Gavin Tyte writes his 'to do' list for a journey towards missional community.
I am two-and-a-half years into parish ministry in the Church of England, my mission being to lead a traditional, semi-rural, multi-church benefice into becoming a Missional Community.
I started off employed on a half-time basis and the church currently employs me for four days per week. I came with a lot of vision, drive and a few ideas that I thought might work. There have been highs, such as 300 people turning up for Easter morning worship this year, and lows – including the emails telling me to clear off out of the village.
To be honest, I do feel a little tired and occasionally grumpy because working with people is messy, complicated, frustrating and painful. However, working with God is exciting, fulfilling, energising and inspiring. To this end I would like to share 10 tongue-in-cheek practical 'notes to self' for vicars in the same position as me – working with multiple churches in a semi-rural setting. I hope they will be helpful.
1. Ensure you have a sound theology of mission
Your understanding of the nature and purpose of God and his church will underpin and shape how you do the job. If you think that the purpose of church is to get everyone into Sunday BCP (Book of Common Prayer) worship then you're probably not on the right page. There are some great mission resources out there so it might mean some reading or going to a conference or two. To ensure that your understanding is clear and coherent have a go at writing it down and then put it somewhere public – for example your church website.
2. Be prepared to shift your thinking
Do you oversee more than one church or congregation? Then you have Episcopal oversight. The 'one vicar does it all and takes five services in five churches on a Sunday' is going to go.
3. Adopt a model of multiple churches each with multiple congregations
You might only have one congregation per church when you start. That's okay. Understand that God wants everyone in your communities to know him and be known by him. People will express their spirituality in different ways and long-term you will need to establish multiple congregations such as Messy Church and Youth Church. Don't be afraid of homogeneity – your congregations are probably already homogenous (i.e. aged 65+) but we've been in denial.
4. Grow congregational leaders
Be prepared to give up leading a congregation. I know this goes against everything you were taught in theological college but if God's church is going to grow and be effective in its mission then you need to grow leaders by identifying:
- each existing congregation. Work towards growing one or more people to lead that congregation.
- potential congregations. Look at 'growing' someone to lead these emerging congregations. Gather these leaders together monthly or bi-monthly for mutual encouragement and support. The good news is that you are skilled and trained. It's time to share it.
5. Help existing groups become missional and possibly congregational.
This can include toddler groups, youth groups, choirs, bell-ringers and Bible-study groups, etc. For example, instead of having a traditional youth group, help the youth leader see the youth group as 'church' and release, support and equip them to grow and lead this church. To help groups think missionally, encourage them to complete this strapline, 'We seek to bless the community through…' Some won't budge but don't worry, work with those that are flexible.
6. Stop doing corny or cringe-worthy mission and evangelism
If someone suggests singing 12 traditional hymns on the village green as a form of witness, say no. If you have a 'mission' subcommittee of the PCC, gently scrap it. Mission should underpin all you are as a church. It is through encouraging people to join in with God's mission in the world that people will come to know him. Sure, the old model of inviting people to attractional Sunday worship or an evangelistic event does work with some people but the Church of England has been doing it for years and things aren't going so well are they?
7.Identify the mission areas for each church under your care. Come up with at least three for each church
The good news is that these should be obvious and will simply be a case of identifying and naming that which the church is already doing. For example, in the Church of England we do funerals and visiting in the community so pastoral care is there right away. Other mission areas might be overseas mission, families or school.
8. For each separate church form a staff team that meets weekly
To start off with it might just be you and a churchwarden. Have a strategy to include on this staff team a person that oversees each of the missional areas of the church.
9.Meet God's expectations and not people's
If you try and meet everyone's expectations or live in fear of upsetting people then you will be remain permanently in maintenance mode and the church will stay static. Be clear about the church, its mission and purpose, and warmly invite people to join in. Some will choose not to. Sometimes, although it hurts, you just have to let them go – even if it's the organist and choir. God won't let you down.
10. Ensure you have support for your model of ministry and the mission of your church
For example, aim to go and have coffee with your Diocesan Missioner once per month because their job is to encourage you in mission. Let them do it.