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Forming communities

by
20 January 2017

Graham Cray looks at pioneer ministry

 

How to Pioneer (even if you haven’t a clue)
David Male
Church House Publishing £9.99
(978-1-78140-001-2)
Church Times Bookshop £9

 

The DNA of Pioneer Ministry
Andy Milne with Michael Moynagh
SCM Press £19.99
(978-0-334-5409-2)
Church Times Bookshop £18

 

 

THE mission of the Church has always required a degree of innovation, but most especially at times of great cultural transition. We live in such a time.

But, since the publication of Mission-shaped Church, and the development of the Fresh Expressions movement, I have been highly impressed by the range and the depth of creative missional imagination and pioneering mission which has been demonstrated in the Church; and also by the number and variety of new expressions of church which have been planted.

There are now 90,000 people in Church of England fresh expressions of church, with the opportunity for many, many more. This makes the publication of these two books particularly timely.

They are the work of two of the Church of England’s most experienced practitioners in this field: Canon Dave Male, the Church of England’s national adviser for pioneer ministry, and the Church Army evangelist Andy Milne. Their object is to make a decade or more of learning accessible to anyone enquiring about pioneer practice.

From my own observation of fresh expressions of church, I both recognise and affirm the praxis that both authors describe.

The “pioneer” language should not be read to imply ordained or stipendiary “professional” pioneers. Male’s book, in particular, is designed for lay people doing pioneering mission alongside working lives. These are not books seeking to validate or defend fresh expressions of church, but to teach best practice in establishing them.

Both emphasise that fresh expressions are contextual, and so cannot be successfully established through a prior decision about the model of church to be planted, or by uncritically cloning an example from another place. Both emphasise partnerships and the importance of a team approach. Both identify mission as, first, God’s activity, together with the importance of discernment as the key to human participation. Both illustrate their key points from a variety of other stories, as well as their own direct experience.

If there is a tension between the two volumes, it is a creative one. Male’s aim is to show that pioneering a new community of faith is a task within the reach of many ordinary Christians. The praxis learned is accessible and genuinely possible for many people in many places.

He writes for those who want, at very least, to explore the possibility of planting a fresh expression of church, but who do not know how. Milne also sets out key principles learned from earthed practice, but because he is describing a single piece of work carried out over a 12-year period, his book also demonstrates the potential personal cost of pioneering, and the need for perseverance. Both authors are right. The books are complementary.

Some readers find core principles to be the best way to learn a new practice, in which case Male’s book is for them, others learn best through stories, and Milne’s book is based primarily around the story of his Sorted fresh expressions for young people and young adults in Bradford. Readers who are completely new to fresh expressions of church should start with Male, as his title implies. His book is also designed for group study, with key questions at the end of every chapter, and has details of further online resources.

But Male’s readers should move on to Milne later. Milne’s is a longer book, providing greater detail. He also discusses issues not covered in any depth by Male, such as the development of worship, the multiplication of fresh expressions of church, and authorisation through Bishop’s Mission Orders.

Milne’s work would also benefit experienced leaders of fresh expressions, not just those working with young people or on urban estates, as his book is an exemplary case study in the practice of missional leadership.

I warmly recommend both volumes as key resources for the Church’s mission to those who will otherwise never engage with us.

 

The Rt Revd Graham Cray is the Archbishops’ Missioner and Team Leader of Fresh Expressions.

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