What is the integrity of using your denominational position to engage in patterns of ministry not authorized by your denomination? If you feel called to new patterns of ministry wouldn’t it be more honorable to do it from the outside? …
A spiritual father-figure and mentor to me – Bishop David Pytches
Many, many years ago in a country far away…I was privileged to become a Christian and begin growing in the faith under the ministry of David Pytches. Anyone who knows his voice will understand why it was his ministry which sowed the seeds of my love for good liturgy. When I read the prefaces to Morning Prayer or read the words of some of blessings in the Anglican Prayer Book I still seem to hear the words in DP’s voice!
I was priviledged to share part of the journey of St Andrews Chorleywood during the 80s and early 90s at a time when that church was pushing the envelope in all sorts of creative ways. During that period DP was significant in discerning my own call to the ministry and as I wrestled with questions of why the Lord would want me – at that time – to be serving him within the eccentric confines of Anglicanism, it was to David that I went with some of my questions.
I remember DP explaining that if a church becomes large enough and financially important within a Diocese it finds it has greater liberty in initiating experiment of all kinds. One question that exercised me as an earnest young church-man was this one: “What is the integrity of ‘pushing the envelope’? What is the integrity of using your position to engage in patterns of ministry not authorised by your denomination? If you feel called to new patterns of ministry wouldn’t it be more honorable to do it from the outside?”
I hope I asked the question more graciously than that, but that was the gist of my question. I can’t claim to quote verbatim – though I have pretty good verbal recall. I simply want to share how I remember the answer. At the time I was not sure if I agreed with his answer. Twenty-five years on I see the importance of what he told me.
“Innovators innovate. You must steward any advantage you have to bringing positive change to your denomination. Historically change comes when innovators innovate. They experiment with new things and some of the new things take off with God’s blessing. The institution then has to decide what to do about it. They can throw you out or they can find protocols, and ways to endorse and replicate what you have pioneered. Historically change does not come from people who will not do anything until there is a denominational protocol for it. If you have any advantage it behoves you to innovate – firstly or the sake of God’s kingdom and also for the sake of your denomination.”
I find that good advice. I know realize that any network of churches, from the most historic of denominations, to the most grassroots of expressions, will in reality be a tradition full of innovation.
To take the broad view – and it’s a particular issue for ministry within older, inherited structures – we must be willing to follow God’s leading and allow our denominational structures to decide what badge they wish to accord our work – heterodox or orthodox – good practice or bad. Some times a pioneer will develop a pattern which it may take the mainstream two generations to call “good practice”. Think about Cranmer, Benedict of Norcia or William Booth.
I remember the story of an aged William Booth meeting the King at some function. Booth had been harried and persecuted by the established church for his work of creating and leading the Salvation Army. Even relatively liberal figures such as William Wilberforce had described Booth’s network unflatteringly as “the scum of the earth”. So it was with that background that King George asked Booth, “Are the established churches still giving you trouble?” Booth smiled and informed his majesty, “Sir, they imitate me!”
Sister, Brother, are you willing to play the long game?
Thomas Cranmer – endorsed, martyred, then re-endorsed!
To my way of thinking, the way denominations use the language of “fresh expressions” can sometimes fudge important issues. But I welcome the adoption of that language by historic denominations because it invites people to innovate. I hope it represents a desire not to censure experiments simply because they transgress current protocols.
It excites me that in Vineyard, the family of churches in which I operate, we have the nomenclature of “Vineyard Communities”. This language is an open invitation to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit and allow him to open up new paths, new norms and new wineskins for new wine.
As to breaking away from the pack and the tendency to inertia of group-think, it is worth remembering that the leader is ipso facto a change-agent. And note that while there is no i in team, there are 4 in initiative!
If you’re working in a denomination I would encourage you to take that view and steward any advantage you have – for the sake of your denomination – and for the sake of the Kingdom.