Fr Andris came for a coffee this morning. I shared my experience of trying to kick-start a second round of Mission Planning by sharing the ideas that had arisen from various conversations over the months, and not getting a great deal of response as a result. I wondered whether I had presented the information in the wrong form, whether it was the wrong time of the year to expect people to think about things, or whether the whole approach was awry. We’d decided to seek another Away Day for the PCC facilitated by an outsider. I explained that I had in my mind an ideal that devising a Mission Plan will involve a series of expanding discussions among a church’s membership eventually leading to the whole church endorsing a document which is then worked through and reported back on, but was now wondering whether this was a flexible enough approach.
Andris said that he’d found exactly the same in his church and wondered whether part of the ‘problem’ (if we think of it as a problem) is that our congregations are, generally, happy and content. They’re not necessarily resistant to change (resistance tends to be generated by fear rather than contentment), but their contentment means they have little investment in the idea of change. A lot of our people, perhaps including ourselves, have been Christians for a long time and the inevitable tendency of decades of prayer and practice is to rub off the sharp edges of our religious experience and to induce an ever-greater sense of peace and acceptance. That isn’t a bad thing: in fact it’s the way our spiritual lives are supposed to develop. What it risks is eroding the awareness that the Kingdom is always beyond us, always something to achieve, always calling us to discontent with a world not as God wants it to be.
That doesn’t apply to everyone. Newer Christians are often more questioning of the way things are, and long-established believers may undergo disruptive experiences which result in a kind of reassessment of their faith which may feel like encountering it for the first time. Such people are very valuable to the Body of Christ as a whole.
We found ourselves considering whether the whole-church model of mission planning is realistic for our church communities, who are happy and perhaps even pleased to be presented with a programme and to have a feeling that someone else has the future of the church in hand, but who don’t necessarily want to shape the programme themselves. It may be that the shaping has to rely on a smaller group of individuals (which may well not be identical with the PCC) who can contribute discontent to the whole process. There are resonances, we realised, with leadership-development models pursued mainly by evangelical churches, or the discipleship-development group at one of the nearby moderate-middling churches one of our fellow incumbents described a few months ago. 'This is all great,' pondered Fr Andris, 'It's how we actually do it that's the problem.'