Richard Hall points to a decision by Methodist Conference to set up a scheme for Pioneering Ministries in the Methodist Church. Richard has copied and pasted much of the press release. It’s been hard to find much on the conference website last night or this morning, except I did find the conference report of the Fresh Ways Working Group. This doesn’t contain the resolutions passed by conference, but doubtless forms a substantial background to the decision.
When I first saw Richard’s post yesterday evening, I posted a sceptical comment, fearing that if this was tied to our conventional doctrine of presbyteral ministry, we would end up recruiting people whose focus would be the care and nurture of existing Christians (not that that is a bad thing!), rather than those whose leadership gifts are missionary. I have to say that having read the press release again and the Fresh Ways Working Group, I am more positive. The report notes concerns in fresh expressions about sacramental presidency (not that the question is answered), plus, in paragraph 5.2.7., potential deficits in Methodism’s understanding of apostolicity. (Yes!) It also talks about leadership being shared between ‘laypeople’ (hate that word), and diaconal and presbyteral ministers. This gives scope for bringing a wide range of leadership charisms to the task. Encouragingly, it also notes:
It is thus a whole set of issues which lead Methodists to be wary of fresh expressions – they just don’t seem to fit established methods and rules. Although, as we have seen, it may well be our interpretation and understanding of what established Methodism is, rather than our theology and polity. (Paragraph 5.2.4)
That seems to strike the nail on the head. The report is strong on recovering the pragmatic missionary DNA of Methodism. Doing so could be a painful process, and in some areas take too long for the current urgent context. However, this seems clearly to be a priority: we need a return to a Wesleyan DNA that has been lost, albeit without the unhelpful Constantinian assumptions that Wesley held. That is, in an age when there was still a common national understanding of the Gospel, Wesley didn’t see the need for ordained ministry in the local situation to go beyond word, sacrament and pastoral care.
So I wonder whether we are up for the challenge?
If I have one reservation about the report, and I may be reading in too much here, I note it talks in paragraph 5.2.6 about leadership of fresh expressions being ‘entrepreneurial’. I just wonder whether that’s a helpful metaphor. It risks being consumerist. Hopefully, what they want to underline here is the importance of proactive, initiative-taking leadership.
(By the way, the Fresh Ways Working Group has a blog. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since February.)
UPDATE: Further to Toby’s comment below, the report can be found on pages 13 to 18 of this document.