The following is the first of a series of posts, consisting of our thoughts and reflections as we read Mission-Shaped Church (Mission-Shaped Church (London: Church House Publishing, 2004)). This isn’t an attempt to offer a thorough-going review, but rather a chance for us to order our own thoughts for NYNO.
A question about our changing society and culture (pp. 6-7)
The report suggests that our society has changed, so that whereas we formerly found our community within a geographically defined area, now we look for our community to a greater extent within ‘networks’ – relationships found with others who share aspects of our lifestyle (leisure, work, friendships). Is it possible that these networks have always to some extent existed? Is what we are experiencing not a transference of our community allegiance from the local to the lifestyle, but instead a reduction of it?
Further, are these networks the basis of lifelong commitments, or rather temporary arrangements? What happens if our we attempt to build churches in a community that is inherently unstable?
The report advocates that the church prioritise the poor (p. 7). The report also notes that the poor are more likely to retain relationships that are locally geographically bounded. This is because of the influence of tertiary education and the cost of transport (pp. 2-3). If so, is it the case the fresh-expressions based on ‘networks’ are predominantly middle-class. Further, is this a reason to question whether ‘networks’ are a good place to look to build church? The report advocates ‘engagement’ with networks as ‘a change in the structure of community’ (p. 7). Could this be just as ‘corrosive’ to the church as the lack of commitment in society that it also diagnoses?
In the questions for discussion, the report speaks about people being “‘consumers’ of faith and religion” and urges that the church challenge such attitudes. Is it not possible that churches built upon or within ‘network’ communities based on shared aspects of our lifestyles will be inherently consumerist?
Basing a church on any pre-existing community risks building on shifting sands. ‘Networks’ may be ephemeral, but local familial relationships do not necessarily provide a solid basis for a church community. Christ calls us to leave father and mother, and so the church will have to call people to – and falteringly be a model of – Christ’s commitment to us. This looks more incongruous in a community based essentially on the similar consumerist choices of its members, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as that commitment to Christ and each other transcends our ‘natural’ preferences.
Julie & Matthew