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Fresh ideas on leadership

07 February 2014

Fresh expressions of church are multiplying, and their numbers growing. They also feature different models of leadership, reports Graham Cray

Mark Ward

Room to move: Wichenford Café Church, Worcestershire - part of St Laurence's Parish Church - meets once a month in Wichenford village hall

Room to move: Wichenford Café Church, Worcestershire - part of St Laurence's Parish Church - meets once a month in Wichenford village hall

AS THE 12 years of my involvement with fresh expressions of church have progressed, the issues of leadership, and the language of "pioneering", have become increasingly central to my thinking and concerns.

The Church Army's Research Unit study on fresh expressions in ten dioceses reported that 21,000 people attended these new forms of church - the equivalent of an additional medium-sized diocese. Some 42 per cent of these people had never been involved in a church previously, and 44 per cent were under 16 years of age.

For every one person deployed by a parish or deanery to plant a fresh expression, another 2.5 were added. This is good news, and it also reveals a new pattern of leadership.

A total of 518 fresh expressions of church were identified on the basis of a set of criteria which included the presence of "some form of leadership recognised within and also without".

Just over half are lay-led, two out of three of these being women. Two-thirds of the ordained leaders are men, who are more likely to be full-time and paid than the women, who are more likely to be part-time and voluntary.

Of the lay leaders, there is a growing proportion (almost 80 per cent) of what the researchers call "lay lay leaders" - by which they mean "people without formal licensing, and quite possibly without designated training to lead a fresh expression of church, who nevertheless are doing so, usually in their spare time".

Interestingly, exactly the same phenomenon is seen in the 2012 statistics of the Methodist Church, which has 46,000 attending fresh expressions. The Fresh Expressions team is also aware of examples where a fresh expression which was founded, or led by, a priest or Church Army evangelist is now under able lay leadership.

Anyone exploring ordination in the Church of England, and who is seen as having a capacity for "oversight", is expected to have an ability to "pioneer". This is demonstrated by the many clergy who are also involved in starting and leading an impressive variety of models of fresh expression.

OVERALL, the Church of England needs and is developing - at least in part - a more mission-shaped entrepreneurial leadership.

The sheer number of "lay lay leaders" helps dispel a myth. Some parishes fear that planting a fresh expression of church will be one further demand on the same overworked volunteers. But the research reveals many new leaders who had not been energised by calls to staff existing programmes, but by these new missionary possibilities.

At St George's parish in Deal, a process of prayer and discernment led to the establishment of a range of missional communities. "One of the big things has been the whole release of leaders," the Associate Vicar said. "These people were sitting in the pews before, but now we have 40 missional leaders who are out there, leading."

There had been a hidden resource for leadership in mission, which was now being revealed. The evidence suggests that this could be true for many more parishes.

The Church Army research team excluded nearly half the examples considered, because they did not meet strict criteria. Some projects were primarily for existing churchpeople, while others were intended as a bridge to existing church rather than the planting of the new. The sheer scale of the other projects considered makes it likely that many more "lay lay" leaders are involved in them as well.

THE key to planting a fresh expression of church is close attention to culture and local context. It is the need to go and start the new, not just build bridges to the old, which has shown the need for a different "gift mix" for contemporary, missional leadership.

The inherited understanding of church, and church leadership, in the UK has never been static, but is substantially shaped by centuries of Christendom. Mission and ministry within an essentially Christian environment required pastor teachers much more than entrepreneurial missionaries.

The current context requires apostolic, prophetic, and evangelistic gifts, and reshapes expectations of the teaching and pastoral ones.

The Church has recognised this to a substantial degree, as seen in the way that the contemporary ministry context is described in the literature prepared for those exploring ordination, and in the selection criteria for Ordained Pioneer Ministers, and Church Army Evangelists. The gift is different because the ministry is different.

From one perspective, the responsibility being taken by "lay lay leaders" is relatively small. Most fresh expressions are planted by a team ranging in size from three to 30, and the average fresh expression has a "congregation" of 43 people.

The Church Army's quantitative research cannot provide full-blown, qualitative evidence of the depth of these new congregations, or the effectiveness of their leadership. But the indications are positive.

Thus, there is a whole body of new experience across the Church which needs to be harvested for the sake of those who will take up this challenge in the future.

Also, we need to take great care when attempting to offer training. An over-intellectualised training, delivered by those with no experience of this ministry, will do more harm than good.

CANON George Lings and his team identified 21 different models of fresh expression, and some (Messy Church and Café Church, for example) have national networks, where resources and training can be found.

The research says that those who had training or prior relevant experience are more likely to see ongoing growth. To help with that, the Fresh Expressions website is a primary source of resources and guidance for good practice, while the report Fresh Expressions in the Mission of the Church recommended the "mission-shaped ministry" course as the best form of initial training.

The research also says that accompaniment, or consultancy, is the best form of support, but suspects that it is in short supply.

Lay leaders of fresh expressions need some form of recognition and accountability. One example is the diocese of Leicester's process of licensing lay pioneers in partnership with the Northampton Methodist District. Pioneers also need appropriate, continuing support.

Ordained pioneer ministers (OPMs) represent a small proportion of the leaders identified in the research, and this is a resource which the Church of England has not yet learned to deploy to its best advantage.

In addition to a more pioneering clergy, and many more "lay lay leaders", the Church of England needs those whose whole vocation is focused around the planting of the new, and the creation of new communities where none exist. Our nation will not be re-evangelised just by parishes reaching a little further into their communities, vital as this is.

It is not true that all clergy and lay leaders can be pioneers in this sense. The New Testament teaches that not all have the same gifts, and social science shows that not everyone can be entrepreneurial. All parishes, and clergy, need to encourage and support pioneering gifts when they see them.

Those with the ministry of oversight should never feel threatened by people who have different gifts, and who can do things that one particular parish priest cannot.

The emergence of new leaders, and new capacities for missional leadership on this scale, is a sign of hope for all the denominations participating in the fresh expressions movement.

The Rt Revd Graham Cray is the Archbishops' Missioner and leader of the Fresh Expressions team.


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