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
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.
church planting, discipleship, ecclesiology, incarnation, kingdom, mission, worship
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:
- the descriptive-empirical task
- the interpretive task
- the normative task
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- Richard Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p. 4.
- ibid., p. 12.
- David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), p. 232.
- 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).
- Luke 4.21.
- Matt. 6.10.
- Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 519.
- Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), p. 209.
- Matt. 6.33.
- Frost and Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, p. 209.
- ibid., p. 47.
- ibid., p. 47.
- Avery Dulles, Models of the Church (New York: Doubleday, 2002), p. 199.
- Bosch, Transforming Mission, p. 1.
- 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.
- Osmer, Practical Theology, p. 191.
- Elizabeth Newman, Untamed Hospitality: Welcoming God and Other Strangers (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), p. 17.