The following is a new section of orientation material from the NYNO booklet that is slowly taking shape.
The NYNO project was begun with an optimism that had sprung from a fresh – for us – reading of Scripture. We felt that we had seen, as though for the first time, something of what it meant to be the Church and that we had before us a place and a people in which that understanding of Church could be lived out as though we were a city on a hill. This meant that we went forward to start the project with a confidence that God could and would provide.
We knew that what we were proposing to do would not immediately appeal to many in the wider church. This was not because anyone would deny the importance of what we were trying – its basis in Scripture, its nature as a missionary action – but rather because we all find ourselves committed to our current congregations and it can be hard to embark on something new. There are lots of valid reasons for this. One the one hand, many Christians feel embattled and defensive in the face of increased secularism and gathering together in larger churches full of peers helps alleviate some of that stress, helps give confidence in mission. In contrast, NYNO appears to offer the prospect of commitment to a small congregation, full of older people: not immediately appealing. On the other hand, many existing congregations in the historic denominations are struggling to meet their financial commitments and require all the help they can draw on. Placing your attention on a new initiative may well be seen as a betrayal, leaving the burden of maintenance for the existing congregation on an ever fewer number.
Despite all of this, or perhaps even because of it, we want to insist that the Church can exist in ways that are faithful to God and so constantly surprising to us and to the world. If God is with us, who could be against us? We knew we were seeking to answer a question, the answer to which was not obvious. But we also knew that Christ was raised from the dead and therefore the Church must not simply live according to rules defined by the expectation of success. Christ would never have died for us had he followed those rules. What we are seeking is the fullness of life of the kingdom of God. The figure of Zacchaeus springs to mind. Here was a man who gave up his wealth and yet … rejoiced. We know that NYNO offers a challenge to many of us, particularly to the younger generations, but we do not believe the Gospel calls us to selfless misery. There is joy to be had in a NYNO congregation. It seems to us, as it must have done to Zacchaeus, that though this way offers challenge, it also offers something better.
An optimism founded in the new reality of the Spirit of Christ, who died and rose again, is a necessary characteristic of the Church. Such an attitude will always receive accusations of naivety. All such criticisms cannot simply be dismissed. A criticism of our optimism that stemmed from a cynicism and lack of faith would have to be resisted. This would be a criticism that failed to recognize the reality of the kingdom of God as the constitutive basis of our Church. This is not, however, the only criticism possible. A criticism based on a failure to observe the reality of the world is also possible and it is here where we are most at risk of rightly being called naïve.
Starting a NYNO congregation presents lots of challenges. There are personal challenges for the individuals who try to start it, there are challenges for the church community as it forms itself, changes and continues while its members grow frail and die. NYNO pioneers need to know what they are getting into. To use the Zacchaeus example, they need to know how much money they have before the full significance of giving it up can be experienced. We need to know that people may not flock to join us, they they may have many other claims on their time and energy. We need to know there is no set pattern of success that can easily be followed to achieve a ‘thriving’ congregation – that we ourselves will need to go into our situation in faith and with prayer, seeking answers for our own situation.
To return to the language of the kingdom, it is helpful to remember that the fullness of the kingdom will not be known until Christ returns. The challenge and task of the Church is to live in and according to the reality of the kingdom, to live in the Spirit, in a world that does not yet know the newness of the kingdom or the refreshing life of the Spirit. This is not achieved by closing our eyes and humming a hymn, but by knowing full well the challenges that are ahead and yet nonetheless believing that God looks with favour on the lowliness of his servant.