Sunday, December 14, 2008

The right mix

‘We need both a traditional parish doing its work really well and some quite new kinds of venture’ – so said Archbishop Rowan Williams to endorse the Mission-shaped Church report.

CL asked Bishop Mike Hill of Bristol (above) to unpack the leadership challenges of a mixed-economy church.

Bishop Mike, what’s your understanding of a ‘mixed-economy church’?
I think it was the Archbishop of Canterbury who first gave currency to the phrase ‘mixed-economy’ in relation to the Church in the wake of the 2004 Mission-shaped Church report. At the time, I think it was immensely important to give the kinds of ideas that were discussed in Mission-shaped Church the appropriate weight and legitimise, within the Church of England in particular, that there were other ways of being church than what we traditionally know.

The Archbishop was essentially saying that emerging forms of church – ‘fresh expressions’ as many call them – could and in fact needed to co-exist alongside inherited forms of church and in fact should be actively encouraged.

I think this phrase was very helpful. It ensured that Mission-shaped Church did not get shelved, like so many other reports and, secondly, created the space for experimentation in denominational settings – and that is largely happening.

All that said, I also believe that, for the majority of local churches, this kind of language gives them an excuse not to engage with the reality of mission in the myriad cultures of 21st century Britain.

It allows them to fool themselves into believing ‘Someone else in the other economy is looking at mission to those who don’t know anything about Jesus or the Church. So we’re off the hook!’

The truth is that a mixed-economy needs not only to exist at a city-wide or national level but also in the life of every church.

So, in a way, I think it’s time to move the language on so that every church faces the challenge that I heard an American pastor, Craig Groeschel, give this year: ‘If you’re going to reach the people that no one is reaching, you’ve got to do the thing that no one is doing’.

Can you point to any local-church examples in your own diocese of this mixed-economy making an impact for mission?
There are a number of things going on, often focusing on reaching families with young children and relating to school communities. We have a couple of recent church plants meeting outside of church buildings and with much more interactive formats.

You can see a short film about them here.

I think what is a consistent trait is a willingness to try things, and to learn from things that don’t work.

What are the particular challenges of leadership in a mixed-economy set-up?
If we think about leaders in local environments who are both leading the church in inherited mode and pioneering fresh expressions of church at the same time I think the challenges are significant.

This is partly because there will be a tussle for resources, and I don’t just mean money: the energy and focus of leadership, the space given for vision casting about the new thing. Those committed to the inherited form will feel threatened and you’ve got to carry and affirm them while not allowing them to hijack the equal commitment to the emerging form of church.

Leaders have got to create a permission-giving environment where people feel they can experiment.

I think the gifts required for the pioneer leader are different from what we have traditionally valued in church leaders. Pioneers require entrepreneurship.

I believe that any new initiative should have financial sustainability built in from day one. That will probably mean unpaid leadership at first. This is clearly a massive challenge for leaders in a church culture where leadership has been for the paid professional.

Read the full text of the interview in CL68, appearing in the first week of February

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