Monthly Archives: March 2015

follow_me

Three Keys To Mission Part 3: Discipleship

In the March/April edition of Theology Journal I wrote about the Three Keys to Mission used in the planting and establishment of Glo Church. Here is the third and final part of the article; the whole text is available at bit.ly/3keystomission.

Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship

Discipleship

Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples.(30) The faith we have received is the faith we are to pass on: through the church which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ‘The church must make clear that anyone may come and find acceptance, no matter their lifestyle. But coming to Christ and becoming his disciple requires a life change,’ writes Stetzer,(31) while Cray suggests that ‘the ultimate test of any expression of church…is what quality of disciples are made there?’(32) He continues, ‘character formation is the object of disciple making. It is achieved through habit, through godly repetition.’(33) This concept has formed Glo Church in two ways: one incarnational and the other institutional.

Incarnationally, we have five practices that define our life together using the acronym BEATS. Inspired by Michael Frost, we considered the practices that might help us live the kind of life-long learning to which Jesus called us,(34) not through intellectual consent but through actions.

The ‘B’ is ‘Bless’. Inspired in part by Godwin, who notes that ‘most people find [speaking out blessings] quite difficult to learn’,(35) – we try to bless one person inside the faith community and one person outside the faith community each week.

‘E’ is for Eat; Jesus had many meaningful interactions over mealtimes, and our determination is to spend time over food and/or drink with, again, one person from inside the faith community and one person outside each week.

‘A’ is Ask, our discipline of prayer. Following the monastic tradition of praying regularly in community, we pray at 7.00 a.m., 12.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. These are rarely gathered times of prayer – we ask everyone to pray for someone inside the faith community, someone outside the faith community, and say the Lord’s prayer. A team member may also send a prayer by text message. In this way prayer fits with the vocations to which God has called us, wherever we find ourselves. Those who can also gather to pray at 9.00a.m. each morning at Glo Central, our drop-in, before the work of the day begins.

Discipleship is in the T: ‘Train’. Paul mentions the ‘strict training’ needed by athletes.(36) We are aiming to fulfill the potential that God has put inside us. As Jesus has called us to both be and to make disciples, we talk about ‘giving and receiving support and challenge’: pastoral support alongside accountable relationships, where we encourage one another to grow in Christ.

Finally, the ‘S’ stands for ‘Sent’, and invokes St Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Examen; at the end of each day asking, ‘Where did I work with Jesus? Where did I resist him?’

These five practices shape our individual and communal lives, and give new believers an idea of what life is like as a follower of Jesus, learning to develop our relationships with Christ, the church and the lost.

Institutionally, discipleship happens through structuring the church with small groups, called huddles. Each huddle has a specific mission focus and is the context for support and challenge. In this way we are seeking to learn together, before God, how to hold together the previous two frameworks of kingdom and incarnation, as ‘missionary encounter requires that we hold together basileia (the reign of God), as the content and goal, and incarnation, as the essential strategy’.(37) Becoming more fully obedient to Christ is the way we live in the kingdom and how we incarnate the gospel, following Guder who writes, ‘Jesus Christ forms his church for its incarna- tional witness by making disciples who become apostles.’(38) In these ways we seek to embody the mission of God, which is, according to Bosch, ‘the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world’.(39)

Strengths, weaknesses and future challenges

As with any church there are weaknesses and challenges. The strength of the drop-in centre is that we are able to give people volunteer opportunities in a place where local residents can socialize and access the local foodbank, other projects and council agencies.(40) However, Glo Central is dependent on grants and funding; some also argue that foodbanks are a symptom of rather than a cure to poverty.(41) The question is whether the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, and in this instance our answer is that Glo Central is useful; Stockport Council’s Offerton Neighbourhood Management Board said that it was ‘essential’.

We want Glo Church to be long term, self-sustaining and indigenous; on an estate with considerable challenges, this proves quite a task. We are working to establish some Social Enterprise businesses: the challenge will be to maintain the faith element, so that we do not become simply a business consultancy, but a church that helps others in Jesus’ name. We are starting a new missional community in the other residential area covered by the BMO – this will take some of the team away from Offerton Estate. Other ‘distractions’ include the Bishop of Stockport asking us to share some of our learning, supporting the establishment of The Bridge School of Mission and Church Planting, funded by the Church Commissioners.(42) In encouraging others to invest in mission, our focus could easily sway from reaching out to Offerton residents. Another challenge is to consider the future of Glo Church and its relationship with Church of England structures. The BMO was established for five years, meaning we only have two years left. What happens then? These questions demand answers across the whole institution as Fresh Expressions continue to grow and develop.(43)

A possible future is considered by Nick Spencer in his Parochial Vision, looking back, again, to our monastic forebears. He develops the concept of the ‘Minster Church’, one church overseeing the spiritual life of settlements with an average distance to the Minster of six miles – the distance modern Britons travel on an average journey.(44) Might deaneries become more fruitful areas to consider, with a mixed economy of missional communities and churches serving ‘micro-parishes’ – residential areas and neighbourhoods within the deanery? Then laity and clergy alike could serve around the deanery, supporting and encouraging the different communities of faith, using church buildings as sites for training, support and even business activities generating income.

Conclusion

Glo Church was established through taking Osmer’s four tasks seriously. Three key theological motifs define our life together: kingdom, incarnation and discipleship. These are outworked through individuals and the institution, underpinned by Jesus’ fulfilment of Isaiah 61. It is the role of our church to raise up others who might realize their God-given potential; and it is my role as the leader to help keep the church focused on these three frameworks, that we might be ‘built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’.(45)

 

Note: scriptural translations taken from the NIV.

30. Matt. 28.19.

31. Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church That’s Biblically Sound and Reaching People in Culture (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), p. 264.

32. Graham Cray, ‘Why Is New Monasticism Important to Fresh Expressions?’, in Cray, Mobsby and Kennedy (eds), New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church, pp. 1–11 (3).

33. ibid., pp. 5 and 6.

34. The Greek word for disciple, mathetes, means ‘learner’.

35. Roy Godwin and Dave Roberts, The Grace Outpouring: Becoming a People of Blessing, 
2nd edn (Colorado Springs: Zondervan, 2012), p. 31.

36. 1 Cor. 9.25.

37. Hunsberger and Van Gelder (eds), The Church between Gospel and Culture, p. 75.

38. Darrell Guder, The Incarnation and the Church’s Witness (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf and 
Stock, 2004), p. 21.

39. Bosch, Transforming Mission, 519

40. For example <http://www.stockportflag.org.uk/>, accessed 27 January 2014.

41. <http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/aug/24/food-banks-symptom-failure>, 
accessed 27 January 2014.

42. <http://www.thebridgechurchplanting.co.uk>; 
<http://www.churchgrowthrd.org.uk/UserFiles/File/Development_Funding/ 
Development_Funding_Project_List.pdf>, accessed 27 January 2014.

43. <http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/news/anglicanresearch>, accessed 27 January 
2014.

44. Nick Spencer, Parochial Vision: The Future of the English Parish (Carlisle: Authentic 
Media, 2004), p. 87.

45. 1 Peter 2.5.

 

Image from http://armstrongbiblechapel.com/2014/02/21/community-connections-follow-me/

image

Three Keys to Mission Part 2: Incarnation

In the March/April edition of Theology Journal I wrote about the Three Keys to Mission used in the planting and establishment of Glo Church. Here is the second part of the article; the whole text is available at bit.ly/3keystomission.

Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship

Incarnation

Graham Tomlin writes in The Provocative Church, ‘the kingdom of God…was a truth embodied in [Jesus’] person and life and it was to be embodied in the life of the communities of the kingdom that followed’.(19) Claiborne writes, ‘the incarnation . . . of Jesus [means] he reveals to us what God is like with flesh on’.(20) This is the challenge of incarnation: to demonstrate the love of God, embodied as a community, while recognizing that Jesus was the Incarnation, while we carry our own weakness and brokenness.

Jesus preached the kingdom of God in word and deed, but incarnated in a specific time and place: first-century Judea: ‘God takes seriously not only culture In general but also each particular culture.’(21) It follows that incarnation demands contextualization, or inculturation, a topic linked to the discussion above about worship, and considered in the Mission-shaped Church report.(22) This is why the team was asked to relocate to Offerton; for ‘it is important for the church in each time and place to embody and communicate the life of Christ exactly where it is’. (23)

We learned much from The Message Trust’s ‘Eden’ projects, ‘a movement known for its emphasis on being incarnational’.(24) Quoting Eugene Peterson, Wilson notes that ‘‘‘our Scriptures that bring us the story of salvation ground us unrelentingly in place’’’.(25) As it is the church community which is the embodiment of Christ, however, alongside incarnation comes institution. Within Glo we have come to consider two different forms of mission: incarnational and institutional, following Murray, ‘the church is both a community and a missionary organisation, an institution and a movement’.(26) By relocating, team members have built relationships with local residents and share the gospel of Jesus through interacting with them: ‘incarnational’ mission, the loving offer of help, the touch of a praying hand, the compassionate listening ear. Through these we seek to introduce our neighbours to a God who loves them far more than we ever could.

This goes hand in hand with institutional mission, represented by the formal structure of Glo Church – its name, its reputation, its activity. Bonhoeffer says, ‘[T]he empirical church is the organized ‘‘institution’’ of salvation’,(27) and a community can achieve things impossible for an individual alone. We connect with a number of young people incarnationally – simply by living in the neighbourhood – but running our youth cafe ́, for example, is achieved by the institution of Glo Church mobilizing individuals to have an impact in the community together. Institutional mission offers the establishment of relationships so that the gospel is communicated incarnationally.

In this way, both as a community and as individuals, Glo Church is engaged in mission and evangelism. As Newbigin writes, however, our primary mission begins with our own relationship with God: ‘where the Church is faithful to its Lord, there the powers of the kingdom are present and people begin to ask the question to which the gospel is the answer’.(28) Barth notes that church is ‘communio sanctorum, the communion of the saints, because it is congregatio fidelium, the gathering of the faithful. As such, it is the coniuratio testium, the confederation of the witnesses who may and must speak because they believe’.(29) This witness and faithfulness is developed on our journey of discipleship, the final framework to which we now turn.

Continue reading

Picture from http://www.apuregeneration.com/blog/wearing-the-crown/4150

Three Keys to Mission Part 1: Kingdom

In the March/April edition of Theology Journal I wrote about the Three Keys to Mission used in the planting and establishment of Glo Church. Here is the first part of the article; the whole text is available at bit.ly/3keystomission

Three keys to mission: Kingdom, incarnation and discipleship

Abstract

Through reflective practice, Glo Church has identified and used three keys to mission: declaring God’s kingdom as part of the missio Dei; incarnating the gospel individually and corporately; and offering support and challenge as the basis for discipleship.

Keywords

church planting, discipleship, ecclesiology, incarnation, kingdom, mission, worship

Introduction

Glo stands for ‘God Loves Offerton’. Glo Church was established in March 2011 by the Bishop of Stockport as a Bishop’s Mission Order (BMO). The BMO was his response to a decline in church attendance in Offerton parish, a town on the east side of Stockport in Greater Manchester. The published statistics for the parish cover up the wide variance in levels of poverty: Offerton Estate, where Glo Church began, is primarily social housing, with high poverty indices.(1)

The adventure began through discovering more about the area into which we were planting, the first of Osmer’s four tasks of practical theology:

  1. the descriptive-empirical task
  2. the interpretive task
  3. the normative task
  4. the pragmatic task.(2)

For church plants, the descriptive-empirical task begins with what Osmer calls ‘contexts’ – the bigger picture.(3) When Isaiah 61 was read during our commissioning service, those of us named on the BMO were thinking of Offerton Estate: the poor, the brokenhearted, those captive to substance or physical abuse… they would be oaks of righteousness; they will renew the ruined city.

The first task informed us of a number of challenges, not least, unemployment and a lack of a positive community space. The normative task demanded, what does the Lord think about this? What can we learn from theology and Church history? Isaiah 61 suggests that God wants people to work usefully together, for the benefit of themselves and Offerton. Through study we found that the monasteries, centuries before us, had ‘lifted the hearts of the poor and neglected peasants and inspired them’.(4) The pragmatic task then became identifying actions that could lead to this form of revolution, for God’s sake. Our solution was twofold. One was to seek to establish a faith community which, like the monasteries, had high commitment at its core, with regular prayer and a pattern of life defining it. Second was to establish various projects, including a drop-in centre, offering volunteer opportunities and a social space for local residents.

The faith community has developed using reflective practice. We began with five people who moved into Offerton, demanding a high level of commitment: to each other, to God’s mission and to the vision outlined above, as these ‘ingredients . . . can provide a potent mix for effective discipleship and mission’.(5) Three key theological frameworks have been used in the normative task of developing the church: kingdom, incarnation and discipleship.

Kingdom

In Jesus, Isaiah 61 is fulfilled.(6) This became the good news that Glo was to bring to Offerton. This was our mission: to see these promises outworked, and to pray along with Jesus, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’.(7) Jesus is the essence of this mission, as Philippians 2 sets out – leaving heaven, becoming a servant, humbling himself. His mission was to establish his kingdom here on earth; not to dominate or control but to love. Inspired by this and 1 Corinthians 13, we developed the tagline ‘Faith, Hope and Love in Offerton’. We wanted to encourage those who already had some measure of faith and to encourage the churches around us. If people had some measure of faith but were not worshiping anywhere regularly, we would encourage them back into a community of faith. But if people had no faith, we wanted to point to Jesus as the hope of the world, the one who will bring the peace and justice for which we all long. And for those with no hope, we would offer them love: accepted just as they are, in the same way that God himself loved us.

We sought to be the outworking of Bosch’s principle: ‘it is not the church which ‘‘undertakes’’ mission; it is the missio Dei which constitutes the church’.(8) Frost and Hirsch agree, ‘our Christology informs our missiology, which in turn determines our ecclesiology’.(9) If Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s’ prophecy and the defining factor in this mission, then our work must be loving and humble, while seeking to establish his rule and reign. It is while we are seeking ‘first his kingdom and his righteousness’(10) that we build the relationships and the structures which form the church community: ‘the church connects with Jesus through mission, not through getting church meetings right!’(11)

We want to declare God’s kingdom in word and deed. But what are the implications for our worship? Frost and Hirsch argue that ‘Jesus’ faith community was clearly a centred set, with him at the centre’.(12) However, Jesus’ disciples – the very core of his community – was a bounded set, ‘a group of objects defined by a boundary separating those in the set from those outside the set’.(13) One couldn’t simply choose to become one of Jesus’ disciples; Dulles mentions the Gerasene Demoniac who asked to become a disciple but was told instead ‘to go home’ and proclaim what God had done.(14) It means that the faith community has a bounded set at its core, surrounded by a centred set. At Glo, our team has been a bounded set – bound by three commitments: to Christ demonstrated in a public way (i.e., baptism); to the community of Offerton, demonstrated by our geographical relocation; and to the mission of Glo Church. Those who join with us but who have not made one of these commitments are still welcome, but are part of the wider community, the centred set.

Our worship began in a home: only believers were present, those who were part of the team. Once we outgrew the home and began meeting in a public space, however, the worship changed: more un-churched people joined us – the centred-set principle was working alongside the bounded set already established. So what implications would this have for our worship? Bosch writes: ‘neither a secularized church . . . nor a separatist church . . . can faithfully articulate the missio Dei’.(15) We sought to develop worship that would become a ‘third culture’ – neither syncretistic nor sectarian but ‘symbiotic’: listening to the surrounding culture, while maintaining our worship as Christian within the Anglican tradition – perhaps a church planting example of the via media.(16) In this way, the church becomes a living outworking of the kingdom of God, learning to live ‘as a contrast society and as a catalyst of social transformation’.(17) Thus Glo Church seeks to put into practice the notion that ‘worship is . . . where we learn to be guests and hosts in the kingdom of God’.(18) To be both guest and host is a challenge, but both invoke the next principle of incarnation.

 

Note: scriptural translations taken from the NIV.

 

  1. Stockport Schools Census, 2007; <http://www.caci.co.uk/integrated-marketing/data-products/paycheck>, accessed 20 January 2014; <http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/feb/10/police-communities-loan-sharks-antisocial>, accessed 20 January 2014.
  2. Richard Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 
p. 4.
  3. ibid., p. 12.
  4. David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission 
(Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), p. 232.
  5. Diane Kershaw, ‘The Order of Mission: Being a Sent People’, in Graham Cray, Ian 
Mobsby and Aaron Kennedy (eds), New Monasticism as Fresh Expression of Church 
(London: Canterbury Press, 2010), pp. 80–91 (87).
  6. Luke 4.21.
  7. Matt. 6.10.
  8. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 519.
  9. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission 
for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), p. 209.
  10. Matt. 6.33.
  11. Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, p. 209.
  12. ibid., p. 47.
  13. ibid., p. 47.
  14. Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (New York: Doubleday, 2002), p. 199.
  15. Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 1.
  16. This is a brief summary of my MA thesis: Gareth Robinson, ‘What Is the Role of Worship in Church Plants?’, King’s College London, MA in Theology and Ministry; Dissertation 2013.
  17. Osmer, Practical Theology, p. 191.
  18. Elizabeth Newman, Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers (Grand 
Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), p. 17.

Image from http://www.apuregeneration.com/blog/wearing-the-crown/4150