A relevant gospel accessible to everyone

Helen Harwood writes:

I’m new to the Mission Shaped Ministry course and as I sat to write this short piece about MSM (starting here at CMS this autumn and run jointly by the Diocese of Oxford, Northampton Methodist District and Church Mission Society), I thought I would take a Google around and see what others had written about the course! Almost immediately I spotted the words “gathering pace”, “excited” and “exactly what the Doctor ordered”. That’s perfect because it sums up how I feel as I am about to embark on my first ever Mission Shaped Ministry course. I’ve heard it said there are two ‘states’ for the church to be in – mission or maintenance. Sometimes it does feel as if we are maintaining the church – the building, ourselves! Not that that is in itself a bad thing. But it can lead to a sense of decline, as we try and prop up what remains rather than looking to inject new life.

We overuse the phrase ‘new blood’, as if we think new people will answer everything; I certainly don’t think that new people coming in will provide all the answers, they may well provide quite a lot of new questions! And they also may not come ‘in’ at all. They may find us through the things we as a church (or rather as a body of people) commit to in the community. They may never quite make it through the door on a Sunday. Yet they may join us, in a very real sense, in the work of the kingdom. If only we could get people outside the church fired up for that! And if we find that we ourselves are not at all on fire for the things of God’s kingdom, how can we expect anyone else to be!

Somewhere in my head is that old song, Bring Revival, Lord, Start With Me. Not just a revival of bums on seats but of lives changed. This is why I feel initiatives like the MSM course can come in and inject not new blood but new vision into a church or group. We can start to see things in a new light and explore how to use things like our time and talents for God, and for people.

As I’m new to MSM I thought I would ask some old hands – well, not so much of the old as they probably all younger than me, perhaps more ‘seasoned’ in the ways of MSM – exactly why this course is good for those wanting to reach out.

I asked Andrew Gear, member of the Department of Mission for Oxford Diocese and responsible for supporting fresh expressions, why he thought the MSM course offers a very good and practical way for churches and individuals to reach out in mission.

“I think one of the most valuable aspects of MSM is that you meet together with other people, from other churches, who are also asking questions about how to reach out to those not in our churches. That creates a wonderful sense of a shared journey and the opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and failures. That helps to grow confidence and because engaging in mission ‘on the edges’ can be a lonely place, MSM also provides the assurance of knowing that there are a group of people supporting and praying for each other.”

Katharine Crowsley is the course leader and I asked her what she had seen individuals or churches take from the course?

“In teaching the MSM course I have seen both individuals and church teams growing in confidence to re-imagine mission in their own context. MSM gives both the practical skills and the opportunity to theologically reflect on how to establish a fresh expression of church.”

So who can we expect to be on this course with us! I asked Emma Major, lay pioneer minister and on the team for the Thames Valley MSM, who she thought would be key people wanting to get involved in the MSM course.

“If you are interested in new ways of being church, are intrigued by fresh expressions of church, are passionate about bringing the good news of Jesus to those in your community, or want to energise the mission of your church then you will want to get involved with the mission shaped ministry course.”

The course will be run in Oxford and will include lunch. The commitment of the course is spread out over nine Saturdays, dispersed over 18 months, so just one every couple of months. This is not a quick fix but rather a longer term commitment, hopefully for many this will easier to maintain than the demands of a more frequent course.

I’m looking forward to it as a missional oasis every couple of months where I can come away from my home/work regular life and engage with like-minded people in exploring ways to take the gospel to friends where they are. As with all mission it doesn’t stay as something separate and isolated, it will permeate my every day work/home life, and I hope it will enable me to connect with others in a new way; those inside the church, those outside the church, and those on the fringe. Maybe it will even help me to value everyone better because it is not an attempt to make the gospel more relevant in everyday situations, rather to make a relevant gospel accessible to everyone.

Pray: for us as we at CMS prepare to run this course with Diocese of Oxford and Northampton Methodist District. For all who will join us. For a good sense of fellowship and camaraderie as we enter into this venture together.

Book by 31 August! For further information on costs, dates and how to book your place – please see the Mission Shaped Ministry website or email me at helen.harwood@cms-uk.org

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