Call the Midwife for fresh expressions of church (Roger Johnson)

Monday, 17 March, 2014

Roger Johnson suggests that we Call the Midwife to start missionary work.

It really shows Christianity in a positive light don't you think? I'm talking about the BBC programme 'Call the Midwife'. It depicts Christian people as compassionate, sensitive and caring - not the usual negative stereotype we can often see in the media.

I reflect on St Paul's missionary endeavours. He went across the northern Mediterranean region planting new churches but he quickly appointed local leaders to be responsible for the on-going running of the church. He would act as advisor, mentor, and sometimes critic when they went astray, but he recognised that what he was developing was not for his benefit, but for the benefit of local Christians and the Kingdom. In a very real sense he was acting as a midwife – bringing to birth something that would be someone else's child.

But have you ever thought that as Christians, we are called to be midwives? More and more people in our churches are getting involved in the formation of fresh expressions of church. These range from Messy Church, through café church to various kinds of community gatherings and children's activities, all with the aim of creating genuine, viable and sustainable Christian communities in their own right.

To be fair to those doing this, although they are involved in their formation, running and even financing, the form of church they are involved with may not be their church, nor would they necessarily want to be part of it long term. In a sense they are acting like midwives who bring other peoples' babies into the world. They may be passionate about the new birth but they recognise that what they do is for someone else and they must not develop an emotional attachment to the newly born baby.

Some are suspicious, if not critical of fresh expressions of church, fearing that the 'new, trendy' form of church is going to replace the traditional model which they know and feel comfortable with. People have been predicting the demise of traditional church for decades and it simply hasn't happened, neither do I expect it to. However, we need to accept that in some places, the traditional model, although not dead and buried, is on a life-support machine. Having said that, not all fresh expressions of church will survive into the future in this fickle, consumerist society which we inhabit.

We live in a country where church-going is off the agenda for the majority. However, the need for the gospel is greater now than it has ever been. The survival of the Church will require self-sacrifice and total commitment by people who may never see the fruit of their labours. I have no idea what the 'Church of Tomorrow' will look like but I believe it will be very different from today's model.

Just to give you one example, take Sunday Schools. These flourished in an era where church-going parents were Christian and their children needed a basic grounding in the faith while mum and dad went to the main church for solid and deeper teaching. Today's parents are not in that position and they are as much in need of basic teaching on the faith as their children. This partly explains why Sunday Schools have seen a sharp decline in attendance while Messy Church, where children and parents worship and learn together, is flourishing. We need more initiatives like this, especially for people who value a church where they can participate rather than being preached at. These models are emerging but more resources, human as well as financial, need to be applied.

So, it's time to 'Call the Midwife' and start missionary work that will bear fruit for tomorrow's generation of Christian.

About the author: 

Roger Johnson served for over 10 years as District Evangelism Enabler in the Nottingham and Derby District of the Methodist Church. He helped to develop and support fresh expressions of church and deliver mission shaped ministry and mission shaped intro courses.

Comments

excellent article. I am a Salvation Army Officer ( minister) involved in a fresh expression which is a new plant, and also a trained Midwife and did this prior to coming into ministry. Have often likened the role that I am in now to that of being a Midwife - there is so much overlap, including keeping our 'hands off' and not interfering unnecessarily but allowing the Spirit of God to work (the church to be birthed). Watching, waiting, creating optimum conditions through relationship to allow things to progress.....so many similarities, and of course that moment of deep joy each time someone comes to faith - experiences new creation through Christ.

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