Thursday 5 February 2009

Emerging, mission-shaped, freshly expressed or just plain Godly: images for a questing church

church centred thinking of the churchmission centredl thinking









mixed economy  thinking of the church

godly thinking









(click on an image to open and download the larger version)

I have just started preparing for a centenary church anniversary celebration which I shall be leading in a week's time. This village church is forward thinking and are completing a major rebuild and renovation. They plan to use the latest technology in worship and so I am tinkering with Powerpoint and engaging with the gospel set for the day: Mark's story of the man with leprosy who comes to Jesus and begs to be healed (Mark 1:40-45). 

The text is a real challenge to the contemporary church, because the man says to Jesus “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean".  This raises the sharp question of what really motivates us and why we set the priorities we do.  When asked this question, Jesus is clearly deeply moved with pity and compassion, but a textual variant raises the possibility that in actual fact he gets really angry. For example, the excellent Preaching Peace website says: "What stuns me is Jesus response of anger to the very suggestion that he might NOT will the man to be clean. Not that he is angry at the man himself, but at the system that has taught him that the servant of God might understand God as desiring his illness, that he might somehow deserve to have it continue." Jesus gets annoyed with a worldview that implies that this man is not a priority for God.  Jesus gets annoyed that he could ever be thought of as being disinterested in this man's suffering. Jesus gets annoyed that anyone could think that God has caused this man's distress.

I wonder how many people would be taken aback if we got angry that anyone should think that we are disinterested in the private agony and suffering that is so commonplace in our communities? Would people be shocked to learn that not only are our churches willing to help but that we exist for their benefit? Would those who do not find it easy to fit in or conform, those whose sense of self-worth is minimal and those who have next to no hope be surprised by our welcoming acceptance of them as they are?  The irony in these questions will not be lost on anyone who has ever contended with a church-centred mentality.

Whether we are church-centred, emerging, mission-shaped, freshly expressed or just trying to be plain godly, the phrase "if you are willing" shakes us out of our settled ways of thinking. Kathy Escobar's latest post 'a view from the margins' really brings this home to me.

The four images explore our ever-widening worldview as we are shaken out of our settled or emerging ways and move from being church-centred to God-centred. When we are church-centred what happens in chapel is what matters most and the world around us has to come to us. Mission-centred thinking takes us outside and into the life of our community where we share with others in nurturing, growing and harvesting all the qualities and activities which make for healthy, hopeful and flourishing lives and relationships.  A mixed-economy approach  seeks to value and develop the life and witness of the existing church whilst encouraging them to invest their resources missionally in fresh ways into their community and networks, without strings attached, or at the very least to be willing for others to do so on their behalf.

Of course godly thinking always takes us by surprise. God engages with that which we do not see or hear. The last image shows the complete picture with nothing left out and no-one excluded. God spots the vivid colour that is hidden in the background and brings it right up front. Just like the man who confronted Jesus. We know what Jesus did. What, then, are we to do?


  1. What a great use of images. I love this post David, it's really helping with my sermon for Sunday.
    When you have sorted your PowerPoint do upload it to TwelveBaskets and then others can benefit from your undoubted brilliance!

  2. Excellent post as ever!

    I'm inclined to think that 'mission centered' thinking is 'Godly thinking'!

    Although for what I think, I don't have the photoshop skills to do it---- I'd put the house inside the part of the garden, as inseperable from the garden...

    I'd also abolish the word 'outreach' as it carries with it a whole lot of baggage that seperates 'church' from 'mission'...although that is another story...