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Thank you!

I spent an hour or so yesterday signing around 200 certificates to be sent to churches across the Diocese of Sheffield to say thank you for the contributions to Common Fund, our shared Diocesan budget.  This is something I do every year.  I find it a very moving exercise. common-fund

The certificates are normally displayed in the Church porch or elsewhere on a noticeboard.  I also write a letter to the Vicar and the PCC.  Each one says thank you on behalf of the Diocese, but also on behalf of other churches across the Diocese for generous sacrificial giving.

The Diocese of Sheffield serves an area which is one of the poorest in the country in economic terms.  However, for many years, the Diocese of Sheffield has been one of the most generous in the country in terms of the proportion of people’s income which is given away to and through the local church.

Last year the churches of the Diocese gave £4.5 million to the Common Fund, our Diocesan budget.  Each certificate I signed yesterday represents a double act of generosity and adventurous giving.

First it represents thousands and thousands of individual decisions by individuals and families to give generously and sacrificially to the life of the local church to sustain ministry in that place.

Second it represents hundreds of decisions by Church Councils to prioritise generous, adventurous giving to the Diocese in their own budgets.  For that reason, I try and sign the certificates slowly, giving thanks for all that they represent.

If you are part of this adventurous, generous giving in any way then thank you.  Common Fund is the cornerstone of our Diocesan budget.  It enables us to support Christian ministry and mission in every part of this Diocese, especially in communities which would find it difficult, if not impossible, to support a priest.  Generous giving to the Common Fund enables us to grow ministry in all kinds of ways and that enables us, by the grace of God, to grow the life of the Church and to make a bigger difference in the communities we serve.

Long ago, St. Paul reflected on the generosity of the churches of Macedonia.  You can read his words in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.  Paul is moved by their gracious giving:

“For I can testify that they voluntarily gave according to their means and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints – and this not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us” (8.3-5).

According to Paul, this generous act of giving flows directly from our faith and from the example of Jesus Christ:

“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (8.9).

Paul urges many others, including the Church in Corinth, to follow the example of the Macedonian Christians and of Christ himself and give themselves to the Lord:

“One who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (9.6-8)

It is an extraordinary miracle of faith and generosity that God’s people in this place give in this adventurous way.  Together through our giving we have a share in all of the ministry and mission which is taking place across this Diocese.  Together we make that ministry and mission possible.

Thank you for your part in that and please persevere.  The challenge continues from year to year and there is always more that we can do.  If you are not yourself involved in this adventure of grace then there is plenty of room for more people to join in.

Together God has called us to grow a sustainable network of Christ like, lively and diverse Christian communities across this Diocese, effective in making disciples and in transforming our society and God’s world.

Week by week, month by month, year by year, we see that vision becoming more of a reality.  Thanks be to God and to all God’s generous people.

+Steven

To equip the saints for the work of ministry

“The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….” Ephesians 4.11

Whenever I stand before a congregation, I try and remember two things.  The first is that it is a wonderful privilege to preach the word of God.  The second is that the people I am about to address are people of enormous influence.  Each one of them is a leader.

Often they don’t think of themselves that way, of course.  But that man over there by the pillar is a primary school teacher.  He has 25 children in his class.  Over the next ten years he will profoundly shape 250 lives and families for good.  This elderly lady has eight grandchildren.  She prays for them, she teaches them their prayers, every time she sees them she builds up their sense of worth.  That man who is giving out the books this morning is a police sergeant.  He is befriending the Muslim community in the place where he works.  The person who leads the intercessions works in a large office.  She is the person younger staff turn to whenever they need a listening ear.  The lady in the overcoat is a Macmillan nurse.  She will spend this evening with someone who is dying.  This teenager who is assisting at the altar might be in a senior role in a major company in ten years time.  In the meantime she will be the most remarkable ambassador for Christ in her own peer group: the only Christian these young people know.

These people in front of me this morning, whether it is fifty or five hundred, are not simply members of the Church.  They are people of influence in their families, in their places of work, in their communities, in the whole world.  My task, when I stand up to preach on Sunday, is to equip them for their task on Monday, whatever that may be.

Don’t just take my word for this.  Listen again to the words of Jesus.  In the Sermon on the Mount he says this: “You are the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world”.  You are people of influence, spread across the world to prevent decay, to establish peace and justice (salt is both a preservative and a fertilizer).  You are people of influence, showing the way and helping people to see in very dark places.

The calling of every local church is to form and build, sustain and support these men and women of influence whose task is nothing less than reshaping and transforming the world.

I don’t mean, of course, that the Church is only for important people.  The Church is here for everyone.  As in the Church in Corinth so in the Church in Hatfield and Wickersley and Millhouses: “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth”.

We are ordinary people, but called by an extraordinary God and entrusted with a unique and extraordinary message, the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through that call and through that message, in the strength which God supplies, Christians become salt and light, people of remarkable influence whose calling is to change the world.

“The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world”.

You may have heard me say that on previous occasions.  We seek as a Diocese for every church to be a place where men and women of influence, ordinary yet extraordinary Christian disciples, are formed and sustained and equipped week by week, month by month, year by year.  God has not called us simply to increase the membership of the Church to make it easier to pay our bills.  God has called us to make and grow and sustain disciples who will together make a difference through the way we live our lives, through the example we set, in many thousands of places throughout this region.

We are setting before this Synod today a revised strategy for discipleship, mission and ministry for the next part of our life together.  It is called “Forming and Equipping the People of God”.  It’s not a new strategy but an important revision of one of our four key documents.

The most important change is a greater focus on discipleship and on the whole people of God.  We want to grow a culture of discipleship right across the Diocese, in every tradition and every kind of Church.

The Church is called to be a community of missionary disciples.  We are called into discipleship through grace.  In our baptism, the sign of that grace, we dedicate and consecrate the whole of our lives to God.  We are called together to be with the risen Christ in the Eucharist and as we gather around God’s Word.  As the people of God, we are sent out to live to the glory of God in every part of our lives.

In our recent Mission Action Planning exercise, 8 out of 10 churches said they needed help with making, forming and sustaining disciples.  Over the next ten years we want to offer that help and encouragement and build that culture of discipleship in everything we do.

Every local church is called to be a place where new Christians are coming to faith and prepared for a lifetime of discipleship and service.  Every local church is called to be a place where Christians are deepened and sustained in worship, fellowship, witness and service to the whole of society, through every part of our lives.

Much of this growth and development will take place in the life of the local church.  Every parish and fresh expression will need to pay attention to its worship and community, teaching and learning, mission action planning, welcome and the nurture of new believers.

But as a Diocese we believe we need to support this in four key ways:

  1. By offering frameworks of support and patterns of life which help every church grow its own culture of discipleship.
  2. By offering training and support in discipleship to complement what the local church can offer.
  3. By identifying obstacles to growth in discipleship in our life and culture and developing strategies to address them.
  4. By helping to form lay and ordained ministers who are equipped to grow the church in this way.

If we are to grow the Church across this Diocese in numbers and depth and quality of life then we need to pay careful attention to growing our lay and ordained ministers to support that growth: the ligaments and sinews of the body of Christ.

To help us to do all of those things we are proposing to draw together all of our existing learning and teaching as a Diocese into a new learning community: St Peter’s College.

The purpose of St Peter’s will be to nurture and sustain the whole variety of ministry the Diocese needs to fulfill our shared vision.

The focus will be on equipping the whole people of God and on equipping apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who will themselves equip all the saints for their work of ministry: the services offered in many different ways in many different places in the workplace, the home and wider society.

We want to go on equipping people to be pioneers to plant fresh expressions of church, children’s and youth ministers, Readers, worship leaders, spiritual accompaniers, lay evangelists and pastors.  We want to offer the whole people of God help and support in discovering their call and vocation before God and how to best use their gifts.  We want to offer some initial training for those preparing for ordination, though the majority of our ordinands will continue to do their initial training in colleges and courses as now.

We want to invest much more in the ongoing training we offer for our clergy and lay ministers so that we become truly a learning community.  For that reason our second appointment to St Peter’s in the new year will be for a continuing ministerial development officer to focus on that ongoing equipping of lay and ordained ministers which is so vital for our future.

But all of those ministers who are called and served and equipped and sustained have one central purpose: they are themselves to equip the saints, the whole people of God for the ministry and service all of us are called to offer in the whole of our lives.

The draft of our revised strategy for ministry and details of St Peter’s College will be found here.

Our present strategy for ministry and our other three strategies are here.

Seven reasons to ban the Lord’s Prayer

Britain woke up this morning to the news that the Lord’s Prayer has been banned from cinemas.

The Church of England has produced a sixty second commercial.  The only words are the words of the Lord’s Prayer, said by children, the bereaved, people at work and so on.  It’s a beautiful film, Certificate U. The ad is to promote a new website, Just Pray.uk.  The plan was (and is) to show the film before Christmas at screenings of the new Star Wars film to help everyone think about prayer and to pray.  What could be more simple?

The distributors have declared the Lord’s Prayer unsuitable for screening.  They believe it carries the risk of upsetting or offending audiences.

Cue indignation from the press, fury from the Archbishop (according to the Mail anyway) debates about free speech, a possible challenge in the courts and a storm on social media.

But wait just a moment.  Suppose the cinema chains got this one right?

I disagree with their decision and I disagree with the reasons they have given.  I hope it’s reversed.  I don’t believe the film will offend or upset audiences, in the way they mean, and I don’t believe it creates a new precedent.

But from the point of view of global corporations and consumer culture, from the perspective of the gods and spirits of the age, there are very good reasons indeed to ban the Lord’s Prayer from cinemas and from culture and from public life.

This is a prayer said by billions of people every day in every language on the planet.  In every single moment in time, someone is praying these words.  They are the first words of prayer we learn as children and the last words we say at the moment of death.

The Lord’s Prayer is powerful for a reason.  These words shape lives and families and communities and whole societies.

There are real reasons why the Lord’s Prayer has been banned by the demigods of consumer culture, in the boardrooms of the cinema chains.  Here are seven, one for every line.

First, this prayer gives to those who pray it an identity and a place in the world and a countercultural community.  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”.  It opposes the myth that we are random specks of matter floating through space and time.  It opposes the myth that our lives do not matter.  It opposes the myth of fragmented humanity.

We are created and loved and called into friendship with God who is our father and into community with our fellow human beings who are therefore our sisters and brothers.  Only someone who has found this new identity can stand against the advertising culture which night and day seduces us to define who we are by what we spend.

Second this prayer gives us the courage to live in an imperfect world.  “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. 

The world is not as it was meant to be.  It is distorted from its true purpose.  But God is at work to redeem and transform this world, to establish his kingdom.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us not to retreat from the world in fear and pain, to anaesthetise or indulge ourselves.  The Lord’s Prayer invites us to join the struggle to see justice and peace prevail.

Third, and most powerfully, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to live with just enough.  This is the most dangerous reason why it cannot be shown with the adverts at the cinema.  It teaches us not to want more.  It teaches contentment, the most subversive virtue of them all.

“Give us this day our daily bread”.  This is not a prayer for more.  This is a prayer only for what we need.  Every other advert in the cinema is there to encourage us to spend money in pursuit of happiness.  This one restrains our greed.

Fourth, the Lord’s Prayer teaches me to live with my imperfections and the imperfections of others.  There is a way to deal with the rubbish in our lives.  “Forgive us our sins”.

Consumer culture holds before us the image of perfection.  We cannot be happy until we look like this person, live like that one.  Each image is a lie.

The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges human imperfection and sin, daily.  The Lord’s Prayer offers a pathway to forgiveness, daily. The way of forgiveness cannot be bought.  It is a gift.  Grace.  Grace subverts the whole culture of advertising.

Fifth the Lord’s Prayer offers a way of reconciliation.  “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.  We are not meant to feud or live in hostility or rivalry.  We are meant to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to each other.  That reconciliation happens without expensive presents, without going into debt, without credit.  People are not made happy by more things, another consumer lie.  The greatest happiness comes from relationships.  The key to great relationships is reconciliation and forgiveness.

Sixth, the Lord’s Prayer builds resilience in the human spirit.  When you say this prayer each day you are prepared for the bad days.  “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” 

When we say this prayer we remind ourselves that we are not living in a Disney fairy tale, a saccharine creation of film makers where every story has a happy ending.

We are living in a real world of cancer and violence and difficulty, where we are tested, where bad things happen for no clear reason.  We live in that world confident in God’s love and goodness and help even in the midst of the most challenging moments of our lives.  Faith is for the deep valleys as much as the green pastures.  We may not have the answers but we know that God dwells with us and in us.

And seventh the Lord’s Prayer tells us how the story ends, how this life is to be lived and lived well.  “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever.  Amen”.

The prayer returns as it begins to the praise and glory of the living God.  Our hearts return to their origin and source, the one who created us.  Life is to be lived to God’s praise and glory, not to satisfy our own small desires.  We are beings with a higher calling and a greater purpose.

There are only 63 words in the Lord’s Prayer.  It takes less than a minute to say them.

Yet these words shape our identity, give purpose to our lives, check our greed, remind us of our imperfections, offer a way of reconciliation, build resilience in our spirits and call us to live to the glory of our creator.

No wonder they have been banned in the boardrooms of consumer culture.

+Steven

Note:

This post is based on a sermon given in Peterhouse, Cambridge on Sunday 22 November.

To view the Lord’s Prayer film go to: https://youtu.be/vlUXh4mx4gI

To view the Just Prayer website go to: justpray.uk?

For the Pilgrim Course on the Lord’s Prayer see: http://www.pilgrimcourse.org/

Reform and Renewal: the Noddy and Big Ears Guide

The new General Synod meets for the first time next week.   A central part of our agenda over the next five years will be the ongoing Reform and Renewal process.

Here is an unofficial Noddy and Big Ears Guide to Reform and Renewal.  It’s a Noddy guide because I’ve tried to make it simple.  It’s a Big Ears guide because the whole Reform and Renewal process is about listening to what’s happening across the country and developing a response.

This is also something of a personal perspective.  I’ve been closely involved in the story so far.  To use a Star Trek analogy, let me take you on a guided tour: first to the Captain’s Log to explore the deeper story; then to the Engine Room to understand what’s being proposed; and finally to the Bridge to look ahead into the future.

Captain’s Log: looking back…..

The roots of Reform and Renewal lie in the immense change taking place in the society we serve.  The Church of England has lived through a century of change.

We lived for fifty years, from 1915 to 1965, through the end of Christendom: the idea that society is uniform and that people are Christian unless they opt out, that church going is the norm.  We have had to adjust our ways of being the Church to that new reality.  We have needed to recover, especially, the central idea that God calls us to be a church in mission to our own society, the call to make disciples and the call to set God’s mission at the heart of our common life.

We then lived for fifty years and more with a mistaken understanding of secularisation.  Secularisation began in the 18th century.  It’s the process by which science, democracy, technology and economics became separate from any particular religion (and in that sense it’s closely related to the end of Christendom).  This process has brought immense benefits.

But from the 1960’s until very recently, secularisation has been linked with another powerful idea.  The notion that the more advanced a society, the less place it has for religion of any kinds.  In the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, many people predicted and believed that the role of faith in society would shrink away to nothing as our society “advanced”.

We have adjusted our ways of being the Church to this reality as well.  For many years, many in the Church have accepted our decline as inevitable.  Many have even planned for that decline to continue as if this was God’s purpose for the Church.  The loss of confidence has been profound.  We have needed to recover the central Christian virtue of hope: the sure hope that God has a purpose for his church and for this Church of England for many generations still to come.

The sociologists now tell us what we have known for some time.  The role of faith in the modern world is not shrinking but growing and also changing.  Britain is not becoming more secular.  Religion and religious affiliation are changing all the time, but the role of faith in public life and private life is not less but more significant.

The former chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has recently published a powerful study of violence and religion, Not in God’s Name.  Lord Sacks begins with a study of secularization and the gaping hole it leaves in human understanding.

“Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence.  They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization….But they do not and cannot answer the three questions every(one) should ask at some time in his or her life: “Who am I?  Why am I here?  How then should I live?”.

Rabbi Sacks puts forward the view that the coming century will be more not less religious, less not more secular.  How should we respond?

A hundred years of change.  The end of Christendom.  The beginning and end of secularization.  How are we as the Church of England to respond to God’s call in our day?  How are we to join in God’s mission and to make that response in faith and hope and love?

Reform and Renewal is part of an answer to these vital questions.

The Engine Room: what are the proposals?

Five years ago, the General Synod of our Church agreed three core priorities.

The three goals are these: to serve the common good of our society, to grow the life of the church in the numbers and the quality of our discipleship; and to re-imagine the ministry we offer to the nation.  The first two are inextricably linked.  We see growth and life in many places but in too many the combined effects of declining and ageing congregations mean that in ten years time, we may no longer be a church in every place.  To serve the common good and the whole people of England we must pay close attention to growth in the life of the Church.

Those goals are widely and deeply owned across the Church of England.  You will find something like them in the vision statements of many dioceses and parish churches.  They have been at the heart of the work of our national Church for the last five years.

But it takes time in a Church of the size and complexity of the Church of England to listen, to reflect, to begin to shape answers to those key questions.  How should be respond to God’s mission in hope?  How do we better serve the common good, grow the life of the church and re-imagine the ministry we offer.  What can we do nationally to support dioceses and parishes?

Little by little, through a process of listening, conversation and research some answers and some initiatives began to emerge.  There are six or seven different streams of work.  They began at slightly different times and different places.  They are also in different stages of discussion or implementation.

One is looking at how we use our historic assets to support growth rather than reward decline; another is exploring ministerial education, another at simplification, another senior leadership and still another what we need to do nationally and so on.  They are all linked together in some way.  For that reason, it’s helpful to see them as one process under the single heading of Reform and Renewal: helping us to be a Church of hope, a Church engaging in God’s mission, a Church of compassion and a Church preparing for a harvest.

If you really want to spend more time with Scottie in the engine room trying to get us to warp speed, then read this summary paper for Synod.

The Bridge: scanning the horizon

That’s the big picture.  I want to zoom in now, if I may, and ask the question what difference the Reform and Renewal programme might make to the life of the Church of England over the next fifteen years, if it bears the fruit we hope it will, by the grace and power of God.  It’s not a programme designed to tackle everything.  The core ministry of the local church remains at the heart of the Church of England: worship, witness, service to the local community.

But here are some of the things which I hope will change over the next fifteen years as Reform and Renewal bears fruit in the life of the local parish church.

A culture of discipleship

First I hope and pray that every church will become better at making and sustaining and equipping disciples: that Christians will understand their faith better, share it more confidently, live it out more fully.  We need to grow again a culture of discipleship across the Church of England.

The Christian faith is not a hobby or a leisure activity.  The Christian faith is a response to the grace of God in Jesus Christ with the whole of our lives, for the whole of our lives, offering lives which have been made whole.

Every local church, every diocese needs a plan for taking forward that culture of discipleship, for growing new Christians, for sustaining established Christians.

Reform and Renewal is helping to make resources available for that task.  There are key proposals to change and increase the Church Commissioners distribution of funds to support poorer parishes and to support growth in numbers and in the depth of discipleship.  There is a major emphasis on how we teach the faith, how we encourage discipleship in every place.

Energy for mission

Second, I hope and pray that every church will focus greater energy and resources on God’s mission and worship, service and witness.  That means less time on bureaucracy, form filling, administration and the like.

A major strand in Reform and Renewal is about simplification: on how we make the task of vicars, of churchwardens, of PCC treasurers and others simpler and easier in the future.

Ministry and leadership

Third, I hope and pray that every local church will have the ministry and leadership it needs to support God’s mission.  Lay leadership and ministry is key and the next two years will see significant developments here.  The voices of lay people need to be heard more clearly in the life of our Church.  We need to invest more in training, equipping and sustaining lay ministers.

We need urgently to see more vocations to ordained ministry.  40% of our current clergy are approaching retirement.  On present projections half of our clergy who retire cannot be replaced.  We need as clergy to be better equipped as leaders in God’s mission.  We need our clergy to be more diverse as a group.  We need more younger clergy who are able to offer a lifetime to ordained ministry.  We need to ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers.

There will be a major national initiative to raise the number of vocations, significantly, by as much as 50% by 2020. That will involve every parish in prayer, in communication, in encouragement, in support.  We are looking carefully at the ways in which we train clergy before and after ordination and how we fund that training.  Dioceses are clear what is needed:  the Church needs ordained and lay ministers who are flexible, collaborative leaders in God’s mission.

Senior leaders

Fourth I hope and pray the senior leadership of the Church of England in 10 years time will be better equipped for their task and more representative of the church we are called to lead: male and female, black and white, from a wider range of backgrounds, well prepared and committed to ongoing learning.  Again we are investing intentionally in that process.

Communication in a digital age

Finally, I hope and pray we will be much more effective at communicating our faith in a digital age.  This is the most important investment the Church of England needs to make nationally.

We are living through the greatest time of change in the way we communicate since the invention of the printing press.  Parishes and Dioceses are moving far too slowly to keep up with those changes in the way we communicate.  We need to invest much more in our digital communications in order to keep pace and contribute to Christian engagement with the contemporary world.

So what is Reform and Renewal about?

  1. Resources for discipleship and growth
  2. Focusing energy on our core tasks
  3. Every local church having the ministry it needs
  4. Equipping senior leaders
  5. Better digital communication

These are not the whole agenda by any means.  There are other issues the Church needs to address.  The world keeps changing around us.

God has called us in our generation to be salt and light, to love our neighbours as ourselves, to have compassion on a lost and bewildered generation.  This is a time of turmoil.  But it is also a time of hope.

Pray for our Church as we move forward and most of all, as Christ commands us, pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send labourers to his harvest field.

And finally….

This post is based on a sermon preached on 15th November in St Mary’s and All Saints, Chesterfield.  I’m grateful to Father Patrick Coleman for the invitation and for the very helpful “Conversation under the Spire”.

I’m grateful to Premier Digital for an award for this blog in the category “Most Inspiring Leadership Blog”.  Like everything else I do it’s a team effort.  Warm thanks to Jane Perry and LJ Buxton for their research and ideas and to Kate Hill and Jason Smedley for managing posts and comments.

+Steven Sheffield

Crossroads Mission

Next week a team of 19 Bishops from across the north of England will spend four days in the Diocese of Sheffield in the Crossroads mission.  The team of Bishops will be led by the Archbishop of York.  Many of the bishops are bringing small teams with them to help in the various events.

Over 200 special events are taking place across the Diocese over the four days (not including all the Sunday services at which the bishops will speaking and leading).  More than 100 parishes are involved in some direct way with the mission.  We are being held in prayer across the whole Diocese and across the world.  The Diocese of Sheffield is named tomorrow (2nd September) in the Anglican Communion’s prayer cycle.

The aim of the mission is to share the Christian faith with love and imagination in many different places.  Jesus compared sharing the good news of God’s love with sowing seed.  That’s exactly what we will be doing.

Everyone across the Diocese is warmly invited to the Cathedral for the commissioning and launch service on Thursday 10th September at 1.30 pm.

Everyone is also welcome to the final event in Minster Square in Rotherham at 4.00pm on Sunday 13th September.

There are also many other events happening near to where you live if you would like to join in.

We’ve planned a way for people who come to the events to find out more about faith by signing up for a special text messaging service.  Details will be available at all the Crossroads events.  There is a special twitter account for the mission @crossroads_info.

Many parishes in the Diocese are planning a small group or course this autumn to help people discover more about the Christian faith.

If you are already part of the Church please pray for these four days of mission, that God will bless this time in special ways.  If you are not part of the Church then please come and explore faith by coming to the Crossroads events and joining a small group to explore faith together.

Everyone should take the opportunity, once in their life, to think seriously about the Christian faith.  There is a course close to where you live.

Bishop Peter and I will be out and about at various mission events during the four days.  We look forward to seeing you

+Steven

A prayer for the mission

Loving God, ?This world you love ?stands at the crossroads.
Help us help others ?to discover your Way ?to know your Truth ?and to share your Life ?in your dear Son, Jesus Christ.
Inspire us by your Spirit ?to sow the good seed of the gospel ?throughout this Diocese ?with imagination and compassion,
that many will come to know you ?and many will be strengthened in their faith,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord?
Amen.

Nine Lessons for a Mixed Economy Church

In early June, 2015 I was invited to give an address to the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in Stuttgart.  The address was part of a workshop stream exploring Fresh Expressions of Church.  There is a growing interest in the German Church in new forms of church for a changing culture and many in Germany are keen to learn lessons from the experience of the Church of England.

1. A story from Acts

It is an honour to take part in the Kirchentag and thank you for your welcome.  It is good to be with you both to teach and to learn today.  I pray that all of us may gain a wiser heart in every way as a result of this conference.

There is a key moment in the Acts of the Apostles I would like to share with you.  It occurs in Acts 11 and arises from a time of great difficulty, a period of persecution which followed the martyrdom of Stephen.

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution….travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch and they spoke the word to no-one except Jews.  But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus.  The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.”

We are reading here of a spontaneous movement of mission, inspired by the Spirit.

“News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem….”  I wonder if you can imagine yourself present at that meeting as the apostles debate this development.  They ask the question: “Whom shall we send to explore what is happening?”  They looked round the room and, in a moment of inspiration, they chose to send Barnabas, the son of encouragement.

“…..and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.”

Barnabas is here exercising discernment – seeing that what is happening is of God.  Goodness, the Holy Spirit and faith are needed.  These are rare qualities among those called to senior church leadership (according to Acts).  Luke singles Barnabas out as exceptional even among the apostles.

“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus and looked for Saul and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch.  So it was that for an entire year they associated with…..”  With what?  What do you think is the next word in the text?

“…with the Church” – ecclesia with the definite article.  Ponder for a moment what that means.  A new church has been created by the Word and by the Spirit and has been discerned, recognized and connected to the rest of the Body of Christ.

“…they associated with the Church and taught a great many people and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians”” (Acts 11.19-29).

2. What has happened in the Church of England?

Please hold that story in your mind as we explore together some of the lessons derived from the experience of the Church of England.

Through most of the twentieth century, the predominant culture in England has been a secularizing culture.  The reasons for that are complex and will be familiar.  But, if anything, secularization was as rapid in England as in much of Northern Europe.  Overall, the Church in England remains in significant decline.

As the water table of faith dropped in the population at large, the Church of England set itself to become a missionary church once again.  For three generations we have been a church emerging from Christendom into a different kind of community.  To be an emerging church has meant relearning many lessons from the past: about mission and evangelism and catechesis as core disciplines.

In the 1990’s we began to learn new lessons about forming new ecclesial communities through contextual mission.  At first our learning was informal and accidental, the gathering of fragments of stories as different pioneers were inspired to go to parts of the community which knew nothing of Christ not to draw people back to the existing church but to create new churches.

That gathering of stories led to an attempt to understand what was happening and to develop a vocabulary to describe it.  We called the new ecclesial communities “fresh expressions of church”.  As a Church we took a decision in 2004 actively to support the formation of new communities through contextual mission and to encourage a mixed economy of church for the new millennium.  Our mission context calls us to be more diverse.  We have encouraged the formation of fresh expressions in every diocese; we have identified a recognized focus of training for ordained ministry called ordained pioneer ministry; we have rolled out a training programme for lay pioneers and clergy; we have seen this movement expand internationally and ecumenically, for which thanks to be to God.  We have seen the movement challenged theologically and those challenges refuted[1].

Over the last 12 years this movement has grown and multiplied and has been resourced in different ways and different places.  There are now thousands of fresh expressions of church across every part of the Church of England. 10 dioceses (out of 42) were surveyed for a major study published in 2014.  In those dioceses:

  • Fresh expressions account for 15% of churches and 10% of attendance
  • In 7/10 dioceses growth of fresh expressions cancels out decline
  • In terms of numbers, these fresh expressions add a further diocese to the Church of England
  • 52% of fresh expressions are lay led
  • Most are small and growing and part of an existing parish

In the words of the report, “Nothing else in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and adding further ecclesial communities”[2]

I was for five years from 2004 to 2009 the first Team Leader of the national ecumenical fresh expressions team.  Since 2009, I have been Bishop of Sheffield and also since 2012 the Chair of the Ministry Council of the Church of England overseeing all selection and training for ministry.  From that perspective, I would like to offer you 9 short lessons for a church which wants to move in this direction.  The first three are grouped around mission, the second around ecclesiology, the third around encouragement and the ways it is given.

3. What lessons have we learned about mission?

i.          Mission is God’s Mission

This whole movement is undergirded, supported, held by a theological understanding of the mission of God: that God is a God of mission; that mission is the outworking of God’s love and God’s very nature; that God is deeply and profoundly at work in the whole world; that God is working already outside the Church; that mission is centred on discovering what God is already doing and joining in; that God is concerned most with those who are furthest from God’s love and light; that mission follows the pattern of Christ in both his incarnation and his character; that mission is about being sent by Christ in the power of the Spirit; that mission is about proclaiming the kingdom, teaching and baptizing new believers, service to the wider community; seeking to transform unjust structures, care for God’s earth and working for reconciliation.

This theological understanding of God’s mission has been rebirthed in the Church of England over several generations, inspired by the Anglican Communion, by theologians returning from mission elsewhere in the world, by the worldwide renewal of a theological understanding of mission, by discernment arising from study of the scriptures at the core of the Anglican tradition.

The changes we have experienced have arisen from this theological renewal.  They are not simply about pragmatism or what is effective; still less about what is fashionable for its own sake.  Much of the theological wrestling we have done are the core theological questions of mission – especially contextualization.  Do not attempt to encourage fresh expressions of Church without this serious theological undergirding.

ii.         The whole Church and every church needs to be mission-shaped

Once that work is done it is possible to see instantly that we are not talking about fresh expressions of church which do mission and parish churches which do not.  We are talking about every church engaging in God’s mission, whatever that means.  In developing fresh expressions we are not talking about questions of personal preference or taste, what some have characterized as boutique church – but about what is helpful and effective and essential for those who are coming to faith and growing in faith.

This is the vision statement of the Diocese of Sheffield which undergirds all we do in the Diocese and the reshaping of every parish church, every deanery, every fresh expression and every appointment:

“The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a diverse network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world”

iii         The whole Church needs to invest in evangelism

To be fit for purpose every Church needs to invest in evangelism: communicating the good news to men, women and children.  Local churches which do invest in evangelism will grow, whether they are fresh expressions or not.  Local churches which do not invest in evangelism will not grow, whether they are fresh expressions or not.

Evangelism is a complex series of disciplines, often subject to caricature.  I was asked to be the Anglican Fraternal Delegate to the Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops on Evangelisation in Rome in 2013.  In a paper for the General Synod in 2014, I attempted to describe 7 Disciplines of Evangelisation all of which need intentional investment and development across the local Church, by Dioceses and by the Church nationally.  The 7 disciplines are:

  1. Prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)
  2. Apologetics (defending and commending the faith)
  3. Evangelism (initial proclamation)
  4. Catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)
  5. Ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)
  6. Planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)
  7. Incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)[3]

As part of that investment in evangelism, the House of Bishops have developed Pilgrim to encourage catechesis across the Church of England, in all kinds of expressions of church[4].

4. What lessons have we learned about ecclesiology?

iv.        We need to think and talk about the Church

Developing new forms of church shifts ecclesiology to the centre of the theological agenda.  We need to reflect over and over again on what it means to be the church in different ways and different places.  Our experience was that our ecclesiological muscles were flabby and underdeveloped.  We had left ecclesiology to ecumenists.  It needs to become once again the province of missiologists.  The forms for Church need to be shaped by the mission of God.  Our understanding of the mission of God needs to be shaped by Christ and by our Christology.

The best resources here are short summaries of what is essential about the Church not long, dense studies.  What are the essential marks of the Church?  What does something have to be or to have before it can be called the Church?

v.         We need language to describe different forms of church working together

It is vital to develop a both-and approach to parish churches and to fresh expressions.  We must never set them in competition.  Each must use respectful language when speaking about the other.

The biggest challenge to the fresh expressions movement in the UK has come from not using language carefully.  Where fresh expressions have communicated that they are not a new thing to sit alongside the old but the new thing to supplant the old there has been resistance to change and a turning back to old ways.  The language which has worked best for us has been the language of mixed economy of church or mixed ecology of church.  Both forms of church are missional, both need each other, both serve different purposes in an increasingly diverse society and mission field.

vi         We need to enable and encourage fresh expressions of church

Within the context of the mixed economy, fresh expressions need positive encouragement and endorsement by senior church leaders and by the wider church if they are to flourish.  These are tender, delicate plants.  We have moved as a church in twenty years from hostility and suspicion, to tolerance, to permission giving, to active blessing, and in some cases to resourcing and integration of the new with the old.  This has not always been an easy journey.  It has not been the same journey in every diocese.  Some are very much ahead of the others.  But the greater the encouragement, the greater the fruit.

5. What lessons have we learned about encouragement?

Finally and briefly what lessons have we learned about how to encourage fresh expressions of church within a mixed economy.  How can we be Barnabas in this contemporary Antioch?

vii.       Encourage fresh expressions as you do fresh expressions

We have learned to encourage fresh expressions in the same way as we do fresh expressions.  We have learned to be light touch, responsive to what God is doing, courageous and risk taking, listening and finding out what works.

It was tempting in the beginning to set out a great denominational structure, a programme of activity, a demanding syllabus, great files of policy.  Wherever we developed them, they were like David trying on the armour of Saul.  What was needed was blessing, simplicity, eyes open, listening ears, time, prayer, an openness to the Holy Spirit.

This movement is of God and is still in its infancy.  We need to be sensitive, flexible, humble and discern what God is doing.  We are not rolling out a programme.

viii.      A principled and careful loosening of the structures

The best policy we have developed has been about removing obstacles rather than creating templates or strategies.  Rowan Williams, the last Archbishop of Canterbury, did a huge amount to encourage fresh expressions.  One of his many helpful phrases was a call for this principled and careful loosening of structures to give the new ecclesial communities space and time to grow.  We need possibility and creativity more than we need regulation and adversity to risk.

ix.        Relationships are vital

Finally and very briefly, relationships are vital and particularly relationships between denominational leaders and pioneers, the loyal radicals of the Church who want to see change but to remain part of the denomination.  These relationships are vital in both directions.  The pioneers need the denominational leaders to remain connected and also to provide support in brokering new opportunities. The denominational leaders need the loyal radicals so that we continue to be challenged and refreshed by the very edges of the life of the Church.

This is exactly what is happening when Barnabas goes to Antioch.  The centre is going to meet the edge.  The edge is meeting the centre.  In the dialogue between the two there is creativity and life and the recognition of a new form of church.


[1] For a developed account of this see “Fresh Expressions in the Mission of the Church”, Report of an Anglican Methodist Working Party, Church House Publishing, 2012

Developing Discipleship

A new conversation

Developing Discipleship aims to renew and deepen a conversation about discipleship across the Church of England.

The conversation will begin in General Synod when we meet in February.  I hope it will happen in local churches and in dioceses in the coming months.

At the February General Synod, the paper will provided a context for the important conversation and debate about the reports from the four Task Groups to be published later this week.

Living as disciples

Jesus calls us all into a rhythm of life which is about loving God and loving our neighbours as ourselves.

That rhythm begins with our baptism whether as children or adults.  It’s deepened and sustained as we gather for the Eucharist and sent out into God’s world.

Discipleship is not simply about learning but about service, about dedicating our whole lives to God’s glory.  The whole Church is called to be and to become a community of missionary disciples

For that reason, we need set our reflection on discipleship at the heart of all we do.

The call to grow the Church is a call to make disciples, who will live out their faith in the whole of their lives.

The call to serve the common good is a call to every Christian disciple to make a difference in their home, in their workplace, in their wider community.

The call to re-imagine ministry needs to begin with the call to every Christian to live out their baptism, their lifelong commitment to Christ.

What next?

I hope the paper will provoke debate.  It’s certainly stirred up some interesting and passionate conversations while its been in development.  The paper has been through several versions following discussions in the House of Bishops and and the Archbishops Council.  I had to tear it up and start again more than once.

The final result is far from the last word.  However, I hope it will be useful to parishes and dioceses as well as to the General Synod.

There are three main recommendations.  The first is to commend Ten Marks for Developing Disciples to parishes and to Dioceses.  These have been developed by the Education Division, the Ministry Division and Mission and Public Affairs as a follow up to research in dioceses.  The second is to deepen the conversation.  The third, to the House of Bishops, is to commission new work on revising the catechism, a much neglected summary of discipleship and what Christians believe.

But the main focus of the paper is the need for the Church of England to take more seriously the call to all of us, lay and ordained, to be and to become a community of missionary disciples called to love God, to love one another and to love God’s world.

+Steven Sheffield

The Developing Discipleship paper can be read here.

A transcription of the video is available here.

The discussion forum on the Developing Discipleship can be found on the Church of England website here.