Leading a fresh expression in a mixed economy of church

Monday, 12 August, 2013

Jackie Bellfield, founder of the New Song Network, Warrington, ponders whether she is a pioneer and how to manage the needs of the new whilst cherishing that which already exists, as well as sharing the latest updates to the New Song Network team.

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Jackie Bellfield: The huge question that I ponder is am I a pioneer? It's a really big question to reflect on and to think about, what is a pioneer? A pioneer, by its definition, is somebody that does something new, that creates something new, that places perhaps new footprints in the sand, that sets a new path. Now clearly part of what New Song Network is, is a pioneering initiative – it's brand new, it hasn't been done before in this particular way. So to be part of that, yes, gives me the label of being a pioneer, although I don't really like labels, I think labels are for parcels and for packages, and not for people.

But in addition of course to doing New Song Network, I have three other, what we could class as traditional or inherited church communities, and being part of that mixed economy for me has been an absolute privilege. To have the traditional, inherited – whatever phrase you feel comfortable with – and then the new and emerging congregations – it's not about competition, it's about complementing each other. And what I've found is that those people who have been faithful members, amazing stewards of inherited church, have come along to New Song and had their faith renewed and restored, because really it's about cherishing and loving and caring and having actually no expectation from them, but for them to come and be and perhaps not do.

And then you have the opposite, you have people who have been coming to New Song Network, who have had no relationship with church in the past, who have come along, enjoyed what the network offers and they've dipped their toe into what we class as inherited, traditional church and they've been equally moved by that experience, because there's no threat there. This is not about competition, it's about journeying together, recognising the strengths of each other and loving each other.

Am I a pioneer? Some would say so, but I struggle with having a label attached, because pioneering in its sense, there's no structure there, there's no firm definition of what one should be doing. We're finding our way all the time, and that can be difficult at times, because sometimes we don't know where the journey's going to go and to explain that to other people, or to justify it to other people, can be quite difficult, when the road ahead is actually uncharted territory, and hasn't been before, it's very difficult therefore to explain what you're doing and how you're doing and why you're doing it! Except because we seek to serve God and, whether I'm a pioneer minister or not, I'm fundamentally a servant of Christ and I'm here to serve God in whatever capacity God leads me in. Whether that's in a new emerging congregation or in a traditional form of church, I respond and love and seek to help people grow in their discipleship and love of God.

The leadership team of New Song Network is growing and is fresh. There's a mixture of people involved with the leadership team of New Song. There are those people who have found that New Song is now their church, they don't go anywhere else, it's become their only church involvement and they are part of the leadership team. We have others who are part of other church congregations and communities who believe and are passionate about the ethos of what New Song Network does and what it means to people and they're also part of the leadership. So we have this wonderful complementary relationship of people who bring a freshness of approach and those who bring that historical knowledge of the church and, in particular, Methodism, which we find really important. New Song Network currently worships in two Methodist Church buildings and the future is that it becomes a church in its own right as part of our wonderful Methodist heritage and tradition. And we have a number of rules and a number of processes and we find that they can be exceptionally creative and open to what we seek to do. And sometimes we do have to challenge them. The leadership team for me is about sustainability and freshness and fruitfulness for the future and that leadership team, we're blessed with some amazingly Godly and gifted people who are committed entirely to the ethos of New Song and are showing that in a number of ways. And my role in all of this is to nurture, is to encourage, is to love them in their commitment and to support them for the future, that that leadership is sustainable for the years to come.

Being a pioneer, as some would perhaps think about what we do with New Song, or being involved in any form of pioneering ministry, does actually mean that things aren't necessarily clearly defined, that we're trying to find our way in uncharted territory. And that means, I believe, that anyone involved in any kind of pioneering ministry needs to think about how they reflectively and prayerfully challenge processes that are around us. That we're very fortunate that we have a very creative system in the Methodist Church to allow us to do that. But the danger is of course, how do we challenge sometimes the status quo, how do we challenge some of the rules that are laid down for us. Whatever we do in however we challenge, it has to be done prayerfully, carefully and in collaboration with other people too. We're not here to work in isolation or to kind of be mavericks that go off and do our own thing, we are part of the body of Christ and we're part of the Methodist Connexion and that's really important that we maintain that and we cherish our role within it. And that means any challenge of processes need to be done very carefully and prayerfully.

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