New times call for new ways of being church (Michael Volland)

Michael VollandMichael Volland states that new times call for new ways of being church.

Since the publication of the Mission-shaped Church report in 2004, the church in the UK has gradually begun to recognise that as well as continuing to support and build up inherited forms of church, the advancement of God's kingdom requires the training, deployment and support of Ordained Pioneers who might serve as catalysts for the emergence of Christian communities in the midst of culture.

Here at Cranmer Hall in Durham I have been given responsibility for designing and delivering a training pathway for Ordained Pioneer Ministry. This task has inevitably led to many discussions with pioneers, bishops, and DDOs about how pioneers relate to the institutions that are creating space for them.

As with any new venture, there are bound to be all sorts of complex teething (and ongoing) issues – especially since the rationale for Ordained Pioneer Ministry has involved the church recognising the need to ordain and utilise the gifts of those who may see the relationship between culture and church in fresh and potentially challenging ways.

Many pioneers have an entrepreneurial flare that is being harnessed for the sake of the gospel and used to gather and nurture new communities of faith. But if the whole church is going to grasp the mixed economy vision, Ordained Pioneer Ministers must be ambassadors who are present at the centre of the church, as well as entrepreneurs operating at the edges.

What seems to be required at this point is patient endurance that is held in tension with prophetic creativity

In order to be ambassadors for a ministry with a particular focus on creativity and fresh thinking, the lives of Ordained Pioneers must also be marked by highly visible levels of maturity and humility. If the concept and practice of Ordained Pioneer Ministry is to gain widespread and genuinely heartfelt support, then those engaged in such a ministry must demonstrate a genuine willingness to listen and learn as well to speak and teach. Innovations will be owned and shared within a wider church that feels it is in conversation with pioneer ministers.

There is no doubt that new times call for new ways of being church. The new country stands before us, but the whole church must make the journey into it. For those whose understanding of the times gives them a sense that perhaps they can see a little further ahead, there is always the temptation to rush on alone or with a few others in tow.

But what seems to be required at this point is patient endurance that is held in tension with prophetic creativity. If pioneers catch glimpses of the new country, then they must speak of it wisely. People can only hear so much in one go. Pioneers must tread gently but firmly and they must keep moving forward at a pace that honours the whole church.

Fresh expressions: time for a revolution? (Michael Volland)

Michael VollandMichael Volland asks whether it's time for a revolution.

The trailblazing Fresh Expressions initiative coming out of the UK… has generated some wonderfully creative new forms (of church) but it seems to have had only marginal impact on its organisations. Wholesale renewal has not come about through its efforts precisely because it is a skunk works project – operating far from the centre of the organization… Unless these experimental forums are heartily owned by the broader system, their paradigmatic change remains a pipedream.

Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim, The Permament Revolution, Jossey-Bass, 2012, p172

That quote comes from chapter 8 of The Permanent Revolution by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim. The statement was tucked away at the foot of page 172 but I thought it was worth sharing on a Facebook mission forum. My post – on the page for the Missional Communities, Orders and Project Hub at CMS – generated 67 comments, including several from Hirsch himself. It has since prompted me to provoke further (constructive) thought and discussion around the question of the impact of the Fresh Expressions initiative on the DNA of its partner denominations.

Hirsch and Catchim argue that – after 1700 years of Christendom – the Church needs to re-establish the fivefold ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. They:

  • focus especially on the Church's need to recover apostolic imagination and practice;
  • point out the need for a reformulation of '…the ways that we think about church and the ways that we envision ministry and leadership';
  • articulate their desire to liberate minds and vocations;
  • highlight the need to change the game.

They are also unapologetic about their provocative vision and, although their work is scholarly and highly nuanced, no one would expect a book with the word ‘revolution’ in the title to be awash with gentle suggestions or to shy away from confrontation with established institutions.

Hirsch and Catchim's analysis of the missional situation in the West rightly propels their writing forward with the sort of urgency that generates straight talking. 'Straight talking' by human beings can never come from a place of absolute understanding but it is useful when it emerges out of reflection on long experience and it can be just what is needed to generate a serious re-appraisal of a given situation. Few who are concerned about the way in which the UK Church is to engage in the mission of Jesus would dismiss Hirsch and Catchim's straight talking out of hand. Of course, having said all of this, it is still right to question whether their comment about the impact of Fresh Expressions on partner denominations is entirely fair. And we cannot ignore the fact that they are writing from the United States and are therefore not fully immersed in the UK scene. However, the relative fairness of a comment from across the Pond shouldn't keep us from hearing something that might be important!

Some UK-based contributors to the Facebook comment stream viewed Hirsch and Catchim as making an unfair and under-informed critique of the state of play here. They emphasised the huge number of new initiatives that have occurred in the wake of the Mission-shaped Church report (2004) and to evidence of significant changes at the centre that would have been unimaginable a few years ago, including lay and ordained Pioneer Ministry, Bishop's Mission Orders, FEASTs, mission shaped ministry, Pioneer curacies and incumbencies, partnerships with the other denominations and para-church agencies.

Clearly the Fresh Expressions initiative has had a hugely positive impact in the UK and further afield. We can already see significant fruit and there is much more to come as various initiatives grow into maturity and as those who have come to faith via various fresh expressions inhabit their denominations and begin to have a say in shaping them.

Hirsch and Catchim do not contest any of this. In fact they celebrate it (read the quote again!) Rather, their view is that the missional mindset at the heart of the Fresh Expressions initiative does not appear to have been heartily owned across the UK system. This means that the sort of wholesale paradigmatic change that they believe should result from the activities of an apostolic church has not occurred – and indeed will not occur. They say it is all well and good to point to the progress that has been made but there are still significant changes required at the very heart of the denominations. This is not to diminish the work already done or to knock the denominations for the sake of it. It is rather to challenge us to take more seriously the need for a fundamental shift of perception and imagination at the core of the denominations as well as at the cutting edges.

Becoming defensive is one response to Hirsch and Catchim. This might involve pointing to the fundamentally incarnational (and therefore theoretically missional) nature of Anglican ecclesiology or drawing up a long list of success stories. I suggest that defensiveness is a waste of precious time. Challenges like Hirsch and Catchim's are helpful because they provoke us to look beyond our progress (actual or imagined) at what has remained untouched and which might require wise and courageous fresh attention.

Hirsch and Catchim go on to say,

If entrepreneurial effort is only sporadic, then serous systemic missional change is unlikely.

In North East England (I'm aware it may be a very different story elsewhere) an entrepreneurial or apostolic approach to mission has, in my opinion, been sporadic. I know this because I work with clergy and churches across the region. While I love the Church and trust the God who is able to breathe life into barren places, I also see the need for 'experimental forms being heartily owned by the broader system'. In this sense (and in my context) I think Hirsch and Catchim's work is a useful spur to ongoing efforts in the direction of paradigmatic change.

Should I be an entrepreneur for Christ?

Revd Michael Volland, Director of Mission and Tutor in Pioneering at Cranmer Hall, Durham, is conducting research into entrepreneurial clergy as part of a doctorate at Durham University. He is a co-author of Fresh! An introduction to fresh expressions of church and pioneer ministry where he looks at what it means to be a missionary entrepreneur.

Watch Michael Volland explain what makes a good entrepreneur below.

Should I be an entrepreneur for Christ?

The guidelines for selection of ordained pioneer ministers are clear, 'Bishops' Advisers should watch for candidates who have the necessary vision and gifts to be missionary entrepreneurs.'

What are the sorts of images that come to mind when you consider the word 'entrepreneur'? Is it a word that you are generally comfortable with or one you instinctively recoil from? Maybe you are content for it to reside in the world of commerce but have an issue with its use in relation to Christian ministry and mission.

I suggest that the Church of England stands to gain a great deal by using the word entrepreneur and by drawing on the concept of entrepreneurship. However, the entrepreneurship I am considering does not have the generation of money as its focus. Instead, I say that we use the concept of entrepreneurship – of thinking and acting entrepreneurially – as an aid to reflecting on the ways in which Christians in the UK might approach the task of mission.

In my experience the word, entrepreneur, draws a mixed response when it is used in relation to Christian ministry. Although some are happy with it, more often than not it prompts anything from discomfort to fervent objection. This is in no doubt due to its association with greedy self-interest – an association that can be seen to be fostered by such TV favourites as The Apprentice and Dragons' Den.

While the instinctive reaction of many Christians might be to steer clear of the word and its apparently worldly connotations, it is nevertheless true that a good number of the characteristics associated with entrepreneurship are those that we see displayed in Christians who are catalysts for imaginative change in communities and churches. These include 'pioneers' – but it is certainly not limited to those with this label and in fact it takes in a range of people serving the Church in parishes all over England who may never have heard of pioneer ministry! Not all Christians are natural entrepreneurs, but a good deal more than we imagine have entrepreneurial potential and when this potential is nurtured and given space to breathe, a pioneering approach to mission and ministry is often the result.

As my own fascination with entrepreneurship has grown I have spoken enthusiastically to those who would listen about the possibility of an entrepreneurial approach to Christian mission. The problem I've often encountered is that people just don't seem to be able to get beyond the 'get-rich-quick' stereotype of entrepreneurs. With this in mind I set about trying to find a suitable definition, realising that whatever I ended up with would need to retain something of the essence of the entrepreneur in commerce while stripping away the associations with greed and self-interest that make the notion of entrepreneurship unpalatable to some Christians.

It transpires that there is no widely accepted definition of the word entrepreneur. What I noticed as I read about entrepreneurs was the reoccurrence of words such as: creative; innovative; energetic; focused; visionary. In short, things that I would hope to see to varying degrees in those involved in Christian mission.

During my reading I discovered a definition constructed by Dr Bill Bolton and Professor John Thompson. Of all the possibilities on offer, theirs was the most helpful and has shaped my thinking in this area enormously. According to them, 'An entrepreneur is a person who habitually creates and innovates to build something of recognized value around perceived opportunities.'

As I have set out this understanding of the entrepreneur in conversations with Christians it has generally been well received. One parish priest, initially uncomfortable with the prospect of associating her ministry with that of being an entrepreneur, commented after a long discussion, 'When I look at it like that, I'd like to be more entrepreneurial!'

I propose that the language of entrepreneurship offers the Church a useful lens through which to imagine the shape of mission for our emerging culture. The concept offers a way of thinking about the missional task to which we are called and the kind of approach that some Christians might take towards it. Which is all very well, except the question inevitably comes back, 'So, what should we do?' In the course of my research into entrepreneurship I've been asking lay people and clergy what factors they feel encourage and enable the exercise of mission-minded entrepreneurship in the parish. The responses are inspiring.

The list begins with things like prayer, encouragement, outward focus and the tangible presence of faith, hope and love. It goes on to include the need for vision, trust, strong teams, the sharing of stories, experiencing fruitfulness and high levels of personal discipleship. It also includes the importance of having positive entrepreneurial role models and being given opportunities to build confidence by attempting new things. A curate in the Diocese of Durham cited gaining experience of other parishes, churches and even other cultures as a way of broadening horizons and mindsets and grasping not just fresh ideas but an entirely new kind of creativity. Perhaps most importantly, one priest spoke of the importance of understanding that the Holy Spirit is opening up opportunities all of the time and that part of what the Church must be about is responding to those opportunities entrepreneurially rather than ignoring or missing them.

Enabling more Christians (including clergy) to recognise their entrepreneurial flair and to exercise entrepreneurial ministries requires that, as a Church, we make a priority of striving to do at least some of the things listed above. As we do so we will be putting our shoulder to the task of building a culture in the Church of hope, permission, communication, collaboration, ideas-sharing, mutual encouragement, strategic thinking, and proper recognition. A Church with this kind of culture will be well suited to sharing the Gospel faithfully in twenty first century Britain.