Mainstreaming pioneer ministry (Richard Sudworth)

Richard SudworthRichard Sudworth discusses mainstreaming pioneer ministry.

A recent series of blog posts by Kester Brewin (Has What Emerged Retreated?) wonders whether the radical church engagements with contemporary British culture in the 1980s and 1990s are now being institutionalised. For Kester, pioneer ordination may be a contradiction in terms for those Christians leading a creative revival.

Kester's point is well made but is in danger of making institution per se the bugbear. With all its faults, frustrations, bureaucracies and sheer awkwardness of diversity, church simply has to offer a deep connectivity between the old and the new, the creative and the inherited. Pioneers cannot afford to 'go it alone' without defeating the essence of what church is. Inherited patterns of church cannot afford to ignore the vast gulf between the worshipping community and society without failing the vocation of the church.

My contention, though, is that a far more radical reappraisal of pioneer ministry is required. Jonny Baker has reflected on the approach to training that CMS are offering through their own pioneer stream. Jonny observes that many institutions are providing a pioneer package that is essentially 'priest-plus': the existing ordination route with an added 'mission' extra. The CMS pattern, by contrast, is learning 'on-the-job'. My own experience, too, has been, as with many other pioneers, a 'mixed mode' package of ministry and reflection. Yet, even here, the question repeatedly arises of: 'What extra do we need to give you that supports your pioneer track?'

The truly innovative step would be to offer training that is wholly related to the context of mission. A retired colleague in the world of Christian-Muslim relations attempted to re-order the syllabus for an Anglican theological college some 20 years ago. His ambition was to ensure that whenever students were taught doctrine, church history, liturgy, homiletics, hermeneutics et al, ordinands were asked: 'Now what does this mean for the church as it engages Islam?'

Pioneer ordination is neither institutional enough, nor radical enough

Naturally, this failed ambition was a consequence of his desire to raise the profile of Christian-Muslim relations. We could equally replace Christian-Muslim relations with 'youth' or 'young professionals' or 'sink-estate families'. The proposal reveals a profounder principle of the relational and missional nature of the Christian faith, though. Surely, all ordinands need to learn in a cycle of action-reflection, without compromising the benefits for some of concentrated academic study. Surely, all ordinands need to root their appreciation of church history, for example, in the contemporary relevance of what is to be retrieved from the past. How can the standard offerings of ordination training not be related to missional contexts?

Pioneer ordination is a wonderfully permission-giving step forward for the Church of England. Paradoxically, I would like to assert that it is neither institutional enough, nor radical enough. The motifs of diversity in unity that should characterise the church mean for me that CMS's exciting proposal is as second-best as the current pioneer track offered by dioceses.

The best, surely, is a situation where there is a root-and-branch reappraisal of all ordination training practices. I cannot think of any contemporary church context that does not demand a 'missionary theology', and I would suggest that it is a missionary theology that serves the story of which we are a part. That missionary theology will also be attentive to those parts of the body that will struggle with change and even be dying.

The laudable but incomplete enterprise of pioneer ordination seems to suggest that there is a 'core' learning required for church ministry with 'added extras' for those entrepreneurial specialists. The answer is not to argue for pioneers to be unsullied by the contamination of the institution but to reframe the entirety of the institution around the demands of contemporary mission.

360 degree listening (Richard Sudworth)

Richard Sudworth explores 360 degree listening.

Richard SudworthIn one of my all-time favourite TV shows, an American police sergeant used to send his officers out onto their beat with a: 'Now, make sure you do it to them before they do it to you!' I have lived and worked amongst Muslims in Britain for over five years now and there's a lot of talk about mission and church planting that sounds worryingly like that clarion call to arms. I wonder, though, whether you've ever considered mission as, primarily, a task of listening?

It takes incredible security and self-confidence to listen well. Good listeners don't feel the need to interrupt and make their point. Isn't it obvious when someone is not listening but just waiting for a pause to say what they want to say? Too much of our mission is like that!

In the church where I am based we have a slogan: 'Let the draught go both ways'. We used to have a draughty corridor connecting Sunday worship (the main church building) with nursery services, stay-and-play, youth and after school clubs (church hall). We figured this was a good metaphor for what God's vision was for us as a church community. The 'draught' of our prayer, worship, Scripture reading (in traditional terms, the 'Sunday' stuff), needed to impact the community Monday to Saturday. But that was not all. The life of the community needed to impact us; Monday to Saturday would change us.

The thing is, real listening changes us. Conversations become different; relationships deepen. And genuine listening isn't passive; you need to check you've been understood, reflect back, and sometimes to challenge. In one sense, my own mission context of other faiths, and in particular, Islam, raises the stakes. Dare I say that we as a church community have learned from our Muslim neighbours? Can we say that part of our mission is to be able to receive something from our community too?

I can say that we have, and when I look at our example of Jesus, that we ought. It's not to deny the times when we have had to challenge, present Jesus explicitly, more boldly explain the hope that underscores all that we do. But active listening as an approach to mission is less about knowing in advance what you will do. Rather, it's being prepared to be vulnerable; it's mission as relationship rather than strategy.