New ways of supporting new ways of being church
“What’s needed is a total paradigm shift”, says Paul Bradbury, the new CMS pioneer hub coordinator for the south of England. “A new, radical approach that works differently to reimagine church in the emerging context.”
Sounds simple enough…
Back to Paul, who stepped up to this new role in February: “My task is to support pioneers and pioneering across the South,” he explains. To see where new paradigms are being explored and to offer support, to work across dioceses so that pioneering work is recognised and resourced.” This is an issue well up the CMS agenda at the moment, so it was great to catch up with Paul for a chance to kick the issues around and hear his thoughts around where the work could take him.
To paraphrase Paul and to set the context; previous models of church presented people with a solution – a place to go to, an established community to join, a set of beliefs to make sense of the world. Now we have a different context in which to grow fresh expressions of church if we are to be relevant and inclusive to, for example, the young adults who are disengaged with the old model. These people (millennials, as defined by sociologists) tend not to want solutions, but to be given space where they can ask questions; they tend not to want the ‘big event’ of church, instead seeking long-term and deepening relationships – communities and networks that provide meaning and purpose.
This pioneering work is happening, and there are plenty of examples of where Christians are recognising the value that they can offer by simply ‘be-ing’ in a place, places where ‘the church’ may not be recognisable through the inherited lens but is developing an alternative model of being the Body of Christ. One of Paul’s challenges in his new role is working out how to sustain this work. “Missional communities provide a good framework for developing new ways of being church,” says Paul. “They provide a flexible, organic model based on ‘being there’, on not imposing a fixed model but engaging with the context.” Other features of these missional communities include (often) lay leadership, and the need for self-supporting work as there may be no external funding to offer salaries, venues etc.
Paul points to Leicester Diocese as providing a good example of supporting such lay-led pioneer work through their use of Flexible Mission Shaped Ministry training, [link to previous story?] and is working across six dioceses to develop lay pioneer pathways and hubs. “I’m starting to explore a portfolio approach that will work towards providing appropriate resources in each context,” says Paul. This perhaps involves more reflecting on practice than focus on the ‘heavier’ academic studies which may not provide the contextual support required.”
The challenge – and the opportunity – is that this approach feels new and potentially challenging to the established way of doing things. It doesn’t bring people ‘in’ to train and ordain them, but offers support to them and their work even though they are ‘outside’ of the institution. “There’s lot of thinking to bring together,” Paul says. “The pioneer gift is unique, and part of the CMS role is to work within existing structures to support this whilst not making it ‘fit’.”
Simple? Maybe not. But (we think) vital work, and we’re excited to see what emerges as Paul works with CMS and across dioceses on the task of resourcing the emerging church – in whatever form it may take.
You can find out more about Paul Bradbury’s work with the South Central RTP Pioneer Hub at CMS by visiting their website.