Mission-Shaped Church: A Critical Commentary and Analysis

1.7 An Enabling Framework For A Missionary Church

The Report quotes with approbation an observation from Breaking New Ground and says that the aspiration must be turned into action: "We need to find ways to enable diverse styles of church life to co-exist without always having recourse to territorial or even denominational boundaries. And here the church planting movement has much to teach us. Further, an Episcopal church is well placed to discern when, in order to be rooted in the community, the focus on parochial territory needs supplementing with a realistic awareness of network and neighbourhood ....."(125).

This aspiration is now being met and much of the material is now therefore only of historical interest. The new Pastoral Measure now before the General Synod (Draft Dioceses, Pastoral and Mission Measure GS1597) goes a long way to meet the requirements of the Report in overcoming obstacles confronted to date by church plants; doubtless, too the proposed Code of Practice to be drawn up by the House of Bishops will meet further detailed points set out in the Report.

The Report notes that many planted congregations have been kept in a state of financial dependence and this is the one aspect of the Report's concerns which is likely not to be solved satisfactorily by any change in legislation. There is strong evidence that the percentage of income given to churches by parishioners rises as their income falls; and equally strong evidence that more Evangelically-oriented churches are more generous than catholic-oriented churches. It therefore ought to be the case that evangelically-oriented neighbourhood churches ministering to the poor should do well; but the giving pattern is proportionate and the absolute amounts given by the poor are not likely to cover real costs. Conversely, network churches which will cater for networked, and therefore better off, people should pay their way if members are properly generous. Nonetheless, the only lasting solution is for all churches of every kind approved  by a bishop to be part of a pooled arrangement at the Deanery level or above. If church plants require Episcopal authority then they must be part of the diocesan financial structure. This, in turn, should lead us to ask questions about the high fixed costs of parishes which relate to their heritage obligations, obligations which church plants will not have to shoulder.

No matter how deftly regulations are drawn for pooled financial arrangements, many network churches are likely to be anomalous, particularly if they are based on large scale commercial enterprises.

The Report then goes on to list legal options on an impartial basis; again, many of the positive proposals have been taken up in the Draft Measure.

A more substantial obstacle to planting is the orientation of the Church itself:

The difficulties are such that Holy Trinity Brompton only produced one plant per year for 15 years and only four of these have reproduced in turn.

There may need to be both new Orders and new methods of oversight. These are matters of urgency because many pioneers are caught in a tension between wanting to be Anglican, with its tradition of evolution, and the call to be apostolic. Nurturing leaders is important but this must be handled in the context of team building and second generation leadership. this, naturally, leads to a discussion of training. The discernment process should identify those with potential for mission just as it tries to identify potential theology teachers. Related to this is the need to recognise other forms of leadership "from below". The Report then makes a sharp conservative point by depicting the stipendiary priest as leader. One might have sound theological reasons for assigning crucial leadership roles to priests but whether they are paid or not is surely irrelevant.

The Report then goes on to outline the crucial role of Bishops and deaneries. Bishops have a vital role in mission and deaneries have a strategic and co-ordinating role; if a deanery is the wrong configuration to embrace fresh expressions then the boundaries might have to be altered.

These structures will need an over-riding national framework and this requires four principles:

There then follows a variety of helpful notes, most of which have appeared elsewhere in the Report but their structured repetition is useful. They cover: brokerage; maintaining unity; consultancy; review.

The Report then tackles the thorny subject of fresh expressions approved by a bishop but opposed by an incumbent. The law is decidedly on the latter's side and, therefore, it needs to be changed: "Our suggestion is to request Church legislation to change the canonical right to exclude the arrival of further Anglican churches whose creation has been sanctioned by the Bishop in line with agreed Diocesan procedures”(141-142). The arguments against with their rebuttals are:

Not surprisingly, the Report says that there needs to be a new balance between protection of incumbents from unauthorised invasion and incumbent prevention of mission.

The Report concludes with a set of Recommendations. All the substantive items have already been noted, the balance concern the process for forwarding the aims of the Report.