to the Synod.

The mixed economy takes both elements seriously, both traditional forms of church and emerging forms of church... and when we think about how partnership best works, we must surely realise that it's when both elements are taking each other seriously and gratefully and interacting with each other. Working together creatively in partnership is indeed the most promising mission strategy.


You can read another perspective on the mixed economy on Malcolm Herbert's post on the Share blog.


Post new comment

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