Theological reflections on funding the mission of the Church of England

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Funding the mission of the Church of England


In undertaking its task, the Resourcing Mission Group was itself resourced by theological reflections prepared by its chairman, the Bishop of Bath and Wells. In total, he prepared four papers for the Group:

    1. Funding the local mission of the Church of England – a theological rationale

    2. Assessing the Priorities for Funding Mission

    3. Issues of Mission and Local

    4. Requirements for Supporting Local Mission

The papers helped the Group to identify some of the key questions that it needed to address and establish the principles necessary to guide its conclusions. The Group’s main report draws and includes extracts from the paper. Some further short extracts are set below to illustrate the thinking behind the Group’s argument. [Full copies of these papers will be made available on the Church of England website.]

A. Funding the local mission of the Church of England

12345Much useful reflection has been done [on the nature of Church’s mission] by other reports of the Church of England, notably A Growing Partnership – The Church of England and World Mission (GS Misc 439); Eucharistic Presidency (GS 1248), Presence and Prophecy (GS 1442) and more recently Mission Shaped Church – Church Planting and Fresh Expressions of Church in a Changing Context (GS1523). [See quotes in the main text of the report]
[Mission theology must give adequate weight to the kingdom of God in view of its centrality to the mission of Jesus]. Within the Jewish psyche of Jesus’ time the ‘reign’ or ‘kingdom of God’ is proclaimed as a moment that is already expected…‘He (Jesus) speaks of the rule of God without having to explain the term.’ Jesus speaks of God’s ‘kingdom’ but never of God as king, but only as ‘Father.’ The Lord’s prayer bids ‘ Our Father in heaven, your kingdom come.’ God’s rule is not one of dominance but of familia dei – the family of God. The relationships within it are essentially familial, communal. The rule of God is essentially restorative, the calling of people back into a familial relationship, rather than one of dominance and oppression. Jesus’ mission was the demonstrable overcoming of evil, ultimately and finally displayed on the cross, but acted out in the symbolic acts of healing and exorcism which were themselves moments of confrontation with oppressive and destructive powers….‘And if the only reason there is any Christianity is because of the resurrection’ – the victory of God over the powers of evil - it further demonstrates that God showing that ‘Jesus was right, and his enemies were wrong.’
….The restoration of God’s ‘saving justice’ (Matthew 6.33) is the governing motive of [Jesus’] mission, and of all who would embrace his call to be followers, whether as individuals, institutions, or nations.….Jesus’ personal lifestyle reflected the values of his message. He is recorded as ‘having nowhere to lay his head’; he is not recorded as having any possessions; he lived within a discipleship community, leaving it only for the purpose of solitude and encounter with the Father. He accepted the hospitality and generosity of people with homes and resources…He did not tie himself to particular structural solutions, but emphasised self-giving love as the over-riding attitude to effect change (John 15 and various).
[Within] the kingdom of God…through restoration and forgiveness in all relationships, both personal and institutional, a new order of harmony – shalom – is to be established…Jesus’ solidarity with the marginalized and discriminated against did not provide them with an excuse not to change their own ways of victim hood and dependence. All were expected to grow [into their full humanity]; the healed and exorcised were told to cease from sin as much as the wealthy and influential were challenged to change their lifestyles too.
…. In understanding the mission of Jesus for today, there is a need to re-engage with ‘God’s missionary purposes (which) are cosmic in scope, concerned with the restoration of all things, the establishment of shalom, the renewal of creation and the coming of the kingdom,’ and in the light of that the redemption of fallen humanity and the building of the Church.’...Scepticism among Christians [about seeking to transform the whole creation]…is based to some extent at least on the belief that no large enough vision exists to fuse such striving into a coherent whole. ‘The gospel holds such a vision: the reign of God. But that vision has been clouded and at times totally eclipsed by transferring God’s reign to a heavenly after life of individual restitution – “pie in the sky when you die bye and bye.”’….Consequently, Jesus vision of a new world in process of coming has been lost, even for most Christians.’
….Jesus’ priorities and values are different. Power is not to be used to dominate; greatness is to be found in identification and solidarity with those at the bottom of the pile (Matthew 5.3-12; Luke 6.20-23). Give the banquet to those normally excluded; and if you are a guest, do not presume status (Luke 14.7-11)…Such illustrations are only examples of the alternative Jesus offered. They are significant because they determine not only the nature of the way in which ‘good news’ is to be shared; but also point to models of being church and leadership which Mission Shaped Church begins to address. Funding mission in such a church requires imagination and a preparedness to ‘think out of the box.’

The funding of mission as reflected in the gospels and the epistles. We have already observed the extent to which Jesus own lifestyle impacted upon the effectiveness of his mission….:

  • no fixed abode

  • few, if any, possessions

  • lived in community

  • solitude for God alone

  • acceptance of hospitality and generosity

  • sought the safety and well being of his disciples

  • not tied to particular structural solutions.

What is clear from even the most rudimentary analysis of Jesus’ mission is that lifestyle and a passionate commitment to fulfilling God’s purpose dominated everything. He believed that the only solution to the human dilemma was the restoration of God’s saving justice and the practice, and implementation through community, of the values of the familia dei.
Jesus’ acceptance of the hospitality and generosity of others seems at first sight to demonstrate a willingness to accept charity from the well-to-do….However, his association with his benefactors always seems to have led to an expectation that they would practice some of the values of his own discipleship.
Jesus’ expectations of those who would follow him was rooted in his belief that laying aside financial security…was a ‘first step’ in discipleship, rather than a lifestyle choice when all other securities had been secured. Jesus’ practice of simple living, the selling of possessions were to provide both the environment and the funding for the building of the kingdom. Evidence of the impact of this teaching is to be found in the Acts of the Apostles. Here those ‘who shared the faith owned everything in common, they sold their goods and possessions and distributed the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed’ (Acts 2.44 see also Acts 4.34-35).
The effect upon growth of the community seems to have been dramatic, but it also produced problems. Significant numbers of the poor arrived; racial and sexual discrimination became evident (Acts 6.1). The communities were subject to both generosity (Acts 4.36-37) and fraud (Acts 5.1-11). Later St. Paul is obliged to instruct ‘not to let anyone eat who refused to work’ (1 Thessalonians 3.10). Even the poor have a responsibility not to get trapped in their dependence.
Real need threatened to hamper the mission of the apostles in a time of growing persecution, and structures for financial management, as well as organisation were quickly implemented (Acts 6.1-6).

What becomes clear is the need for ‘both and’ in respect of ministry. The apostles – lit ‘the ground breakers’ - must proclaim God’s ‘saving justice’ in the light of the return of Christ ‘to whom every knee should bow’ (Romans 14.11). The deacons are to create the means by which the gospel values are to be worked out in the local situation, including feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and needy. Persecution further added to the challenge of funding the mission of the church. Those charged with financial management were no less zealous for the truth of the gospel, and the authorities, who continued to feel threatened by the communities of the Way, assassinate Stephen, one of the deacons (Acts 6.9-15). We may observe that the followers of the Way who escaped the persecution in Jerusalem were first called ‘Christians’ in Antioch (Acts 11: 26). We may assume they arrived as refugees, economic migrants.

….The letters of Paul and James provide more by way of insight into the issue of funding the mission of the apostles. Paul speaks of his tent making and reminds his churches of his ‘labours night and day so as not to be a burden’ (2 Thessalonians 3.7-9) to the fledgling communities. The reason for this lack of reliance was example – ‘a model for you to imitate’ (3.9.) Particular situations, notably the famine which affected the church in Jerusalem call for generosity, but this seems to be a special gift offering to meet a disaster emergency. Indications are given of ‘setting aside your offering on the first day of the week,’(1 Corinthians 16:2) but once again this seems to be a practical instruction rather than an indicator of mission giving.
James draws attention to the dangers within the Christian community of wealth and its corrosive effect upon the pursuit of ‘God’s saving justice.’ ‘ Can you hear crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the labourers mowing your fields?’ he rails. ‘The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth’ (James 5.4-5). Paul’s injunctions to rich Christians requires that they ‘do not set their hopes on money, which is untrustworthy…..(but) to do good works, generous in giving and always ready to share’ (1 Timothy 6.17-19)
Paul, who constantly speaks of the driving passion of his mission to proclaim Christ, recognises always that there are huge expectations that lifestyle and generosity must go together. But he does not take generosity for granted; ‘I have learned to manage with whatever I have. I know how to live modestly, and how to live luxuriously too.’ His account of the receipt of gifts in his letter to the Philippians is almost poetic;‘ the offering that you sent, a pleasing smell, the sacrifice which is acceptable and pleasing to God’ (Philippians 4.10-18). Paul is no skin flint. Generosity is to be enjoyed.
Despite its particular focus on the hardship faced by the Macedonian churches, Paul’s teaching on giving in 2 Corinthians 8 is perhaps the most substantive piece of direct teaching on sharing resources for mission. Paul speaks with passion about the need; he speaks about the ‘intense poverty’ of the church, but of their ‘wealth of generosity.’ Turning his attention to the wealth of the Corinthians in terms of ‘faith, eloquence, understanding, concern for everything –and love for us too.’ He delivers the coup de grace – ‘then make sure that you excel in this work of generosity too.’ Almost tongue in cheek he says, ‘I am not giving this as an order,’ but he follows this with an impassioned plea to reflect on the generosity of Christ.’ There follows a practical instruction, ‘ It is not that you ought to relieve other people’s need and leave yourselves in hardship there ought to be a fair balance – your surplus at present may fill their deficit, and another time their surplus may fill your deficit.’ (8.13-15).
What is unique about this particular series of instructions is that they seem to be given to an institution and not just to individuals. It is not until the end of the letter that Paul bids ‘each one to give as much as he has decided on his own initiative not reluctantly, nor under compulsion’ (9.7). Further, as instructions they offer parallels to the generosity of others. Once again the principle of example is placed before the church communities.
The force with which this guidance is given is perhaps indicative of the fact that generosity in mission has always been a tough thing to achieve, both in institutions and individuals. While accepting the need for accountability, Paul is quite clear that the dispersion and use of funds and other resources must be left to the recipients whose only obligation is to be generous as God has been generous in sending his Son into the world, for its redemption, restoration and healing.

B. Assessing the Priorities for Mission Funding

God’s love of the world (John 3. 16) calls for the renewal of creation, the making of shalom – harmony between humanity and God, within human beings and between the created order and the planet. It envisages the ‘making of peace’, the fulfilment of the prophetic dream where ‘Nation will not lift up sword against nation, or ever again be trained to make war’ (Micah 4.4.). The fulfilment of this vision is the outworking of the kingdom, a ‘domination free order’ – of a new world order in process of coming. Personhood will be determined through human beings forgiven and forgiving, restored to the familia dei with God not as king but as pater familias.
…There is little doubt that the Church of England needs to engage imaginatively and creatively in the task of mission if it is to have a viable and recognisable future. As Mission Shaped Church evidences, the form and lifestyle of the church may take a wide variety of forms and definitions not immediately perceived as ‘Anglican.’
A re-mining and re-working of the wealth of biblical tradition on the nature of the missio dei, the centrality of the kingdom to Jesus’ mission, and the re-awakening of a passion for a different kind of world, all provide the potential for re-igniting a joy and hope in the gospel that sees God’s purpose for humanity as much in the present as in the future.
….Whatever process we set up for assessing and distributing funds…will be secondary to the larger question of what the funds themselves are to support….The deployment of financial and other resources of the Church of England for mission cannot be done with any significance without a vision….There is a fundamental question to be addressed, namely: ‘What is the nature of the church for which we hope?’
If the Church of England is to be a missionary church then it needs to face up to questions such as:

    • What are the challenges we face?

    • How can we demonstrate we are fit for those challenges?

    • What are the tasks for which we will need to train & educate people?

    • Are we capable of building for the future?

In turn any such thinking will depend upon our ability to make some an assessment of the changing circumstances that we face, as well as our ability to maintain our mission. We will need to be answer the question, ‘Do we want to reach out into the wider world?’ If we do we need to know how we will support and continue the development of those who are commissioned to such tasks.

Many of our parishes comprise upwards of ten thousand citizens. Churches are lauded for growth when they count their annual increase in membership by tens – and those are the success stories. What expectations of growth in a parish of say 17,000 would a missionary church reasonably expect? What would it look like? Such questions are fundamental to radical thinking about new expressions of church.
Much of the concern about ordained ministry lies in its isolation and isolating nature…Collaboration and imagination is necessary to think differently about mission and emerging patterns of church.…While much work has been done in the arena of collaborative ministry, with increased non-stipendiary and lay ministry, much further work needs to be done to establish supportive communities of mission and ministry leadership...If we simply provide a mechanism of dispersement of funds without some envisioning of the kind of church we wish to see emerge, and equipping its leadership – we will not halt the decline we currently face.

C. Issues of ‘Mission and ‘Local’

6…‘Local’ involves diocese and parish/LEP….[Yet] the task of identifying what is meant by ‘mission’ is somewhat more vexed. Here the question of language and perception provides particular challenges. The Church of England has no formal ‘mission strategy’ beyond that in the Preface to the Declaration of Assent where a minister is required to ‘affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care.’

This model of mission is primarily one of care and nurture, and remains the dominant model…The 1988 Lambeth Conference Resolutions indicate a desire of the Church Fathers to go beyond this model…to see a shift to a dynamic missionary emphasis. [See quotes in main text of report].

We need to re-engage with the spirit of Lambeth 1988, and an even more historic precedent set in 1945 with the publication by the Church of England of the Report Towards the Conversion of England.
What Towards the Conversion of England clearly identified for the church was the need for a focus to its mission – namely, and simply, the conversion of England. Such language may appear more suspect in a multi cultural, multi faith society, but there exists a clarity here, and something of identification too with the spirit of Lambeth 1988. What there can be little doubt about is that both recognise the role for the ministry of all the baptised, and each in their own way identified groups as foci for the church’s mission of God’s transforming ‘grace and truth.’

….Resourcing mission at the local level of the parish while being a laudable and necessary objective, can only be part of the solution to the present crisis of mission within the Church of England...What [is needed is a] re-evaluation of the nature of the ministry of all the baptised…the need to equip people for diverse forms of ministry leadership, together with a recognition that leadership resides not in individuals but in a relationship between individuals in pursuit of a common vision.

This brings us to the nub of the difficulty that the Resourcing Mission Group faces, namely confidence in the nature and content of the gospel that makes Christ known to men and women as the hope of the world…As a church we lack the skill and resources to speak confidently and coherently with our contemporary society….At the heart of all this then is a lack of confidence in both the nature of the God whom we would worship and lead others towards…

These are matters of great seriousness…What is needed is a more radical re-appraisal of what is required of a mission shaped church in terms of resources, training and equipping all the baptised people of God.…A number of questions arise:

  • How far as the Church adopted a revolutionary approach to the laity?

  • What patterns of formation and training would be required for the baptised people of God to engage with the gospel values needed today?

  • What is the mission objective of the Church of England today?

  • What models of ministry are needed?

  • What processes of formation will nurture that ministry so that it remains fresh and hopeful?

  • How might such work be funded at a national, diocesan and local level?

D. Requirements for Supporting Local Mission

By affirming the role of the bishop in mission, while recognising that mission is delivered in parish, chaplaincies and in a host of other local situations, a focus is offered for the primary location of mission resources – namely the diocese.

…The Church of England needs to recognise that it cannot manage a shift to a dynamic missionary emphasis without investment in recruiting, training and funding of leaders in mission, whether lay or ordained. [It needs] to deploy its financial and other resources strategically both nationally, through its boards and councils; and locally through its dioceses, parishes and chaplaincies in fulfilment of such a missionary objective.…Anything less than a radical investment in the infrastructure of mission will simply result in a shotgun approach to mission activity, with little hope of real success or the remaking of the church for our times.

The Church of England has historically located the responsibility for ‘bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation’ to the ordained ministry of the Church….[But] both clergy and laity need nurture, training and support in a shift to a dynamic missionary emphasis. As Mission-Shaped Church illustrates, something of this shift will lead to new models of church. However for the greater part, ongoing parish ministry will be pattern of much of the church.

It needs to be acknowledged that the call for a mission shaped church is being made against the backdrop of a decline in stipendiary ministry, and this raises questions as to the nature of training for a ministry requiring more oversight, the management of human resources, conflict resolution and community building.

Care will need to be taken in the recruitment and selection processes, as well as in programmes for initial and continuing ministerial education together with the generation of missionary movement. The development and nurture of lay ministries both separately and in conjunction with those of clergy will require both flexibility and discipline. Dioceses will need to provide appropriate training and development for teams, along with effective reviewing procedures.

While the Church of England has invested resources in training for ordained and lay ministry, little formal provision has been made for mission development. Mission has largely been left to the Church Army and voluntary movement (CPAS, Additional Curates Society etc.). Resources for mission development and training should be provided at a diocesan level. A number of dioceses are experimenting with different models here.

New models of church, whether in the form of larger parish groupings, or in the development of models such as those illustrated in Mission Shaped Church, require skilled leadership. …but what is required is a more coherent training. Such training needs to be delivered locally, particularly as lay involvement is enhanced and becomes more significant.

…Such objectives will help provide the skill and resources for the Church of England to speak confidently and coherently within our contemporary society of the eternal values of the gospel of Jesus Christ, facilitating the transformation of individuals, churches and society.

1 Gerd Theissen A Theory of Primitive Christian Religion, SCM,1999.

2 James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong – Original Sin in the light of the Resurrection, Crossroad, 1998.

3 James Alison, Knowing Jesus SPCK 1998.

4 Stuart Murray, Church Planting: Laying Foundations, Paternoster Press, 1988.

5 Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers Fortress 1992.

6 Orlando Costas identifies conversion as both ‘distinct moment and a continuous process’. The word conversion comes from the Middle English conversen (from which our word conversation) meaning to associate with; also from the Latin converses meaning to turn around.

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