Remissioning Towards a New Future
The old ways of 'Church' in western society has long gone. Each year the challenges for Denominational Churches in the western world are seemingly impassable. Congregations are being consolidated, some churches have closed, worshippers are aging, and different branches of Christianity are closely collaborating in ways unimaginable to 20th‑Century Christians. The questions presented include: Are all these churches still relevant…and, if so…for how long? What’s to be done with them after they lose their economic base?
The question can be asked whether Charles Wesley would have had mixed reactions upon discovering that we still sing his songs in our churches in the 21st Century? Though initially he might be flattered that his powerful theology communicated through music has provoked such love and longevity, he would also spin in his grave to find that we managed to keep his life work intact, but failed to learn from his lifestyle. His lifestyle was writing music that was relevant to his community. He might wonder why we failed in that respect.
Phyllis Tickle a prophetic voice in the emerging church movement, and someone possessing a joyful sense of humor, would regularly ask church leaders if they were prepared to remove their pews. The answer to this simple question revealed much about their underlying values. While pews were an ingenious way of comfortably seating large groups of people in the 16th and 17th Centuries, the world has changed. Unfortunately, pews have come to be considered a part of our ecclesiology rather than a comfortable seating arrangement for congregations.
‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’ were the informal version of ‘You’ and ‘Your’ in the 17th Century. While the language has changed around us, we have held on to the words of the past. Rather than faithfulness to the Gospel, it is an unfaithfulness to the heart of God that our forefathers were striving to make known.
The elephant in the room is that a growing number of people in western society will never participate in current forms of Church. This presents a challenge if all your key organizational decisions are based around folks whose Sunday mornings include stepping into a building.
In our context of the Diocese of Montreal a mixed economy of church is emerging. Going forward we are making plans to support a broad spectrum of 'church.' To include 'emerging church,' 'fresh expressions' and 'church planting,' all of which are intended to further the traditional model of parish church structure, which is itself experiencing a radical restructuring in the face of the financial realities of our many small declining congregations.
While many are quick to moan and lament the losses, few have suggested transformative-theologically-based-alternatives rather than popular-culture-based-solutions. In our set of Values & Principles* we will strive to include:
The medium is the message. In the same way that words are interpreted primarily through tone and body language, words about God in church are interpreted through atmosphere and approach. Church will not simply be a gathering but a multi-sensory experience of the Christian faith. This will apply to everything from seating, lighting and visuals to music, refreshments and format.
New Churches will not commence as a gathering until the leadership team have developed relationships with a core group interested in it. While many churches are attractional in outlook (e.g. how do we get people into pews?), 21st century Church will be incarnational, seeking to embody the Christian faith to folk—both connected to and disconnected—from the Anglican Church and others. This will involve being connected with University activities and societies, building relationships with young people in parishes and participating in University nightlife in Montreal.
Participants will be invited into conversation as part of each gathering. Rather than being dissected over Sunday lunch, the message/sermon will be dissected onsite, over coffee, as part of the gathering. All efforts will be made to use social media to continue this conversation throughout the week.
Rather than lifting up good listeners, church will seek to uplift well-trained, talented and insightful communicators. Rather than raising up good musicians to play traditional and contemporary music, church will seek to raise up songwriters and poets who will communicate their personal experience of faith and the experience of the community. This does not just involve those who would take part in the worship elements of the gathering; it will be inclusive of administrators, mentors, counselors, youth workers and leaders, too.
Incarnational vs. Attractional
When Jesus sends out the 72 in Luke 10, he does not send them out as staff to run one large event that will attract people to it. Instead, he sends them out in pairs to different areas. When they arrive, they build relationships, demonstrate the coming of the Kingdom and then explain what it means. In the same way, Church will not start as an event to which people are invited but rather a network of people serving their local community, demonstrating the Kingdom. When a regular worship gathering commences, it will be a response to local need, curiosity and engagement.
Caught, not Taught
When Jesus sought to train the disciples, he didn’t start a Theological College or a formal training program. He called them first as spectators—then as participants—in his ministry, their lives having been fully immersed in it. If we truly want Fresh Expressions of ministries to flourish throughout the Anglican Church in Canada, it will be ‘caught, not taught.’ There will be a temptation to prescribe to all churches a uniform training program, reading materials or resources for new styles of ministry. This would spread available resources too thinly and be akin to planting good seed on shallow soil that would be unable to sustain long term growth. A better approach would be to pour all available resources into a new faith community that will train and disciple leaders who can take what they’ve ‘caught’ to other areas.
Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the Earth
When Jesus ascends and the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples, they do not immediately split to plant churches all over the world. First, they gather together where they are (Jerusalem) where they grow together, grow in number and others grow in understanding. By the time that persecution forces them out of Jerusalem, the Twelve have anointed the Seven who go on to be powerful evangelists, prophets and church leaders. But their training does not begin with information; it begins with service in a community that feeds widows and orphans.
Church leaders in the 21st century will be shaped through the act of serving those in need. Church will only divide to go to other places when it has trained up enough local leaders to be sustainable and when the split up pieces are trained well enough to be self‑sustaining in new areas. It will take extraordinary leaders to set up new ways of being church.
But that’s what Christians try to do: the ordinary extraordinarily.
Mark Dunwoody, Diocesan Missioner, Anglican Diocese of Montreal
*Includes thoughts from Scott Evans, an Irish theologian, writer and friend of the Diocese of Montreal