“Our current system is perfectly designed to see the results we are currently achieving” (Alan Hirsch)
My word for the year is “anti-clericalism”
I was trained for Anglican ministry in the late 1990’s, George Carey’s ‘Decade of Evangelism’. Lots of people were talking about “Church Growth” and “Healthy Churches” and moving from “maintenance to mission”. Parishes began to engage in “Mission Action Planning”, and HTB had begun to get serious about “church planting”—following the example of the many new church networks that seemed to be growing everywhere and attracting lively ex-Anglicans.
For many years my idea of church growth could be summed up by the word “addition”. I hoped that each year we would add new members to our church and in that way our church would grow. Of course, the new members would need to be more than the number we lost each year through bereavement, population mobility or backsliding.
Looking back now, I think I took it as a given fact that most of that growth would come through the activities of the clergy or staff. I would have been horrified if someone accused me of expecting everyone else to “turn up, pay up and shut up”, but in truth I expected little more of most church members, except a few who might become small group or Sunday school leaders, or assist a staff member on the Alpha Course.
And then, in 2017, I attended the Launch Conference, hosted by Anthony Delaney of Ivy Church in Manchester. There I heard Dave Ferguson speak, and my understanding of what was needed from me as a church leader was completely transformed. In the last few years, through engaging with the thinking of Alan Hirsch (The Forgotten Ways, 5Q, and other titles), Neil Coles (Rising Tides), Dave Ferguson (Exponential, and the whole “New Thing” movement), Stuart Murray-Williams (Post-Christendom) and others, I feel like the scales are being ripped from my eyes to enable me to begin to imagine a different model for church, a movement-orientated model, able to thrive in a post-Christendom world.
The heart of the challenge is this: What would it look like for me to stop thinking in terms of growth by ‘addition’ and start thinking in terms of growth by ‘multiplication’? The maths is telling.
Suppose I set myself a fairly modest target: Suppose I decided to start a church, and spent a year helping one other person to become a disciple of Jesus, and training them to help another person to become a disciple of Jesus. At the end of the year there would be two of us in our little “church”. In the second year, we both train one other person. At the end of two years there are four of us. At the end of five years there are thirty-two. Up to this point, a fairly modest level of growth. But this is where exponential thinking becomes interesting, because these are 32 passionate disciples who see their raison d’etre as bringing in new disciples. So, as you keep doubling the numbers they grow, well…exponentially.
2 —> 4 —> 8 —> 16 —> 32 —> 64 —> 128 —> 256 —> 612 —> 1024
If it could be done, and not allowing for those other factors mentioned earlier (bereavement, population mobility and backsliding), at the end of ten years you would have over a thousand members of your church! And you can do your own calculations for the next five years! (You would reach the world population in 33 years!)
Of course, there are factors which mitigate against being able to achieve in real life what the model predicts in theory. For example, not every discipling story will be a “success” in the terms laid out here. And there is the challenge of establishing and evolving church structures to accompany and support such rapid growth. On the other side of the coin one able person could seek to train more than one other disciple, and we are not starting with just two of us! If thinking about ‘multiplication’ growth can bring even a quarter of the numbers in the chart, we’d be making good progress.
“Don’t measure your seating capacity, measure your sending capacity” Dave Ferguson
This movement way of thinking involves thinking about multiplication at all levels. In 2 Tim 2:2 we read Paul saying
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.
Here we find four generations of discipleship mentioned.
Paul —> Timothy —> Reliable people —> Others
So we now talk about the 2 Tim 2:2 multiplication principle:
- Disciples who make disciples who make disciples
- Therefore leaders who raise up leaders who raise up leaders
- Therefore churches that plant churches that plant churches
This is the language at the heart of the work Bishop Ric Thorpe is doing with the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication, and the whole C of E Strategic Development Funding (SDF). I think the SDF support is helpful, and I have to admit an interest, as our church is a (relatively small scale) beneficiary. But I also think one issue with the funding is that it creates the impression that we couldn’t turn the situation around without it, or that there’s nothing that churches can do about growth unless they have this external resource.
That’s paid church leaders talking. I am a stipendiary member of the clergy, very comfortably paid, with a lovely house and a pension. The deepest personal challenge to me (and by extension my family) comes from the knowledge that the most effective church leader and planter in history, Paul of Tarsus, was (for much of his ministry) a non-stipendiary minister.
As mentioned earlier, church planting has been on the agenda for a long time, but in inner-city Bradford where I minister, it is difficult to imagine that we could plant a network of churches which would all be led by a full-time paid minister. In fact, in the discipleship multiplication model outlined above, if my goal is simply to raise up another disciple by reading the Bible and praying with them, I can do that while holding down a full-time secular job. At what point in the model do we need the other tasks that fill the diary of a full-time minister? At what point do we need a place to meet larger than a standard living room?
Christendom is over and we have yet to get used to the fact
Stuart Murray Williams, in Post-Christendom describes the seven transitions the church will make in a post-Christendom world. I think many church leaders will be aware of them, whether we’re comfortable with them or not. But his seventh transition (“static institution to dynamic movement”) has really caught my imagination in recent years. The Church of England is rarely described in dynamic terms! What does it take for the church to transition from a static, institutionalised ecclesiology to a dynamic, movement-orientated way of thinking and being?
The key word in all of this, for me, is anti-clericalism. As an ordained leader, I must become less, the people of God (the body of Christ) must become more. “For the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, but it must not be so with you… The greatest among you will be the servant of all.” This is not to overthrow the Anglican “three-fold order” of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, it is simply to re-orientate it away from the Christendom model we have got too used to. The old model saw “promotion” as the receiving of greater authority. The bishop as “prince in his diocese”. But that doesn’t bear much resemblance to the words of Jesus just quoted.
It’s not that we don’t understand that we are to be servants. It’s more that I think we don’t understand what a servant really does. We say that “we serve by teaching”, “we serve by pastoring”, “we serve by leading”. There’s truth in that. But it misses the real meaning of servanthood. I grew up in Pakistan, in a house with servants. Having an above-average income, my parents employed servants as a form of job creation scheme. The servants were employed because of particular skills (such as cooking and cleaning), but my parents also had the capability to cook and clean. The real value of having servants was to enable them to carry out their own roles more effectively.
We (clergy) are used to getting value and self-worth from “doing our job well”, by which we might mean preaching, or taking a funeral, or making a pastoral visit, or leading a church council meeting (and more). What if the primary question for me as ‘minister’ (= ‘servant’) was actually the number of church members I properly equip to minister according to the grace given them (Eph 4:13)?
The issue of clericalism is recognised in multiple Church of England reports over the decades, and most recently in “Setting God’s People Free” (2017), which called for a cultural shift in the way we think about ‘clergy’ and ‘lay people’. But there is a heavy cultural anchor tied around these terms. Re-reading the report I am struck by how complex the solutions appear—when what is needed is solutions which can be easily grasped and shared, simple but not simplistic. This is what I feel the Exponential movement has given me.
Somewhere at the heart of all this is Ephesians 4
He gave some to be Apostles, some to be Prophets, some to be Evangelists, some to be Shepherds and Teachers, to equip God’s people for works of service… From Christ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Eph 4:11, 16).
This fivefold model is what Alan Hirsch describes as “APEST”.
When we say “ministry”, Alan Hirsch challenges us also to ask “which ministry?” If Jesus has given some of his people grace to be apostolic (missionary, entrepreneurial, stretching the boundaries), and some the grace to be pastors (shepherds, tending and guiding), their ministries will look quite different from each other. Yet we have tended to treat “ministry” as if it were one thing, which is one reason the term “Lay Reader” has so struggled for definition in recent years. And under the Christendom model we have tended to treat (and select and train for) “ordained ministry” as if it were all pastoring and teaching.
For this reason, in our church in Bradford (with about 200 adults and children) we are experimenting with a new leadership structure which places this five-fold model of ministry at its heart.
|PCC||Fabric and Finance||Is all being done well?||Quarterly|
|Core team||Vision and Values||Where are we going?||Monthly|
|Leadership forum||Ministry and Mission||What shall we do?||Monthly|
|Staff team||Diary and Details||How do we make it work?||Weekly|
Core Team: Five people who corporately share the vicar’s role of seeking God for the vision and DNA of our calling. Each of the five is responsible for leading and training in one of the five APEST areas of ministry. All five are established leaders (two clergy, two readers and one other lay person).
Leaders Forum: Everyone with a leadership role of any kind – Core Team, PCC members, staff, small group leaders, Sunday school leaders, trainee leaders, etc. I invited about 40 people to the first forum, just before lockdown. The leaders’ forum is a great place to thrash out questions of ministry and mission in the light of the vision, and to find a common language for what we believe we are all about.
PCC: members are part of the forum, and PCC continues to function as the trustees for the church, holding everyone to account as necessary, and directly overseeing fabric and finance, but only meeting four times a year.
Staff Team: focuses on planning and programmes.
Why does this matter? Because releasing the people of God into ministry includes both the clergy sharing their authority, and the church establishing new structures which properly equip the people according to the grace God has given each one. I feel excited that we are embarking on a new adventure, but I do find that the inherited model of church is so ingrained in me that breaking free from the gravity of the past is proving a surprising challenge. Please pray for us.
John Bavington is vicar of St John’s Great Horton and St Wilfrid’s Lidget Green and Area Dean of Inner Bradford in West Yorkshire. He is married to Jeanie Allen and they have four boys. John loves curry and cricket and Crystal Palace FC.
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