Thoughts from New Zealand
Since the Messy Church forum held in November last year, I continue to reflect on the issues raised by centre/edge tension. This is something that we all face, to a greater or lesser extent.
Here are my musings!
In our Messy Church ministries, as leaders we hold expectations, hopes and dreams of what we set out to achieve. We work towards our Messy Churches being taken seriously as congregations in their own right and not merely as a lightweight event or something that is only suitable for children and families. Inevitably, there are battles and tensions along the way. That is part and parcel of the leadership and discipleship journey, and being at the cutting edge of pioneering ministry. I believe we are called to be together on this journey, supporting, encouraging, challenging and bringing out the best in each other.
When things don’t work out as we hoped, we are faced with the questions:
‘What is God saying to me for this season?’
‘Have I taken things as far as I can?’
‘Does something need to change?’
‘Am I called to persevere and keep going?’
Whatever the outcome, this isn’t about failure. We had a go and responded to God’s call. We learn from the experience and take the lessons with us. A useful question to reflect on is, ’What might I do differently next time?’
Messy Church and any new congregation must remain accountable to the vicar/minister and church/parish. We work under someone else’s overall leadership. When Andrew and I were on the staff of a large Anglican church in the UK, at its height there were nine congregations that met on a Sunday. There were only two ordained clergy in the parish. The majority of these congregations were lay-led. These lay leaders remained accountable to the clergy and the PCC (vestry). The congregations they served were under the umbrella of the vision and overall direction of the parish. The key was strong relationships and a culture of high accountability and low control that enabled congregations and lay leaders to flourish. Inevitably, there were occasions calling for courageous conversations. In the challenge of working with different styles of leadership and personalities we found unity in our diversity and God’s kingdom moved forward. There might have been a few bruises, but we learned from each other and gained strength to keep going. When any one ministry didn’t work out as we had hoped, we supported each other and, through prayer, sought God afresh to re-engage with the vision and direction he was calling us to.
We have all encountered leaders who appear threatened by or who seem to have limited understanding of the values of Messy Church and the culture change that is so needed in church life. There may be issues we don’t fully understand. We need to be true to our calling, embracing the tension, honouring and respecting leadership, even when it seems to jar. The tension won’t just disappear. It is a gift from God and forms the crucible of refining for his kingdom. The challenge is not to be discouraged. It is easy to fall into the trap of ministering out of frustration. As missional leaders, a good discipline is to focus on thankfulness, looking for where God is at work, what he has done and finding blessings in the battle.
Debbie, February 2017