The Mixed Economy

Where did the phrase 'mixed economy' church come from?

The term was first used by Archbishop Rowan Williams to refer to fresh expressions and 'inherited' forms of church existing alongside each other, within the same denomination, in relationships of mutual respect and support.

The idea of the mixed economy has its roots in God.

The mixed economy echoes the Trinity

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have their own identities. They are distinct persons. But they are also totally involved with each other and mutually dependent on one another - so much so that they are a single entity.

Likewise, inherited churches and fresh expressions have their separate identities; they are different. But they too can be greatly involved with each as they share resources, pray for one another and rejoice in each other's strengths. This will allow people outside the church to say, 'They are one.'

To me, participating in the 'mixed economy' is the act of realising our ecumenical [a biblical word] status as the wider and deeper family of God. Its a challenge to not forsake of assembling ourselves together and instead to take a step forward to mixing with the full sweep of that assembly, even parts of it we don't appreciate. When we do that [when I do that] i find myself moving away from a homogeneous corner of God's body, away from a consumer mentality that chooses people like me and people who like me, and towards something that might occasionally be uncomfortable but is a more accurate picture of this peculiar aggregation that we are called up into.
Andrew Jones (tallskinnykiwi)

The mixed economy reflects creation

Leslie Francis and Philip Richter in Gone for Good? (Epworth, 2007, pp. 304-309) stress how diversity and unity are built into creation, and reflect the diversity and unity that exists within the Godhead. The creation of the man and the woman as very distinct beings implies that individual differences are an essential part of being human. Yet men and women are also united in a single humanity. In Genesis 1.27 God's image is given to the man and the woman together, which highlights their underlying unity.

Old and new would be a blessing to one another

If God's intention for the human race is that difference and oneness should be combined, should this not have implications for our understanding of church? We will hold to a vision of one transcendent united church, but positively welcome a rich variety of expressions of church locally, nationally and across the world. Francis and Richter call for a 'multiplex' church. This would allow followers of Christ to celebrate their participation in the kingdom of God in many different ways.

The idea of the mixed economy seeks to make this vision real. Very diverse expressions of church would exist alongside each other in mutual fellowship. Old and new would be a blessing to one another.

The mixed economy expresses the eucharistic heart of the church

In the breaking of the bread at Holy Communion, we are invited to behold the Christ who died for us. Just as the pieces of broken bread - in their different shapes and sizes - belong to the one loaf, we see that in all our diversity we belong to each other because we each belong to the one body of Christ.

In John's gospel, after the last supper Jesus prays for all who will believe in him. He prays not that they will be the same, but that they will be one as they are united to the Godhead (John 17.21). This prayer for unity, so close to the last supper, brings out one of the meanings of Holy Communion. It is to be a celebration of our oneness in Christ amid all our individual differences.

In the mixed economy, relationships of generosity between different expressions of church will enable us to draw together and celebrate communion with integrity.

The mixed economy was modelled by the Jerusalem and Antioch churches

In many ways, the Jerusalem church was like inherited church today. Its origins were in a 'you come to us' approach to mission. It was effective in reaching those within its hinterland, just as many inherited churches currently reach people who are within the orbit of church. It also had a fairly traditional mindset.

The Antioch church was more like fresh expressions. It launched 'we'll go to you' mission and reached people who were largely beyond the hinterland of the Jerusalem church, just as we pray that fresh expressions will increasingly reach those who are outside the orbit of inherited church now.

Despite fierce disagreements at times ... there was mutual respect and support

Despite fierce disagreements at times, Jerusalem and Antioch retained close ties, and there was mutual respect and support. They recognised that Peter was called to mission among the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, and that one was not better than the other: God was blessing both. This formed part of a wider pattern - centres of Christianity sending out missionaries who referred back to the centres they had come from.

The mixed economy can draw strength from the forbearance of the Spirit

In a meditation on some of the writings of early twentieth century Russian Orthodox theologians, Archbishop Rowan Williams has highlighted the patience of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is present in self-emptying and in patience - in self-forgetting - by being there alongside our fallibility, not overcoming it, not taking it over and ironing it out

Rowan Williams, A Margin of Silence, Editions du Lys Vert, 2008, p29

The Spirit teaches, warns and urges believers to follow a path of Christ-likeness. But when believers pursue a very different course, the Spirit remains alongside the individual in continuing fellowship.

For the mixed economy to mean something positive in the everyday life of the church, Christians must learn to live - sometimes painfully - with their differences. Having encouraged and exhorted one another, there will often come a point when the differences between us cannot be bridged and perhaps remain profound. In such circumstances, we may have to entrust our differences to the Spirit of forbearance and stay in patient fellowship with each other, just as the Spirit keeps in fellowship with us.

Whilst it may be difficult to live with the reality of difference and disagreement, one of the gifts of today's climate is that we are revisiting questions of mission and ecclesiology. The dialogue between existing and emerging refines, challenges and encourages us to return to Christ, the head of the church.
Beth Keith, The Sheffield Centre