When something new(ish) comes along, it’s easy to see that as a criticism of the old and the pre-existing. This is especially true in the realm of church life, where people get attached to what they know and feel threatened by change and shocked by the new. Mission-shaped church is especially vulnerable to this: in an enthusiasm to rethink church and discipleship in such a way as to ensure it is directed towards those who don’t know Jesus, it’s easy to criticise or be seen to criticise that which is already happening.
Sometimes that’s because the people bringing the change are bored or frustrated. That’s not the point, though. Mission-shaped church is not church for the bored or angry or frustrated. It’s church for people who won’t be part of church otherwise. It’s church for people who don’t do church. That doesn’t mean that the existing church is suddenly irrelevant. Church as it exists continues to work for many people and as such it has an important, life-giving role. The mission-shaped realisation is one that wants to add and multiply, not replace.
Isaiah prophesied about rebuilding on ancient foundations; to do so needs those foundations. Build without ancient foundations and you’ve got a problem.
Doing church in the pub was an addition to church as it was happening already, not a replacement of what the people already knew.
Jesus and the early church preached and healed in synagogues and on the streets; in the ancient places and the virgin territory.
It’s what a wise former Archbishop called mixed economy; not either/or but both/and.
Don’t dismiss what you have; it’s what you’ll build on. Don’t dismiss the ancient; it’s what gives meaning to the new. Don’t choose between old and new. Let each inform and refresh and incarnate the other.
Also in this series:
We all need to plan, never more so than when you’re trying to be obedient to the missionary imperative of the God who tells us to make disciples. That doesn’t happen by accident; it needs you and me to make some plans. Those plans, though, need to be held lightly. It seems that God, for reasons best known to Himself, allows us to make one set of plans under His guidance … and then dump them.
Photo from Bev Meldrum Photography bevmeldrum.com
A few years ago we realised that the area around our church needed community more than anything else. It’s a busy, vibrant, bustling area with little meaningful personal connection. So we decided we’d eat together every Thursday evening, tell others about and make it available to anyone. We envisaged it as a focus for the church’s life, a building of relationships, as well as a way of getting to know students, workers, commuters and the like. As the weeks passed, it changed into something else; an evening which was primarily enjoyed by the community of people without homes. We hadn’t envisaged that; if we had, the church probably wouldn’t have got it off the ground. To discover the right plan, we had to let go of our plans.
We discovered that we were in good company. Paul had all sorts of plans about where he was going to go on his missionary journey, only to find those plans frustrated and an inescapable tug to Macedonia. It’s all terribly inconsiderate and humbling. God seems to care less for our convenience and vindication as leaders than He does for establishing that He is in control of the missionary and endeavour, and He’s simply invited us along for the ride. It’s not that our plans don’t count; it’s more that they seem to count for rather less, or rather different things to that which we imagine.
So make those plans, but hold them lightly. They’re less, and more, important than we think.
There’s a movement in the Christian church that’s been increasingly influential over recent years. You could call it many things; the terms you’ve most likely heard are ‘missional’ or ‘mission-shaped’. I’ve been floating around in it for a few years now: to me, what it means is seeking to reshape corporate church life and individual discipleship in such a way as to ensure the thrust of everything is engaged with the missionary direction that we see in the life of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That’s a start of a definition. I’m not going to go deeper than that here, because many other people already have; and they’ve done it much better than I could. Go out and find them.
What I thought I’d like to do instead is post a few of the lessons and ideas I’ve picked up along the way. Not to say I’ve got it sorted out now; far from it. Just that I thought it would be helpful to put my mistakes out there so you don’t have to make the same ones; and it will help me to process a bit by writing these down.
So there you go. You’ll see a few of those over the next few days. They will be shortish, drawn from mistakes made and representing my hopes for how I and we can do things better in the future.
First up will be something about soup.