As Canadians wrestle with a shrinking Church and a growing recognition that the God of all ages is not limited to high ceilings, wooden pews, or even Sunday morning, we are beginning to grasp the magnitude of the task ahead. It is huge, and will require more than young priests and ministers eager to enter traditional parishes. We face a revolution in how we do ministry, plant churches, communicate a message, and create community.
Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) was developed as an advanced training course for teams of lay people planting Fresh Expressions of Church in Great Britain. I wish I could say MSM is a magic formula, creating new churches to replace those that have reached the end of their lifespan.
Instead, it challenges the Church to rethink itself on at least three levels.
How we lead: We have come to think of the Church in terms of pastor and laity — one doing the skilled work and the other supporting in many ways. But Fresh Expressions of Church are as much the formation of ministry teams as the reformation of professional leaders. Thinking back to the Acts of the Apostles or the Pauline Epistles, new ministries were always the work of what I think of as the apostolic AND: Paul and Silas and Barnabbas and Titus and Phoebe and Priscilla and Aquila and Epaphras and Mary and Andronicus and Junia and many more cited by name. The next generation of church leaders will have complementary ands in every leadership team.
How we finance ministry: As much as I appreciate collecting a salary for doing the things I love – and would likely continue doing even if I won the lottery tomorrow — my income comes from the accumulated wealth of generations. People older than myself, for the most part, have paid the mortgage on buildings we could no longer afford to purchase. In the future, I suspect much ministry will be conducted by teams of lay persons; supported, encouraged and blessed by clergy but not restricted by the availability of the ordained and salaried. We can no more afford to launch only churches build by professional church workers than could the early church — or any of the other church planting movements of history. Unless we are willing to send out mendicants with bowls to beg for their supper, Fresh Expressions of Church will often be the work of those who earn their salary and mingle with the working population as others do. Instead of numbing themselves in front of the computer, console, or TV, dedicated Christ-followers will create new Christian communities through networks of relationships inaccessible to parish focused ministers.
Role of pastors: There must be a shift from pastor centred mission to multi-faceted team. The British MSM was designed to aid groups of eager lay people in need of seasoned advice, theology, and structure and to temper a spontaneous church planting. Guiding an unruly outbreak of enthusiastic lay ministry does not seem to be a significant problem in the Canadian Church. But we cannot forget that the early Church was largely a movement of lay persons mentored by followers of Jesus, tied to the teaching of the apostles, but not to buildings or methodologies.
The difference between a laity that cares beyond its friendship networks and one that is ingrown appears to lie in one of the eight measureable quality characteristics of Natural Church Development (NCD). Passionate Spirituality is the ability to apply one’s love for God, one’s knowledge of scripture, one’s experience of the transforming power of God to everyday life and relationships at home, in community and at work. It is that extra “something” that pushes past loving fellowship and a crowded agenda of work and leisure to a life that follows in the footsteps of Jesus — and of the 12 — and the 72, and 500 and so on through to those who mentored the ministries of which each of us are a part.
Does the world need another course to learn how to plant a church or fresh expression of Church? If it does, MSM is a pretty good one.
But I think we must strive for more than more than deepened knowledge. We need to recruit young people and active retirees and persons whose circumstances allow them to live simply in order to serve God’s mission in the world. We need priests and pastors ready to rethink tried and steady patterns of ministry that support a passive laity.
We need to revise the rules of a game which can be played out with one active pulpit, before an audience of passive pews. MSM is a team sport. Gather a gang of two or three or ten, and see what you can do. I can safely say that God is on your side.