New challenges will arise, new questions with be asked, new solutions must be sought…

New challenges will arise, new questions with be asked, new solutions must be sought…

The Rev. Graham Horsley, The British Methodist Church’s Planting Coordinator, says, “The greatest challenge facing those involved in church planting today is reaching people for whom institutional church is totally irrelevant.”

The Church’s mission is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every generation. But the rapidly expanding part of our generation finds the Church’s life is not a message they can understand, and so our message does not help them to life. How can we facilitate a face-to-face encounter with the living Christ for this emerging culture? And what of the rural church?

Mostly we are seeing a reduction in clergy placements, shrinking rural populations (particularly of young people) and the emergence of increasingly lay-lead congregations. Our old pattern of church = building + minister + stipend is no longer sustainable.

Emerging church

The Stories of the Good Samaritan, the Disciples going to Emmaus and Paul’s Damascus Experience, suggest we should meet people on the road where they walk. Much of the existing church operates like the Parables of the Prodigal Son, and the Wedding Banquet. It has a ‘you-come-to-us mindset’, preparing, inviting and waiting.

Emerging church starts not with a pre-conceived notion of church, but with the desire to discover an expression of church shaped by the culture and in the context of the people involved. It does not parachute, “This is how to do church!” on to people, but starts on the ground and asks, “How do you think we should do it?”

Although by its very definition, emerging church is always provisional, experimental and fluid in keeping with the emerging culture, it is not new and is rapidly becoming a movement within well established denominations that seek relevance in the 21st century. I believe that we need new experimental patterns of how the church is to emerge, both in the city and in rural areas. Resource ministry may be one such development.

The Rev. Dr Carlos Ham from Cuba, formerly the co-ordinator of the Mission and Ecumenical Formation Team of the WCC, says, “We are living in a rapidly changing sociological reality. Fresh expressions of church should be at the heart of mission. We need a changing church in a changing culture!”

What would this mean for us in NSW/ACT at this moment in both our changing city and rural communities? How do we get the balance right?

Practically it will seek to facilitate that which we have always tried hard to hold together ‑ the experience of a warmed heart and the outcome of social justice for people seeking a vocabulary of faith consistent with their 21st century context. It should not be a strategy to simply transition people into existing forms of ‘doing church’. Hopefully the Christian community that emerges will challenge both the culture and the Church.

This will require space and dedicated attention. It must be allowed to emerge. We cannot organise it from within existing structures, but must deliberately engage the culture in conversation about it. As the patterns our life change in both city and rural areas, so must the patterns of church life change.

Rev. Dr Andrew Williams, General Secretary

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