Margins and mainstream

Over 200 people gathered in Southwark Cathedral on Saturday for the first annual National Anglican Fresh Expressions Conference. They were greeted by the Bishop of  Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun and the day was a joint venture between Fresh Expressions and the Diocese of Southwark.

Keynote addresses and a selection of seminars made up the day and the three main addresses are available below.

Session 1: moving from margins to mainstream (Dave Male)

Session 2: prophetic pioneering (Karen Ward)

Session 3: mainstream, whirlpools and watefalls (Paul Bayes)

Steve Harris, Communications Officer for the Diocese of Southwark, said of the day:

Nearly 200 people gathered in Southwark Cathedral for Margins to Mainstream – the 2015 Anglican Fresh Expressions Conference – on Saturday 21st November.

They had come from as far afield as Switzerland to hear inspiring speakers talk about their experiences of working with and in fresh expressions of church and to take part in seminars covering all dimensions of the fresh expressions experience.

The meeting opened with worship and welcomes from the Archbishop of Canterbury who spoke to the conference by video. They were also welcomed, in person, by the Bishop of Southwark – the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, the Southwark Diocesan Missioner – the Revd Canon Dr Stephen Hance and Revd Canon Phil Potter – Archbishops' Missioner and Fresh Expressions Team Leader.

The first keynote speaker was Revd Dave Male, the Church of England's National Adviser for Pioneer Development, who spoke on the subject of 'Moving from Margins to Mainstream'.

After coffee, which also offered people the chance to visit the marketplace, the next keynote speaker was the Revd Canon Karen Ward. Karen had come over from the USA to speak about Prophetic Pioneering. She is the Vicar of St Andrew and All Souls Episcopal Church, Portland, Oregon, a 'new parish' mission of the Diocese of Oregon, which founded a new church (Portland Abbey) within an old and failing parish congregation.

Lunch brought an opportunity to sample the delights of Borough Market which is next to Southwark Cathedral. Following this it was time to break into groups for the seminars before joining together again at the local church of St George the Martyr, Southwark  ('The Borough Church') for the final keynote speech from Bishop Paul Bayes on Mainstreams, Whirlpools and Waterfalls.

Supporting ‘the quiet revolution’

Dave Male shares some of the issues he has come across in his new role supporting pioneers across the country.

It is very exciting that the Church of England has created this new role of National Advisor for Pioneer Development, based in Ministry Division. This illustrates how far fresh expressions and pioneering has developed over the last ten years. I planted the Net Church in Huddersfield in 1999, with a small team. Back then there was not even an agreed vocabulary for what we were doing let alone much support or any sign of a national organisation. It has been incredible how far things have come in a short time. But my appointment was also made because there is a wide recognition across the denominations that there is still much to be done in enabling pioneers and pioneers to fully infuse the life of the Church.

My appointment in that role earlier this year has already provided me with some food for thought:

We need pioneers

The good news is I have found very little dissension about this at a national level across the denominations and it is exciting and encouraging for me to be part of a Ministry Division which is seeking 'to reshape, re-energise and reimagine ministry, a ministry shaped by mission'. I hear lots of talk about the possibilities of innovative, creative and flexible ministries. If we want to connect every community in Britain with Jesus; pioneers and pioneering are going to be vital to the future of the Church in Britain.

But what do we mean by pioneer?

Now this is where it gets trickier. I often hear people saying at regional and local church level, 'Well of course we are all pioneers', or 'are pioneers not simply old-style evangelists?' The danger is we all use the same word but invest it with a myriad of meanings. Ultimately this ends up divesting the word of its integrity.

I would agree that pioneers come in many styles and shapes. But I want to argue pioneers have a distinct vocation and gifting which is the main focus of their ministry. Pioneers have the abilities to work primarily with those outside the church to form new ecclesial communities with these people. Often this is done in places where the Church has minimal presence. So therefore we have to enable and allow them to do what they do best. The Church of England's 2005 Guidelines for Ordained Pioneer Ministers states, 'It is important that they are not pressed into becoming ministers of existing churches but are deployed in pioneering contexts'.

We need to let pioneers 'pioneer'

There are good pioneers who want to pioneer from an established church but many pioneers want to work in, and from, the margins without all the encumbrance of running a traditional church. This is not a bad thing or 'pampering to their arrogance', but a recognition of their distinct vocation. We have to find ways to enable this to happen across the denominations; giving them effective and flexible support, networks and accountability which means they are both free but also rooted. We need to find creative ways of resourcing such posts. But many of these pioneers will to need to understand that their freedom to pioneer will mean they will have to find and develop their own financial resources as part of their pioneering practice.

We need thousands more pioneers

We have started but we are not finished. We need not just hundreds but thousands more pioneers. I would love to see 5,000-10,000 recognised pioneers in the Church of England by 2025 taking the gospel everywhere and letting the good news do its work of forming new contextual communities around Jesus. I know other denominations are forming plans to grow the number of pioneers. Most of these pioneers will be lay people, pioneering in their 'spare time' and we need to create flexible and supportive ways to help them develop their pioneer vocation. There is a quiet revolution happening in churches up and down the country which involves lay people saying, 'There must be another way to do this'. We have to find ways to catalyse this huge energy which is already transforming churches and communities. We have to support the quiet revolution.

Church Unplugged or Pimp My Church (Dave Male)

Dave MaleDavid Male tries pimping his church – but settles for unplugging it.

Pimp My Church was my first choice for the title of my book Church Unplugged, but music TV channel MTV were not happy with me using it. (I did also wonder how I would explain that particular title to my mother and mother-in-law!)

For those unaware of the MTV programme, Pimp My Ride takes a conventional car and gives it a total makeover plus! There are very few limits, so your boring family car could end up with a water fountain and a DJ's sound system. The programme makers say, 'We turn lemons into lemonade so that you can drive down the street with your head held high.'

Part of the attraction of the title for me was the tension between totally transforming something on the outside to every conceivable extreme, but in terms of its engine, transmission, etc, it stays a conventional car. Everything changes and yet somehow nothing really changes.

My worry sometimes with all that is happening under the banner of fresh expressions of church/church planting is the danger that it can be simultaneously spectacular and superficial. I am by nature an optimist, but I worry we are too easily entranced by what seems to be spectacular. Often people tell me about some amazing church plant that now has 300 people within a year, but then when you start to ask some hard questions of how many of those are truly unchurched people who are now becoming disciples of Jesus the answers look far less convincing. The growth, I am afraid, is often the success of the marketplace, attracting Christians from other churches and the de-churched back.

My worry with all that is happening under the banner of fresh expressions of church/church planting is the danger that it can be simultaneously spectacular and superficial

My plea is: let's not just pimp the church but let's consider the greater work of what it might mean for us to do the harder labour of working with the engine, the gear box, the brakes and the transmission! The danger is we are too easily wowed by the shining exterior and clever gadgets!

Maybe the alternative book title was, in the end, more challenging: to do the hard work of taking what we are doing in this thing we call 'church' and to attempt to strip it back to first principles before proceeding to rebuild. That's what happened with the writing of my book as I simply offer ten principles that need to be considered in engineering something new. The principles are nothing new but simply come out of seven years of experience of working with some amazing people to create a church that connected with unchurched people in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.

One of the reasons I wrote the book is because ours is a very ordinary story in a very ordinary town. It may not seem  spectacular, but it's not superficial and I hope will play a small part in helping the church not just to work on the chassis but get under the bonnet.

Have a coffee and take your time! (Dave Male)

Dave Male has a coffee and takes his time.

Dave MaleI can honestly say it was one of the greatest privileges of my ministry to be involved in the first national Pioneers Conference in Cambridge this Easter. It was a wonderful meeting place for pioneers to learn, share together, worship and have fun.

We asked everyone present: 'If there was one thing you could do differently what would it have been?' The overwhelming answer was a desire to have had a longer period of preparation before launching into the fresh expression; a longer period for listening to God, praying, engaging with the community, developing the team, clarifying the vision and values, and many other things.

Often there was sensed by the pioneer a pressure to get going as soon as possible. This pressure sometimes came from the self-expectations of the pioneer. Sometimes it was from the team that wanted to get going, or a deanery, circuit or diocese that wanted something to happen and some success to celebrate.

A longer period of preparation before launching into the fresh expression

My wife has been involved in rowing races all week here in Cambridge. So far it has been a dismal week for her crew. The main issue has been problems at the start which then handicapped them for the rest of the race. It's better to invest the time and energy in getting that start right.

2009 pioneers' conferenceMy experience with church planting is that you will never get to the point where you are perfectly ready. But maybe it is important not to be pressurised into going too early. Take your time as you respond to God's timing.

And why not think about joining us at our Pioneers Conference in 2010, July 5-7 at Kings Park, Northampton?

Safety nets or fishing nets (Dave Male)

Dave MaleDave Male asks whether we are using fishing nets or safety nets.

I feel I have to respond to Paul Roberts' Share blog of 27th April entitled, What is missional?, Paul argues that a church he is involved in can be missional without 'a proven and primary capacity to bring unbelievers to faith and discipleship'. He adds that 'full-on intentional evangelism work is still on the back foot'.

Sorry Paul, but that's not missional! It may well be important and necessary work, but it's not missional. But I do think Paul highlights an important discussion concerning what we mean by 'missional'. The danger I find is that with many emerging churches, everything is missional but mention evangelism at your peril.

Yet David Bosch, whose work on the Missio Dei is at the heart of our missional language, writes: 'Evangelism is the core, heart or centre of mission. We do not believe that the central dimension of evangelism, as calling people to faith and new life can ever be relinquished. I have called evangelism the heart of mission. With evangelism cut out, mission dies: it ceases to be mission' (Evangelism: Theological Currents and Cross-Currents Today).

Now, I am not suggesting that evangelism and mission are synonymous, but I do believe that evangelism is at the very heart of mission. We do not help the fresh expression movement if we are not enabling unchurched people to become transformed and transforming disciples of Jesus. As I have written elsewhere, we have too many safety nets and not enough fishing nets.

With many emerging churches, everything is missional but mention evangelism at your peril

We also do evangelism a disservice when we divorce it from discipleship. As Graham Cray says in the June 2009 edition of the e-xpressions newsletter, we need both quantity and quality. It is about winning people to Christ, but it is also about the qualities of discipleship that we are seeing developed in new converts and their communities.

The danger is we reject evangelism because our present (or past) models are deficient for this age. But that's no reason to excuse ourselves from the work of evangelism. The need is great today and so we must to do the hard work of seeking out and developing good, faithful and relevant models of evangelism. (There is no one model!)

Scott McKnight, the American theologian, in a recent article in Christianity Magazine (April 2009) on the emerging church, put it most bluntly and starkly when he wrote, 'Any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord.'

Is the church in danger of domesticating and institutionalising pioneers? (Dave Male)

Dave Male asks whether the church is in danger of domesticating and institutionalising pioneers.

Dave MaleI thoroughly agreed with everything that Mark Russell wrote on the Share Blog on 2nd January (What a great picture for a caption competition as well, Mark! Any suggestions?) We need more pioneers and evangelists working on the margin and with the gifts and abilities to connect with people way outside the orbit of the church.

I think my fear is that we, as the church, can be in danger of domesticating and institutionalising pioneers, and I say this as someone who is involved in training pioneers. I worry sometimes where the dangerous and radical pioneers are. I hear discussions amongst possible pioneers about job prospects, career opportunities, education possibilities, stipends and pay, housing and pensions, but less of the 'go anywhere, do anything, send me out for the sake of the good news of Jesus' approach … and training institutions can sometimes give the impression that what really matters is the ability to fit in and not rock the boat, while of course getting good marks for your essays.

Two recent experiences have really got me thinking. Firstly, I recently was talking with another leader and we started talking about what you actually need to know in terms of education and training before you can start pioneering. A very interesting conversation ensued during which we reckoned the essential information required was very modest, requiring a month at the most, and further training could be provided as required by the situation and context.

Secondly, I was reading a conversation between two church leaders in America. They were each asked how they would start a church. One talked about raising money, paying leaders, hiring facilities, creating a worship event. The second replied, 'We would drop two people off in the centre of the town and then spend a lot of time in prayer.' Now, that got me thinking…

An interview with Dave Male

The Fresh Expressions Canada team interview Dave Male – what is a pioneer, what led you to start the Net, we would like to start something new…, what is church, how soon do we start public worship, how are new Christian communities formed, how do we form community outside the church walls, what is Christian love, is there hope for the future and is it possible to wait too long?